So now to the link between Hermann Beckler and the group of botanic artists (including me) that head up to Menindee in October. I wrote about the Burke and Wills Expedition into inland Australia here, and mentioned that part of the group had been left behind with the supplies at Menindee. Included in that group was Hermann Beckler.
Beckler was born in Bavaria in 1828. He trained as a doctor, but was always fascinated by plants. He came out to Australia, landing at Moreton Bay, Queensland in 1856, with a desire to explore inland Australia and collect plant specimens. While living in Brisbane he corresponded with Dr Ferdinand Mueller, the Colony of Victoria’s government botanist. To meet with Mueller, Beckler joined a party droving sheep through inland New South Wales and arrived in Melbourne in 1859.
In June 1860 Beckler applied to join the Victorian Exploring Expedition Party (aka the Burke and Wills Expedition). He had strong support from Mueller, who was also a member of the organising committee. Beckler was taken on as doctor and botanist. However, when the expedition reached Menindee in October 1860, Beckler resigned because he was so fed up with Burke’s erratic demands and poor leadership.
While waiting for the replacement doctor to come from Melbourne Beckler stayed with the supply party camped at Pamamaroo Creek. During this time that Beckler was able to collect specimens from the area, including Scropes Range to the north.
Meanwhile a group of men, who had set out with the intention of overtaking Burke’s group, had also met with disaster. Their Aboriginal guide, Dick returned to the supply camp after trudging 300 miles. A rescue party, which included Beckler, set off. On December 27th they found the missing men and slowly returned to Menindee.
There was another attempt to reach Cooper Creek. This time Beckler got as far north as Kooriatto Creek, where he remained with two dying men, Patten and Becker. This third journey took five months. Beckler, despite having to minister to the sick and dying, managed to collect 150 plant specimens and make botanical observations. During his three treks he collected approximately 500 specimens.
After testifying to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the expedition in 1862, Beckler returned to Germany and spent the rest of his life as a village doctor.
His plant collection however remained in Victoria. Mueller was establishing the National Herbarium of Victoria and was eager to add Beckler’s specimens to the collection. It is that collection that has sent us northward to Menindee.
(Many thanks to Linden Gillbank’s excellent chapter, ‘The botanical legacy of Ferdinand Mueller and Hermann Beckler’ in Burke and Wills: the Scientific Legacy of the Victorian Exploring Expedition. But any mistakes are all my own!)