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A Botanical Life: Robert David Fitzgerald

by: Penny Olsen
published by: National Library of Australia

Robert David Fitzgerald (1830–1892) arrived in Australia in 1856 as a young man of 25. An Irish immigrant, he was soon employed by the Lands Department, where he rose to become a successful colonial surveyor.

Yet Fitzgerald was much more than a distinguished surveyor and exemplary public servant. He was one of the last of the Victorian-era gentlemen scientists: an avid naturalist, ornithologist and skilled taxidermist. In 1864, while searching for birds to add to his collection, he was inspired by the discovery of a clump of Rock Lilies (Dendrobium speciosum) to collect a number of other orchid specimens in the area. Over the following years, Fitzgerald devoted his leisure time to botanical illustration and documented the orchids of Australia, publishing his discoveries in his internationally acclaimed work, Australian Orchids. In so doing, he corresponded and engaged with some of the great thinkers of his time, including Ferdinand von Mueller, George Bentham and Charles Darwin.
However, the surveyor–naturalist’s lifelong passion for botanical art covered more than orchid species; a large variety of other plants were the subject of his sketches and paintings, many of which are held in the collections of the National Library of Australia. A Botanical Life features a portfolio of these paintings, accompanied by an introduction to Fitzgerald’s life and work by Penny Olsen.

RRP: $34.99
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