Dr Roslyn Russell ‘Travel writers, botanic gardens and the nineteenth century British empire in Australia’

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Thursday, 5 July 2012 - 12:30pm
Banner for St Kilda Botanical Gardens 150th anniversary
Banner for St Kilda Botanical Gardens 150th anniversary

Roslyn Russell is a historian, author, editor and museum consultant who has lived and worked in Canberra since 1982. Her published works include Literary Links: Celebrating the Literary Relationship between Australia and Britain, and One Destiny! The Federation Story: How Australia Became a Nation (with Philip Chubb). She edited a selection of Manning Clark’s correspondence, published in 2008 as Ever, Manning: Selected Letters of Manning Clark 1938–1991. Her latest publication is The Business of Nature: John Gould and Australia, for the National Library of Australia, and she is currently working on another book commissioned by the National Library, on voyages to Australia in the nineteenth century.

Over a scant hundred years of European settlement a network of botanic gardens, part of an empire-wide system under the direction of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, was created in Australia. Nineteenth-century travellers who wrote and published accounts of these botanic gardens did more than inform their home audiences about these attractive cultural landscapes. Their accounts and opinions in effect constituted a ‘report card’ on the progress of the imperial civilising mission, of which botanic gardens were a significant part. The views of literary and botanical celebrities such as James Anthony Froude, Anthony Trollope, Mark Twain, botanical artist Marianne North and influential horticulturalist James Veitch, and those of lesser-known writers, about the effectiveness of Australian botanic gardens range from flattering to scathing, and from amusing to controversial.