State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 69 Autumn 2002


Women's Work
Illustrating the Natural Wonders of the Colonies

Who has ever rambled in the Australian bush without gathering a handful of pretty little wildflowers? …Many Ladies, I am sure, would devote much of their leisure to the healthy exercise of a daily walk, coupled with the instructive and elevating pursuit of studying our native plants, and forming them into a collection1


Throughout the nineteenth century the study of Australian natural history depended on a variety of contributors. The work of the professional male scientists has long been recognised, but only more recently has the contribution of women to the growth of this science in the colonies been acknowledged. Though largely acting in an amateur capacity, these women not only displayed an enthusiasm and passion for flora and fauna but also achieved a high degree of excellence in the collection, conservation, description, analysis and illustration of Australia's botanical and zoological wealth.
Perhaps, in some degree, their role gave these enthusiasts a connection with a larger more urbane world than could be found on the frontier. An editorial in the West Australian newspaper for 24 July 1883 made exactly mis point, when commenting on an appeal made by Ferdinand Mueller for botanical collectors:
There are already many ladies living in these far distant parts of the colony, bereft, to a great extent, of those intellectual resources to which many of them have been accustomed. And upon these ladies, in particular, we would impress the interest they might derive from actively aiding our great Australian botanist in his valuable scientific researches. Much has been done in this way by the ladies in the settled districts and a still larger field for similar work is opened for those who have followed husbands and brothers into the remote and less well known portions of this vast territory.
The extent of Mueller's network was quite remarkable and, in the case of Western Australia alone, at least 20 female correspondents are known.2 South Australian women collectors included Annie Richards, who collected from Streaky Bay, and Mueller's sister Clara Wehl, and niece Louisa Wehl, who collected from the Lake Bonney and Mount Gambier area respectively.3 Certainly Louisa Anne Meredith, Louisa Atkinson, and Ellis Rowan all corresponded with and sent specimens to Mueller. Unfortunately, the detail of this network is now difficult to reconstruct
because in the war economy drives of the 1940s the considerable archive of the National Herbarium was recycled as waste paper. However, the ongoing work to publish Mueller's surviving correspondence should partly alleviate this loss — at least we will have his side of the correspondence.4
The special association between women and natural history, in particular botany, no doubt has a number of origins: women, being responsible for the home, were influential in the decorative arts; they were often responsible for the domestic garden, both cottage and flower gardens; they played an important role in introducing the natural world to children; and, having care for the family, they were often aware of the medicinal qualities of plants.
As the nineteenth century progressed, middle-class women became better educated and at the same time often had more leisure time. They sought out intellectual pursuits in their traditional areas of interest. It is a telling reminder of their prominence in the field of illustration, for example, that in his primer on the new medium of lithography, The Art of Drawing on Stone (London, 1824), Charles Hullmandel chose to feature a vignette of a female, rather than a male artist, on the title page (see p. 11). Yet because they continued to be excluded from the universities, women were also excluded from the professions and various learned societies.
A result of this exclusion from academic and professional life was that many women chose instead to channel their passions into a support role for the emerging sciences, as collectors and correspondents as well as popularisers. The systemic discrimination against women in England was also the case in the colonies, although women certainly played a more fundamental role here, being accepted into the learned societies earlier than in Britain,5 and of course they were crucial as collectors of specimens of fauna, flora and minerals on the frontier. It is unlikely, for example, that the German collector Amalie Dietrich (1821-1891), whose exploits in Queensland in the 1860s included the killing and disembowelling of a crocodile, could have plied such a trade in her native Hamburg.6
Although women clearly played a number of roles in the emerging science of natural history in the colonies — as collectors, writers, artists — it is the intention of this article to largely limit its focus to one particular field, that of illustration in late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century published works. This has meant that the watercolours and paintings of a number of significant artists, such as Marrianne Campbell, Margaret Forrest, Marianne North, Georgiana Leake, and Fanny Macleay, whose work did not find its way into books of the period, have been excluded from this survey.

Female Pursuits

Ann Shteir, writing on the history of women and science in Britain, has summed up the role of nineteenth-century women operating in the shadow of entrenched institutional impediment:
Because the British cultural and educational bias so strongly favoured men in the nineteenth century, none of the major discoveries in natural and physical science belonged to women. Yet many women took an intense interest in those discoveries and throughout the century sought knowledge of the workings of the universe, often at the urging of other women. Botany, the fern craze; geology, the rock-collecting craze; entomology, the bug-hunting craze — all these became female more than male pursuits.7
A negative side-effect of this ‘cultural and educational’ bias was that many women adopted a self-effacing approach to their own writings. Louisa Anne Meredith, for example, in her third edition of The Romance of Nature (London, 1839), claims in her preface not to be conveying scientific information because the work is ‘purely poetical’ and ‘because my own knowledge of botany is too limited to allow of my offering any instruction to others'. In the same work, however, the supposed limitations of her botanical knowledge don't stop her from taking to task ‘the illustrator of a recent serious work on Flowers, [who] although professedly a botanical draftsman, gives the Myosotis Alpestris instead of the Myosotis Palustris, and so exaggerates the hairy surface of the leaves'.
The ‘limited’ knowledge Meredith refers to did carry with it a positive trade-off. Lacking scientific credentials, many women writers opted for a descriptive rather than a scientific language to convey their observations. This meant that, unlike the scientific papers of many of their male counterparts, whose readership was generally confined to a small coterie of colleagues, their work was often able to find a wide readership. The role of women in popularising science cannot be underestimated. There can be little doubt that between 1861 and her death in 1872 Louisa Atkinson's nature articles in the Sydney Morning Herald, published under the title ‘A Voice from the Country',8 tapped into a potential audience that professional scientific writers could only have dreamed of. In effect, writers such as Atkinson or Meredith served the cause of science by promoting the natural world to a popular readership.


From the earliest years of European settlement in Australia, women were involved in the process of depicting, and making known to a wider audience, the natural wonders to be found here.
Sarah Stone's contributions to Surgeon John White's Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales (London, 1790) are amongst the earliest European images of the flora and fauna of the new colony. And while she herself never travelled to Australia, many of the specimens she depicted, such as the Broad-tailed Lizard, the Crested Cockatoo, and the Blue Bellied Parrot, would become the type specimens of these newly discovered species.
White's book was the first to attempt a description of the natural history of the colony, and included 64 plates of Australian birds, reptiles and mammals, all drawn and painted from the skins that White sent back to his naturalist friend, Thomas Wilson, in England. Of these, 36 are signed by Sarah Stone, and a further 10 unsigned plates have been stylistically attributed to her.9
Sarah Stone was born in London in 1760, and showed signs of being a talented watercolourist at an early age. By her late teens, she had come to the attention of Sir Ashton Lever, who had established an extraordinary private museum, at Leicester Square in London, of specimens and ethnographic material being brought back by British expeditions to Australia, the Americas, Africa and the Far East — most importantly from Cook's three round-the-world voyages.
Between 1777 and 1806, when the Leverium Museum, as it came to be called, closed, Sarah executed over 1000 watercolours for Lever and the Museum's subsequent owner James Parkinson. Given that the contents of Lever's Museum were tragically dispersed by auction in 1806, Sarah's watercolours, of which some 900 have survived to the present day, provide the only pictorial record of the majority of these zoological and other specimens.

‘Banksia Cockatoo’ [drawn by Sarah Stone] from John White, Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales, London, 1790.

The watercolours of specimens that Stone produced for Lever, considered ‘faithful’ in eighteenth-century terms, were highly regarded by contemporary naturalists, and this accounts for the several requests she received from authors to reproduce her work as engravings in books. Aside from the plates she produced for John White's Journal, Sarah contributed plates to two other publications — George Shaw's Museum Leverianum (London, 1792), and Thomas Pennant's A View of Hindoostan (London, 1798).
Stone had married John Langdale Smith, a midshipman, in 1793, and had two children, of whom only a son, Henry, survived. Though she lived until 1844, her artistic output diminished markedly after the closure of the Leverium Museum — certainly there are no dated watercolours known after 1806.
In 1992 a collection of 13 watercolours on Australian subjects, originally produced by Stone for John White's Journal, were acquired from an American collector by the National Library of Australia. In December 2000, an album comprising a further 31 sketches — the remainder of Stone's Australian watercolours — was also acquired by the National Library from Sotheby's in Melbourne. The Library also holds one of the two known copies of White's Journal, hand-coloured by Sarah Stone for Thomas Wilson and intended as presentation copies.

The Decorative Tradition

Given the largely amateur status to which women were relegated in the nineteenth century, it is perhaps understandable that a wide variety of illustrative practices were used to depict the natural world around them. These practices ranged from a purely decorative art through to one whose ideal principles lay in scientific precision and exactitude.
The origins of the decorative tradition can be traced to the standard education of young middle- and upper-class ladies in the nineteenth century. In a society that viewed as acceptable such activities as music, embroidery, botany and flower painting, is it any wonder that many women chose to depict plants not from a scientific standpoint, but instead from an arts and crafts tradition? Rather than aiming for scientific accuracy, pleasure was instead taken in the depiction of beautiful forms. Of course, science and aesthetics have never been mutually exclusive, and many women illustrators operating out of a decorative tradition nonetheless made lasting and valuable contributions to Australian botany.
Ann Shteir has discussed the way in which British women science writers often chose letters, dialogues, and conversations — known as the ‘familiar format’ — for teaching science to young readers and women of all ages.10 Such writing elevated the poetic over the scientific a tendency that can be seen at work in such Australian publications as The Ladies Almanack 1858 (Melbourne, 1858) and Susan Nugent Wood's Bush Flowers from Australia (London, 1867). There were certainly already existent models for this form of nineteenth-century decorative publishing. Robert Thornton's The Temple of Flora (London, 1812), with its emphasis on botany, poetry and philosophy, spawned an entire publishing industry of decorative botanical books, albeit less lavish ones, and was certainly influential on the early work of Louisa Anne Meredith.
The nineteenth-century International and Intercolonial exhibitions also provided a key forum for the work of women illustrators, particularly those working in the field of botany. With their emphasis on traditional and decorative arts, and their award systems combined with often generous judges’ reports, they were equally as inclusive of the amateur as they were of the professional. Ellis Rowan's first and second prizes at the 1888 Melbourne Centennial International Exhibition, for instance, ahead of artists such as Frederick McCubbin and Tom Roberts, were greeted with outrage by the local art community, who asserted that flower painting was not ‘real art'.
The decorative tradition of flower painting is well illustrated by the work of three women — Fanny Anne Charsley (1828-1915), Fanny de Mole (1835-1866) and Anna Frances Walker (1830-1913) — who between them produced a series of books depicting the wildflowers of Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia.
Fanny de Mole, born in London, was one of eight children, all of whom exhibited artistic talents inherited from their father. She was plagued by ill health in her childhood, and migrated to South Australia in 1857, following her two eldest brothers who had arrived there four years previously. Fanny produced only one book
The Wildflowers of South Australia, published in London in 1861, when she was only 26 years old. Her stated aim was to depict:
the flowers with which we daily meet in our own grounds and neighbourhood, and with which we would gladly make our friends in England familiar.
While details of the production process are not fully known, it is believed that Fanny executed the line drawings, which were then sent to London for printing. The lithographed plates were returned to Australia to be hand-coloured by Fanny and other members of her family.11
Produced in an edition of about 100 copies, and containing 20 plates, The Wildflowers of South Australia was the first book to illustrate the flora of the colony. Fanny's preface presents itself with undue modesty, claiming that ‘the present work is offered, not as having any botanical pretensions, but simply as a Book of Flowers'. She makes reference to Ferdinand Mueller; however, it is not known whether she corresponded with the botanist.
Fanny de Mole subsequently exhibited flower paintings at the annual exhibitions of the South Australian Society, winning several prizes in the Society's 1865 exhibition. She died the following year, aged 31, from tuberculosis.
Fanny Anne Charsley, like de Mole, produced only the one book — The Wildflowers of Melbourne. She was born in Buckinghamshire, England, in 1828, one of five daughters who all became successful amateur watercolourists. In 1857 she travelled to Melbourne with her sister and brother-in-law, and during her 10 years residence produced a set of watercolour drawings of wildflowers of the region.
Soon after her return to England in 1867, Charsley published her book of 13 hand-coloured lithographs; the names and classifications of the plants being added by the then Government Botanist, Ferdinand Mueller, to whom she dedicated the work. In recognition of her work, Mueller named an Australian flower after her — Helipterum charsleyae.
Again, like de Mole, Charsley included a somewhat self-effacing preface to her book, expressing surprise to find herself in print. She states:
When I first took up the pleasant occupation of collecting and painting the wild flowers around Melbourne, I had not any idea of bringing the result of my labours before the public; I did it merely as a healthy and interesting pursuit…and having leaped into the gulf of Art and Authorship, I must submit to the criticisms that invariably follow a new work, and a new name. I can only beg of all my kind supporters to be merciful…
Given Mueller's support for the project, these fears were unwarranted and no doubt say as much about her own perceptions of her role in the world of scientific endeavour as they do about her capacities as an amateur botanist and illustrator.
Anna Frances Walker was born in 1830 at Concord on the Parramatta River. As a child she received training in watercolour painting from Henry Allport, a former pupil of noted artist John Glover. She went on to become a prolific painter of flowers,

‘Lilac’, from Fanny De Mole's Wild Flowers of South Australia, London, 1861.

and exhibited regularly at the major international exhibitions, including the 1873 London Exhibition, where she was awarded a gold medal, the 1879 Sydney International Exhibition, and the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition, where she was again awarded a gold medal. The Mitchell Library in Sydney holds a substantial collection of her botanical watercolours, along with an unpublished memoir ‘Family traditions and personal recollections'.
In 1887 she privately published Flowers in New South Wales in Sydney. The poor quality of the 10 chromolithographs does not fully do justice to her work as a painter. It would also appear, from the text, that Walker's botanical knowledge was limited. A typical plant description, in this case for Erlostemon silicifolius, reads:
An attractive flowering shrub found growing abundantly in sandy soil about the heights surrounding Port Jackson and Botany Bay.
No doubt this paucity of scientific description contributed to Ferdinand Mueller's description of Walker as ‘a genial floral artist'12 — a case of ‘damning with faint praise’, if ever there was one.

The Scientific Tradition

While the majority of women illustrators emerged out of a decorative tradition, or at the very least found themselves consigned to the periphery of scientific pursuit, there were notable exceptions. In a number of cases, whether by dint of family or other associations, women artists found themselves in a position to make valuable and lasting contributions to the scientific literature of the day.
While for many years the reputation of Elizabeth Gould (1804-1841) was eclipsed by the fame of her husband, John, she is now recognised as one of the finest illustrators of Australian natural history subjects during the nineteenth century. In her short life, she completed over 600 drawings and lithographic plates for her husband's books, including 73 plates for John Gould's first publication on Australian birds The Synopsis of the Birds of Australia (London, 1837-38); 20 plates for the cancelled parts of The Birds of Australia and the Adjacent Islands (1837-38); and 84 plates for The Birds of Australia (London, 1840-48), a work in progress at the time of her death in August 1841, at age 37.
Elizabeth had received a typical ladies’ education — in languages, music and art — at her childhood home in Ramsgate, England, and was employed as a governess in London at the time she met her husband. Her marriage to John in 1829 provided her with a unique opportunity to make a vital contribution to the scientific study of birds, Australian or otherwise, a role denied the majority of women artists of the period. Given that Elizabeth would give birth to eight children, of whom six would survive, and accompany John on his 18-month visit to Australia in 1838, her artistic productivity seems nothing short of remarkable.
By the end of the nineteenth century, however, the average bird lover would, in all likelihood, have been largely ignorant of Elizabeth's contributions to some of the finest ornithological publications of the preceding century, including The Birds of Europe (London, 1832-37) and Charles Darwin's The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS

‘Blandfordia Nobilis’, from Anna Frances Walker, Flowers of New South Wales, Sydney, 1887.

Beagle… Part III Birds
(London, 1841). While John Gould had been the subject of a brief biography written soon after his death by Dr R. Bowdler Sharpe,13 the keeper of the bird collection at the British Museum, virtually nothing was known of Elizabeth's life and personality. This had the unfortunate effect of diminishing the extent of her role in her husband's publications, and would later give rise to a belief that John failed to acknowledge fully his wife's contributions to the books. In fact, all lithographic plates on which she worked are fully attributed to Elizabeth, and John himself makes frequent references to his wife's participatory role in the publication of the books. His introduction to The Birds of Australia states:
At the conclusion of my ‘Birds of Europe’, I had the pleasing duty of stating that nearly the whole of the plates had been lithographed by my amiable wife. Would I had the happiness of recording a similar statement with regard to the present work; but such, alas! is not the case, it having pleased the All-wise Disposer of Events to remove her from this sublunary world within one short year after our return from Australia, during her sojourn in which country an immense mass of drawings, both ornithological and botanical, were made by her…14
The chance discovery by Alec Chisholm, in 1938, of a number of letters Elizabeth had written from Australia to her mother in England a century before allowed the first real glimpse, or self-portrait, of this pioneer of early Australian natural history illustration — as mother, wife, and artist. Elizabeth's letter to her mother from Hobart, in January 1839, indicates the extent to which she perceived herself as a co-partner in the production of Birds of Australia:
Just now during John's absence I find amusement and employment in drawing some of the plants of the colony, which will help to render the work on Birds of Australia more interesting. All our sketches are much approved of and highly complimented by our friends. I wish you could hear some of the magnificent speeches that are frequently made us, because I know you like dearly to hear your daughter praised…I trust we shall be enabled to make our contemplated work of sufficient interest to ensure it a good sale. Certainly a perfect work could [not] have been made by us without visiting the colony.15
Elizabeth's fears were unwarranted — Birds of Australia was one of Gould's most popular works, and by the late 1850s the bulk of the edition of 250 copies had sold. The State Library of Victoria is fortunate in owning, aside from all of the published lithographs Elizabeth completed for John Gould's books, three original watercolours of Australian birds that were carried out as preliminary sketches for the plates.


Elizabeth Gould, it could be argued, at least had the good fortune of having her name featured on all lithographs she contributed to her husband's publications. Such was not the case for botanical artist Rosa Catherine Fiveash (1854-1938). While the plates in John Ednie Brown's Forest Flora of South Australia (Adelaide, 1882-90) acknowledge lithographer H. Barrett, along with E. Spiller, the South Australian Government

‘Eucalyptus Leucoxylon’ [drawn by Rosa Fiveash] from J.E. Brown, The Forest Flora of New South Wales, Sydney, 1887.

printer, Rosa Fiveash's contribution as illustrator is indicated only by the handwritten monogram RCF appearing on a number of the lithographs, presumably a carryover from her original watercolour.
Fiveash, born in North Adelaide, was first taught art by Miss Annie Bentham, a painter of birds and flowers, and later studied at the Adelaide School of Design, specialising in the painting of Australian flora. Her talent for accuracy was well known to South Australia's foremost natural historians, and she received a number of commissions, particularly to illustrate scientific papers. Aside from Brown's publication, she contributed figures to Richard S. Rogers’ An Introduction to the Study of South Australian Orchids (2nd ed., Adelaide, 1911), J.M. Black's Flora of South Australia (Adelaide, 1922-29), and produced numerous scientific illustrations for Edward Stirling at the Adelaide Museum, including the seven colour plates to accompany his description of the previously unknown marsupial mole in Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of South Australia (1890-91). A large collection of her flower paintings is held in the botanical art collection of the Botanic Gardens in Adelaide.
Rosa Fiveash's 30-year collaboration with Richard Rogers, the chief authority on Australian orchids, led Rogers to describe her as the foremost botanical artist of her day, prompting a recognition, in particular, of her scientific illustrative work that had been somewhat poorly acknowledged during her lifetime.16

If I were only a man

As a young woman, Harriet Scott wrote to her childhood friend, Edward Pearson Ramsay, on the day of his University examination in Sydney. In her letter she spoke of her longing for a university education, and of her:
…great desire to distinguish myself in some way or other and if I were only a man I might do it, but as I am a woman I can't try, for I hold it wrong for women to hunt after notoriety… clearly I ought to have been Harry Scott instead of Hattie Scott.17
Unlike many of the amateur illustrators of the period, the Scott sisters, Harriet and Helena, were professional artists and natural science collectors and illustrators. Both had trained under their father's watchful eye at Ash Island, at the mouth of the Hunter River near Newcastle, where the family had gone to live in 1846.
Ash Island, at that time, was a naturalist's paradise. The Sydney artist Conrad Martens had painted there; and the explorer Ludwig Leichhardt, in a letter to a friend in 1842, described it as:
….a remarkably fine place, not only to enjoy the beauty of nature, a broad shining river, a luxuriant vegetation, a tasteful comfortable cottage with a plantation of orange trees, but to collect a great number of plants which I had never seen before.18
Harriet, the eldest, was born in Sydney in 1830; her sister Helena in 1832. Their father, Alexander Walker Scott, was a grazier, entomologist, and entrepreneur. He was a founding member of the Entomological Society in Sydney, and it was Harriet and

‘Plate XX, mostly from nature & on stone by Harriet Scott’, from James C. Cox, Monograph of Australian Land Shells, Sydney, 1868.

Helena's detailed drawings of insects for their father that led to the two sisters becoming well known in Sydney scientific circles.
After contributing the lithographic plates to his publication Australian Lepidoptera and their Transformations (London, 1864), the sisters found themselves elected as honorary members of the Entomological Society. At the time of the publication, Helena wrote to her ornithologist friend Edward Pearson Ramsay:
Oh! You cannot think how thankful I am that my dear father allows me to place my name to the drawings! It makes me feel twice as much pleasure while I paint them.19
Australian Lepidoptera, with a title page giving a playful view of their home at Ash Island, was published in an edition of 500 copies. Thirteen years prior to its publication, the eminent botanist William Swainson was to publish a somewhat precipitate review in the Sydney Morning Herald 30 August 1851. Swainson noted:
Of the execution of these drawings, I am almost afraid to write, lest the public may think that the desire of complimenting the fair artists (who are nevertheless personally unknown to me at this time,) may have biased my judgement. I am willing, however, to hazard that scrupulous regard for veracity which the scientific public has long given me credit for, when I state that these drawings are equal to any I have ever seen by modern artists… [In] the drawings now before us… every tuft of hair in the caterpillar, the silken webs of the cocoon, or the delicate and often intricate pencillings on the wings of a moth, stand out with a prominence of relief which it is perfectly impossible to reproduce by simple water colors…
Speculating that two of the species depicted may be new to science, Swainson further suggested that ‘entomologists will join with me in naming them the Chlorisses Harrietta and Helena, after the two fair artists whom they are here so beautifully drawn'…
It has been suggested that Harriet's and Helena's paintings reflect the style of Indian artists employed to paint botanical specimens for the East India Company. Their father, Alexander Scott, had been born in Bombay, and was himself the son of a physician and botanist with the East India Company until 1809. This style was almost photographic in its accuracy, as well as being decorative.20
Their work on butterflies and moths soon led to further commissions, and for a period the two sisters executed almost all of the art work for scientific literature in Sydney, including J.C. Cox's Monograph of Australian Land Shells (Sydney, 1868), and Gerald Krefft's Snakes of Australia (Sydney, 1869) and Mammals of Australia (Sydney, 1871). They also contributed botanical figures to George Bennett's Gatherings of a Naturalist in Australia (London, 1860) and produced plates of birds’ eggs for Edward Ramsay's proposed, but never published, work on oology.
The plates for both Mammals of Australia and Snakes of Australia were exhibited, under Krefft's name, at the 1870 Sydney Intercolonial Exhibition, though the judges’ report noted that the works were drawn on stone by Mrs Forde and Miss Harriet Scott, and were deserving of very high commendation.21

‘Chelepteryx Collesi [drawn] from Nature by Harriet Scott’, from Alexander W. Scott, Australian Lepidoptera and Their Transformations, London, 1864.


‘Black Snake’, [drawn and lithographed by] Helena Forde, from Gerard Krefft, The Snakes of Australia, Sydney, 1869.

The sisters’ comfortable world at Ash Island collapsed in 1866 — their mother died suddenly, their father went bankrupt, and the family property was sold. Helena had married Edward Forde, chief draughtsman in the Department of Harbours and River Navigation, in 1864, and henceforth would often sign her work with the monogram 4D. She spent the following years collecting and painting specimens around the Government survey camp at Wentworth on the Darling River. She had in mind an illustrated ‘Flora of the Darling'; however, in 1866 both she and her husband contracted fever which led to his death in June 1866. As a result Helena passed on her collection to William Woolls for his book A Contribution to the Flora of Australia (Sydney, 1871). Between 1890 and 1898 Helena oversaw the publication of what was effectively a second volume of their father's work on Australian Lepidoptera, published by the Museum of Sydney and containing further lithographs produced at the time of the original 1864 volume.
Both Harriet, who married in 1882, and her sister Helena, continued to draw and paint all their lives. Increasingly, they were forced to turn to commercial work to make ends meet. Harriet drew native flowers and ferns to illustrate the 1879, 1884 and 1886 editions of the Railway Guide to New South Wales; and both sisters executed designs for Australia's first Christmas cards, issued by Sydney printers Turner & Henderson in 1879. Harriet died at Granville, NSW, in 1907; and Helena in 1910. Speaking of both sisters in that year, J.J. Fletcher, of the Linnaean Society, noted: ‘To these artist-naturalists we owe most of the figures in the scientific literature of the period, produced in Sydney.'22

Top Left and Right: [Harriet and Helena Scott] Australian Floral Cards [Sydney, 1879, Michael Aitken Collection].

Top Left and Right: [Harriet and Helena Scott] Australian Floral Cards [Sydney, 1879, Michael Aitken Collection].

Right: ‘The Native Cat’ [drawn and lithographed by Helena Forde ie. Scott], from Gerald Krefft, The Mammals of Australia, Illustrated by Miss Harriet Scott, and Mrs Helena Forde, Sydney, 1871.



The exclusion of women from scientific discourse in the nineteenth century meant that the naming rights to new discoveries belonged to men. For instance, there are no Australian plants named by women in that period. A number of individuals, however, are remembered in the actual names of natural history specimens — Atkinsonia ligustrina, named by Mueller in 1858 in honour of Louisa Atkinson; Scaevola brooksiana, named by Mueller after the plant collector Sarah Theresa Brooks; Helipterum charsleyae, named by Mueller after Fanny Anne Charsley; Boronia molloyae, named at the request of James Drummond for the Western Australian botanist and collector Georgiana Molloy; the Gouldian Finch, named by John Gould in honour of his wife Elizabeth.
The marked decline in illustrated natural history publications in the first half of the twentieth century makes it difficult to track the success of women illustrators in this field as the previous century's barriers to their working in the scientific professions gradually gave way. The appointment of Margaret Lilian Flockton to the staff of the Sydney Botanic Gardens, in 1901, as the first fully employed illustrator for an Australian herbarium, however, is surely a significant milestone. Flockton contributed hundreds of lithographs to the publications of Joseph Maiden, in particular the eight volumes of The Forest Flora of New South Wales (Sydney, 1904-1925), and Critical Revision of the Genus Eucalyptus (Sydney, 1909-1933).
Certainly by the 1950s there was a newfound confidence, as witnessed in the productions of Australia's foremost botanical artist Margaret Stones. Her contribution of over 400 watercolour drawings to Curtis's Botanical Magazine over a 25-year period, beginning in 1958, led to her being recognised internationally as one of the finest botanical artists then practising. In the early 1960s she was commissioned by Lord Talbot to carry out a series of drawings of Tasmanian flora, for publication by the Ariel Press in London. The results, with an authoritative text by the eminent British botanist Winifred Curtis, were published in six volumes as The Endemic Flora of Tasmania (1967-78), and are considered to have been one of the major stimulants to the revival of botanical illustration in this country.23 It is a testament to Stone's stature that she was later commissioned by the Louisiana State University, as part of the 1976 United States Bicentennial, to depict the flora of that state, a project that would entail over 200 drawings carried out over a 10-year period.
More recently, the publication of Celia Rosser's The Banksias has seen a return to the sort of large-scale publishing of Australian natural history last seen in the first half of the nineteenth century. If we can say that the publishing of these deluxe books has come full circle, then it is a very different set of artists who have returned along with them. No longer the products of an exclusive system, artists such as Stones and Rosser operate at the forefront of scientific illustration, exhibiting a confidence in their work that their nineteenth-century counterparts could only have envied. In doing so, they have taken their art well beyond the realm of an instructive and elevating pursuit for ladies.
Des Cowley
[This article began life as a public seminar at the State Library of Victoria, delivered jointly with the then Rare Books Librarian, Brian Hubber. I wish to acknowledge Brian's assistance with the initial research and development of this material.]


Ladies Almanack 1858, Melbourne, 1858, p. 32.


Barbara Archer and Sarah Maroski, ‘Sara Theresa Brooks — Plant Collector for Ferdinand Mueller’ in The Victorian Naturalist, vol. 113, no. 4, 1996, p. 190.


Helen Hewson, Australia: 300 Years of Botanical Illustration, Melbourne, 1999, p. 140.


The first volume of this project Regardfully Yours: Selected Correspondence of Ferdinand von Mueller, ed. by R.W. Home and others, was published in 1998.


The Royal Society of South Australia and the Royal Society of Tasmania were both open to women in the late nineteenth century; but their British counterparts, the Royal Society and the Linnaean Society, did not open their doors to women until well into the twentieth century.


Anne Moyal, Bright and Savage Land: Scientists in Colonial Australia, Sydney, 1986, pp. 109–10.


Barbara T. Gates and Ann B. Shteir, eds, Natural Eloquence: Women Reinscribe Science, Wisconsin, US, 1997, p. 10.


A selection of these articles was republished in Louisa Atkinson, A Voice from the Country, Canberra, 1978.


Christine E. Jackson, Sarah Stone: Natural Curiosities from the New Worlds, London, 1998, p. 140.


Barbara T. Gates and Ann B. Shteir, eds, Natural Eloquence, p. 11.


See ‘Publisher's Note’ in the facsimile edition of Wild Flowers of South Australia, Melbourne, 1981.


See Walker's entry in Joan Kerr, ed., The Dictionary of Australian Artists, Melbourne, 1992.


R. Bowdler Sharpe, An Analytical Index to the Works of the Late John Gould, London, 1893.


John Gould, An Introduction to the Birds of Australia, London, 1848, p. 5.


Alec Chisholm, ed., The Story of Elizabeth Gould, Melbourne, 1944, pp. 49–50.


See Eric Sims entry on Fiveash in Dictionary of Australian Biography: 8, Melbourne, 1981. A selection of her paintings was published in Noel Lothian's Rosa Fiveash's Australian Orchids, Adelaide, 1974.


Marion Ord, ed., Historical Drawings of Moths and Butterflies, Roseville, NSW, 1988, pp. 15–16.


Marion Ord, ed., Historical Drawings of Native Flowers, Roseville, NSW, 1988, p. 15.


Historical Drawings of Moths and Butterflies, p. 24.


Nina Crone, ‘Australia's First Christmas Cards Remembered’ in Australian Garden History, vol. 9, no. 3, November-December 1997, pp. 9-10.


The Industrial Progress of New South Wales: Being a Report of the Intercolonial Exhibition of 1870, at Sydney, Sydney, 1871, p. 26.


See Marian Ord's entry for Helena Scott in Joan Kerr, ed., The Dictionary of Australian Artists.


Helen Hewson, Australia: 300 Years of Botanical Illustration, p. 173.