How Amalie Dietrich's Lonely Years In State's Outback Aided Science
BRITISH, French, Dutch, and German names, were sprinkled through the presidential address Professor
Ernest Scott, Emeritus Professor of History in the University of Melbourne, delivered at the opening session of the Science Congress at Canberra. He was explaining the achievements of science in this country, from the botanical and zoological discoveries of the early explorers to the industrial re- searches of to-day. It was when Professor Scott was dis- cussing the group of collectors, who, work- ing individually or for museums, made the world acquainted with the novel fauna and flora, and to some extent the geological lay-out of the continent, that he recalled the work of Frau Amalie Dietrich. He spoke of Allan Cunningham, who was appointed in 1814 to come to Australia as botanical collector for Kew Gardens and whose journals are now preserved in the Natural History Museum at South Kensing- ton, London, his brother, Richard Cunning- ham, also a Kew Gardens man, who was murdered by aborigines while accompany-
This is the story of Amalie Dietrich which Australian, British, American, and New Zealand scientists were told at Canberra yesterday by Professor Ernest Scott, in his presidential address to the Science Congress. It is the story of a German woman botanist who worked for nearly ten years in the back country of North Queensland. Pro- fessor Scott rated her the most remark- able of the "collector group," in his sur- vey of achievements of science in Aus- tralia. ing Mitchell's expedition to the Darling; George Caley, who gathered plants for Sir Joseph Banks; John Gould, "the bird man," who gathered specimens for "his noble and beautiful work," "The Birds of Australia"; Baron Carl von Hugel, "the first botanist to visit that wonderland of strange and beautiful plants, the Swan River district of Western Australia"; and Hamburger, another scientific investigator in Western Australia at the beginning of the nineteenth century. "BUT the most remarkable among the collector group," said Professor Scott, was the little German woman, Amalie Dietrich. Her personal history is full of pathos. A Saxon girl of peasant stock, she married a young scientist, William Dietrich,
who, though he basely deserted her and left her to provide for their infant daughter, conferred an inestimable advantage by teaching her to be a botanist. "Sent out to North Queensland to collect specimens for Cesar Godeffroy's private museum of natural history in Hamburg, she worked for nearly 10 years in the back country, quite alone for many months on end, though for some periods her solitude was relieved by residence with kindly settlers. It is safe to say that the first considerable collection of Australian spiders was made by her. "I have no doubt that the collections sent to Hamburg by Frau Dietrich were accom- panied by letters describing the localities from which her specimens were obtained, and the surrounding circumstances. "When the history of Australian science is dealt with more fully than it can be for my present purpose, these letters should be found and used. At present we have in print only the letters which she wrote to her daughter." PROFESSOR SCOTT also dealt with the efforts made to encourage scientific research by the formation of societies and the publication of treatises. The earliest effort, he said, was the foundation in Syd- ney in 1821 of the Philosophical Society. Sir Thomas Brisbane, who was then Gover- nor, spent £1000 of his own money in equip- ping an observatory at Parramatta, and he inaugurated the first star catalogue made in Australia, comprehending 7385 stars.