Collection RSA/E - The Royal Society of Tasmania: Botanical Gardens

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The Royal Society of Tasmania: Botanical Gardens


  • 1845-1963 (Creation)

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22 files

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(1843 to present)

Administrative history

The Royal Society of Tasmania is the oldest scientific society in Australia and New Zealand and the third oldest Royal Society in the Commonwealth.
The Society was founded in 1843 by Sir John Eardley-Wilmot, Lieutenant Governor, as the Botanical and Horticultural Society of Van Diemen’s Land. Its aim was to ‘develop the physical character of the Island and illustrate its natural history and productions’. Queen Victoria became Patron in 1844 and the name was changed to The Royal Society of Tasmania of Van Diemen’s Land for Horticulture, Botany and the Advancement of Science. Under the current relevant Act of Parliament, passed in 1911, the name was shortened to The Royal Society of Tasmania. A branch of the Society was formed in Launceston in 1853. It lapsed but was reconstituted in 1921 and has continued since then.
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Administrative history

The Botanical Gardens was originally one of the main functions of the Royal Society (first called the VDL Society for Horticulture, Botany and the Advancement of Science). The founder of the Society in 1843, the Lieutenant Governor, Sir John Eardley Wilmot, handed over to the Society 14 acres of the Colonial Gardens on the Queens Domain to be developed as Botanic Gardens on the lines of the Botanic Gardens at Kew and
promised a grant of £200 a year. It was originally intended that a secretary with scientific knowledge of the leading branches of Natural History should be appointed, at a salary of not less than £200 p.a. with house, and he would be responsible for the Gardens. Indeed the Society hoped to appoint Joseph Hooker, son of William Hooker the botanist. In 1844 the Government grant was raised to 1400 p.a. and Dr. G.F. Story was appointed Secretary at £200 p.a. The head gardener, Herbertson, a former Government House Gardener, succeeded in June 1844 by George Grant, was to take instructions from him. From the end of 1845, however, the Government grant was reduced again to 1200. The Society then proposed to appoint a 'practical botanist' who could take charge of the Gardens and also act as secretary, and wanted to appoint F.W. Newman, who arrived from Sydney in September 1845 as head gardener, as secretary. The Governor pointed out that such an appointment
was 'inconsistent with the objects of the Society' as a 'secretary to a learned and scientific institution' should be a person 'of superior education and scientific and literary acquirements' (minutes Oct. 1845). Accordingly an Honorary Secretary, Rev. John Lillie, was elected to succeed Dr. Story from December 1845 and F.W. Newman was appointed Superintendent of the Gardens at £80 p.a. (raised in 1848 to £120). Newman died in August 1859 and Francis Abbott junior, who had served an apprenticeship under Newman from 1852 and been employed in the Gardens, was appointed Superintendent and remained until his death in 1903.
In 1885 the Gardens and Museum were transferred to the State under a Board of Trustees consisting partly of Government officials and partly of members of the Council of the Royal Society. In 1950 a new Board was established for the Botanical Gardens consisting of 4 Government nominees and representatives of the City Council, Royal Society and University of Tasmania.

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Collection consists of accounts for the sale of plants, receipted bills and detailed expenses, visitors books, work books, notebooks and administrative papers. See also entries in Council meeting minutes.

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This material is made available for personal research and study purposes under the University of Tasmania Standard Copyright Licence. For any further use permission should be obtained from the copyright owners. For assistance please contact

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