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Toohey Forest and the Colonial Botanist

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by Simon Pikusa (subscribe)
I am a consulting structural engineer, walker, birder and occasional writer.
Published October 14th 2022
If you walk around Toohey Forest, you'll probably pass a Bailey's Stringybark. An internet search reveals it 'is not closely related to nor does it resemble any other species in eastern Australia.' But who is the eponymous Bailey?

Bailey's Stringybark
Bailey's Stringybark

Toohey Forest

Bailey was Frederick Manson Bailey who landed in Adelaide in 1839 at the age of twelve. He was the second son of John Bailey, who bought seven acres and opened the Hackney Nursery, which was named after their home in London. John imported fruit trees, (dates, vines, olives and figs) and unsuccessfully attempted to start a Botanic Garden. The current Botanical Gardens were established over the road in 1855. Also, in the fifties, Frederick Bailey left the family business to try his luck at Bendigo. This was short-lived, as was a subsequent stint in New Zealand, and he eventually arrived in Brisbane in 1861 with a wife and three sets of twins.

Early morning Toohey Forest

Bailey started a seed store on Edward Street, however this was fleeting due to financial stress in the colony and perhaps a lack of business sense. His official career started in 1875 on a government board charged with investigating the causes of diseases of livestock and plants. And this was the start of the path of this self-taught man to Curator of the Museum and Colonial Botanist. He remained in these roles for the rest of his life. An ardent collector, Bailey travelled extensively in Queensland and systematically recorded his observations directly in the field with sufficient detail to be used virtually unaltered in reports and publications. This work culminated with the publication of the mighty six-volume Flora of Queensland (1899-1902).

Distinguished by a long beard, no moustache and droopy eyelids, Bailey was a frugal man with a disdain for licentiousness, gluttony and drunkenness. His grandson recalls lunch at Government House and Lady McGregor remarking 'Well, Mr Bailey, I have got your favourite lunch a stale bun!' Darwin seems to have passed him by and he had little interest in the philosophical side of contemporary science unlike romantics Alexander von Humboldt in The Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent, Alfred Russel Wallace in The Malay Archipelago and Ludwig Leichhardt in Australia. There was probably no time for this quest for unity or trying to discover one's soul in the landscape compared to the huge practical tasks of observation, categorising and classification. With this empirical horticultural outlook, he also published A Half Century of Notes for the Guidance of the Amateur Fruit Grower. Who needs celebrity gardeners? Bailey was, apparently, a great reader of poetry, so perhaps he approached romanticism in a vernacular way.

Bailey died in 1915 at Kangaroo Point and rests in the South Brisbane cemetery. I have walked past him many times.

Bailey in South Brisbane

Some sources

Cockburn, R (1908) South Australia. What's in a Name?, Axiom (1990 Reprint)
Queensland Museum (2003) Wild Plants of Greater Brisbane.
White C T (1949) 'F M Bailey: His Life and Work', Proceedings of the Royal Society of Queensland, Vol 61, pp. 105-114.
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Where: 600 Toohey Rd, Nathan QLD 4111
Your Comment
A very interesting article, Simon.
by Gayle Beveridge-Marien (score: 4|10118) 32 days ago
by Anna on 15/08/2017
by S Lynn on 20/09/2012
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