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Becklers' Botanical Bounty at Ballarat
BY Catherine Trinca | 01-Mar-2018
This exhibition by twenty Victorian-based botanical artists was inspired by pioneer botanical collector Hermann Beckler, the doctor on the Burke and Wills Expedition. During his time in charge of the exhibition’s supply depot on the Darling River in outback NSW, Beckler collected 120 plant species in the Menindee region. His original plant collection is now a national treasure, housed at the National Herbarium of Victoria. Over the last ten years, these artists have been visiting Beckler’s collecting grounds to locate, collect, preserve and illustrate the species he collected in 1860–61. This extraordinary project is a unique expression of art, science, history and country This exhibition is the culmination of this project and is on at the Ballarat Art Gallery from 24 Feb until 27 May 2018.
It is truly amazing. 157 years after the Burke and Wills Expedition, we can still find flora identified and collected by Dr Hermann Beckler for Ferdinand Mueller, the director of the Botanical Gardens. At the recommendation of Ferdinand Mueller, Dr Hermann Beckler was appointed medical doctor and botanical collector on the Victorian Exploring Expedition led by Burke and Wills in 1860. While awaiting a medical officer to replace him, following his official resignation, he collected, identified and pressed specimens around Menindee for Mueller who was establishing a Herbarium at the Melbourne Botanic Gardens collection. Beckler’s collection preceded the pastoral push, therefore there were significant scientific benefits to be gained by comparing the environment in Australia in 1860 with post-pastoralism after 150 years of intensive farming and grazing.
Beckler’s plant contributions were used by both Mueller and RBG Kew botanist George Bentham to establish new taxa, and in preparation for some of the earliest publications on Australia’s flora. Beckler’s collection is of huge scientific importance in the history of Australian plant research.
The specimens have been verified by botanist Andrew Denham from the Office of Environment and Heritage, NSW, who has accompanied us and donated his time every year to the project. Beckler’s specimens are still held in the National Herbarium of Victoria today. He collected approximately 120 specimens of which we have to date found 90. The group has collected and pressed specimens for the Herbarium and the NSW Herbarium, and illustrated the flora in watercolors. The group has travelled to Menindee at the time of year that Beckler collected his specimens to maximize our chances of finding those same specimens. The area is harsh and has been impacted over the years by sheep and cattle grazing, agriculture, droughts and damming. The varied weather patterns of each year have increased the challenge of finding specimens.
To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the expedition, a group of botanical illustrators, led by Mali Moir, formed Beckler’s Botanical Bounty art group and travelled to Menindee NSW (south of Broken Hill) each year for the last seven years, to find these specimens and illustrate them.
The work has established a permanent verifiable comparative collection which will act as an invaluable resource of lasting significance for scientists, land managers and historians. It provides a rich data resource for further scientific study, including location maps for each species collected, in a format compatible for entry into The National Herbarium Victoria’s MELISR plant collection data base. We thank Mali for organising the project, her leadership, support and encouragement.
Dr Tim Entwisle, Director of the RBGV will open an exhibition to be held in the Ballarat Regional Gallery from Saturday 24 February 2018. The exhibition will include information about Dr Beckler, artifacts of the surrounding area, photographs, our paintings and pressed specimens. We welcome everyone to attend.
 Gillbank, L 2011, ‘The Botanical Legacy of Ferdinand Mueller and Hermann Beckler’ in JE Bernie & DA McCann (eds), Burke and Wills: the Scientific Legacy of the Victorian Exploring Expedition, CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, pp. 97-129
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