Economic Botany Collection




The Economic Botany Collection consists of over 12,000 specimens, models, illustrations and displays. The majority of the collection was established in the 19th century under the direction of the Industrial and Technological Museum's Director, Cosmo Newbry and guidance of government botanist, Ferdinand Von Mueller.

The Economic Botany Collection is comprised of over 12,000 items. It includes fruit, vegetable, grass and bark models and specimens grown in Australia and overseas. There are also extensive samples of Victorian timber from the 19th and 20th centuries along with chemical compounds, seeds and grains. The term 'economic botany' originally referred to the collecting of vegetable samples to be permanently displayed and was employed in illustrating and enhancing the colonies' producing power. In the early days Ferdinand Von Mueller, as Government Botanist, lent his expert advice for the development of the collection. The Economic Botany Collection helped to advertise Victorian forestry, agriculture and horticulture on the world stage, as much of the collection was exhibited at International Exhibitions in London, Philadelphia, Paris, Calcutta, Melbourne and Sydney. At the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880, wax fruit and vegetable models were displayed as part of the Victorian Ladies Court. Von Mueller's protégé Charles Walter was appointed as the head of the Economic Botany section and was responsible for a complete reorganisation and reinterpretation of the continued display of the collection at the Industrial ; Technological Museum in the 1890s. He noted in March 1891 'It is gratifying to notice how much this change is appreciated by the general public, as twelve months ago visitors to the museum would pass this important section almost un-noticed, while now it is visited constantly, and examined carefully and frequently by persons with notebooks in hand to obtain desirable information.' For a period of time following Walter's death in 1907 the position was vacant until 1912 when the Museum employed an Economic Botanist, William Dickinson Wilson. In 1932 when Wilson died the Museum decided to change directions and invest in a Curator with mechanical expertise rather than botanical. A significant and spectacular part of the collection features nearly 2,000 wax fruit models which were made between 1875 and 1960. In a period preceding colour photography models were an important display method to educate and engage the public. Specially trained artists were employed by the museum to create these life-like models and faithfully capture the detail of such things as the blush of peaches, the variegated stripes of apples, and the structural nightmare of banana bunches or the fine detail of boysenberries (complete with horns). The Museum artists became world experts in this specialized trade and provided advice to other museums around the world. The wax fruit models document healthy, diseased and unusual examples of fruit and vegetables, and were used to assist and promote Victorian horticulture. With over 620 cultivars of apples, 94 pears and 135 plums, the collection has been used in recent years to assist in identifying rare and endangered cultivars. The Economic Botany collection offers substantial opportunities for research relating to: the history of primary production in Victoria, Intercolonial and International exhibitions, the role of botany and agriculture in the economic development of the colony of Victoria, the acclimatisation movement, the changing nature and role of museums, biodiversity and changing conservation status of native and introduced cultivars, and artistic practice.

Please direct access requests via Museum Victoria's Discovery Centre


1864-1960; Agriculture; Artists; Biodiversity; Economic Botany; Exhibitions: Adelaide Jubilee International, 1887-1888; Exhibitions: London International, Colonial & Indian, 1885-1886; Exhibitions: Melbourne International Centennial, 1888-1889; Exhibitions: Melbourne International, 1880-1881; Horticulture; Industrial & Technological Museum; Museum History; Wax Fruit Models

Coverage Spatial

Victoria, Australia; Paris, France; Calcutta, India; London, England, United Kingdom; Sydney, New South Wales, Australia; Philadelphia, United States of America

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2011-03-31 18:32