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Forest Flora of South Australia : John Edne Brown

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Conservator of Forests: "a Man of Trees"

Original Chromolithographs published 1882-90

In 1878 an interesting Scotsman arrived in Adelaide, John Edne Brown. He was to take up the post of Conservator of Forests for the Government of South Australia. He had a glowing international reputation as "a Man of Trees" when he entered this, "a slice of England in the Antipodes". He understood the botanical, commercial and aesthetic value of this most important resources. Many of those corseted and topped-hatted colonists were already busy deconstructing the landscape through agricultural, grazing and mining pursuits to achieve the wealth that a free colony promised. The well-traveled Brown, was powerless to halt such energy. However, he would use the artistic talent, technical and educational resources of this colony to document and preserve for future generations. The end result was the comprehensive documentation of native botany produced between 1882-1890, The Forest Flora of South Australia.]

South Australia, British Prototype Free Colony

Plan of the Botanic Garden and Park as designed by Dr. Schomburgk

Surveyor General Light had intended the colonists to benefit from an extensive botanical garden to be placed along the River Torrens. Finally in 1857 the Gardens were opened to the Public and by 1866 was 36 hectares in size. During Dr. Richard Schomburgk’s management (1865-1891) of the Gardens the Museum of Economic Botany was established in the garden precinct to house an his extensive collection of seeds, fruits and samples from international sources but also our native species. However it seems we owe a huge legacy to John Edne Brown: Light may have created the parklands but a 1880 report by Brown, "broke that green space into a series of parkland blocks…examined their soils…identified their potential use and then recommended landscape design and plantings for each one."

John Ednie Brown (1848-1899)

Brown had visited the USA in 1871-72 and writing reports on the Californian Forests that guaranteed his international reputation as a "man of trees". The same development of land occurred in South Australia: the colony shared the pastoral reputation as “riding on the sheep’s back” along with the agricultural value earning the title of “Granary of the Australia”. The clearance of flora and habitat had been sudden and comprehensive. There was little he could do to hold back the tide of economic furor but he did have the elements he required to record the botany it was sweeping away. He set about aligning the colonies resources to produce The Forest Flora of South Australia. The five volume publication remains the largest, most accurate group of botanicals depicting Australian native plants made in the colonial period.

Botanical Artist Rosa Fiveash

Local lass, Rosa Catherine Fiveash(1855-1938), was born in Adelaide, studied at the Adelaide School of Art on North Tce and taught herself the art of botanical illustration. Her first major project was for John Edne Brown. Rosa painted the seeds, bark, flowers, and samples for botanical record could be stored by the Botanical Gardens, just like London's Kew Gardens. In future years the plants could be reintroduced to the areas from which they had been cleared. Councils and garden enthusiasts today can put this information to good use to preserve out rural flora and the fauna it supports. This was a very progressive concept for an era that believed “rain followed the plough”.

Goyder's Line of Rainfall

Goyder's "Line of Rainfall"

In 1865 was a bumper year for rainfall. In the same year the current surveyor general, George Woodroofe Goyder, drew a boundary line across South Australia from Ceduna to Pinnaroo taking only two months by observing botanical "red flags". Goyder's Line of Rainfall was the boundary believed to be suitable for agriculture. Many ignored his advice that the land was only suitable for grazing and not cropping. The ghost towns and abandoned homesteads are evidence of this folly. Brown countered Goyder's findings and was adamant that mass planting of trees north of Quorn would bring rain. On this point the two men clashed both publicly and privately.

Forest Flora of South Australia

Final Step : South Australian Government Printer

Frontis Forest Flora of South Australia
A printer for text and images was now required. Located on King William Rd and North Terrace, the Government Printer was just the ticket. The modern technique of Chromolithography used coloured inks off Bavarian limestone blocks . It had been developed in the 1860's as a more cost effective way to produce coloured images instead of laborious hand colouring of black and white engravings. The collection was printed in Adelaide between 1882-1890, each volume consisting of parts distributed in packets of five botanicals at a time, with accompanied typeset recording the species distribution, common names etc. This was a very affordable proposition for subscribers, who purchased a part for five shillings. On the completion of teach volume they could have them bound in leather Volumes. Many chose to forgo that expense, so many collected the parts and stored them in trunks. Conservation framing today can preserve these survivors of the past to benefit the future. This comprehensive collection curated by a canny Scot is a legacy that proves past generational environmental concern. NSW Premier, Sir Henry Parkes, heard of Brown's good works and poached him by offering a more lucrative pay increase. In essence he was "Head-hunted", also nothing new! However, before he left he held the first Australian "Arbor Day" on June 20 1899, a celebration of trees for a healthy land and the inhabitants that rely on it.

©Sandra Ker, Antiquarian Print Gallery, South Australia 2015


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