Botany of the Burke and Wills expedition
Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria (MEL) holds one of Australia's largest and most comprehensive collections of preserved plants and fungi. Housed in the National Herbarium of Victoria, the Australian collection dates back to the early period of European exploration of Australia and includes thousands of historically significant specimens. Of particular note are specimens collected by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander on James Cook's Endeavour voyage (1769–1771) and Robert Brown on Matthew Flinders' circumnavigation of Australia (1801–1805).
MEL also holds all of the botanical specimens collected on the Burke and Wills expedition (Victorian Exploring Expedition), along with collections from the various relief expeditions. Our holdings include:
- More than 900 collections made by Hermann Beckler, the doctor and botanist on the Victorian Exploring Expedition. Beckler resigned in dismay at Burke's erratic leadership just one month into the expedition, but remained with part of the expedition party at Menindee. Despite increasingly difficult conditions, and with growing numbers of men succumbing to dysentery and scurvy, Beckler managed to document some 420 taxa from Yanga Lake to 'Kurliatto Creek'.
- Approximately 30 collections made by Alfred Howitt (leader of the Victorian Contingent Party and Victorian Exploring Party) from around Cooper Creek.
- Over 120 collections from William Wheeler (surgeon on Howitt's Victorian Contingent Party) from between Stokes Range and Cooper Creek.
- 70 collections from James Murray (surgeon on Howitt's Victorian Exploring Party) from around Cooper Creek and Wills Creek.
- 100 collections from James McKinlay (leader of the South Australian Burke Relief Expedition) from the north coast of Arnhem Land.
- More than 425 specimens from Diedrich Henne (botanist on William Landsborough's Queensland Relief Expedition) along with c. 55 collections made by Landsborough.
Amongst this material are many botanically significant specimens, including:
- the first scientific collections of numerous species (e.g. Acacia beckleri)
- species that are now critically endangered (e.g. Acanthocladium dockeri (Spiny Everlasting))
- species that are now presumed to be extinct, such as Glinus orygioides.
These collections are an invaluable, permanent and verifiable record of the occurrence of over 500 different species. As part of a working scientific collection, they are still used by botanists today.
Data for specimens held at MEL is available via Australia’s Virtual Herbarium. Access to the Herbarium Collection for botanical and historical researchers is by appointment only.