Amalie Dietrich, Botanist and Naturalist
Kondordie Amalie Nelle was born into a middle-class family on 26 May 1821 in Saxony, Germany. She married Wilhelm Dietrich in 1846.
Amalie Dietrich learnt collecting techniques from her mother and, later, her husband. She was well-known as a field collector.
After her marriage broke up in 1861, Amalie Dietrich had to support her daughter, Charitas, on her own.
Shipping magnate Johann Caesar VI Godeffroy (1818-1885) offered Amalie Dietrich a job as a collector in Australia. He set up the
in Hamburg, Germany.
Amalie Dietrich was an unusual choice for the job of collector in a foreign land, as she was a woman, had no academic qualifications, and was middle-aged.
Amalie Dietrich arrived at Moreton Bay, Brisbane on 7 August 1863. She spent nearly ten years (between 1863 and 1872) in the frontiers of northern Queensland.
Amalie Dietrich travelled the Australian bush with her pet cat for company, a horse and cart to carry her equipment and provisions, and set up camp wherever she needed to work.
Some of her equipment included:
a magnifying glass,
six (6) insect cases,
ten (10) reams of paper,
twenty pounds (20 lb) of oakum,
two (2) boxes of poison,
four (4) flasks of gun shot, and
four (4) boxes for live snakes and lizards.
The areas in which Dietrich worked include: Brisbane (1863-65), Gladstone (1865), Rockhampton (1866), Mackay (1867, 1869), Lake Elphinstone (1868) and Bowen (1870-72).
At Lake Elphinstone, Amalie spent an enjoyable year with the Hess family, who were also from Germany.
Amalie's longest stay in Queensland was at Bowen. She stayed for nearly three years and set up a small zoo, as instructed by Godeffroy, who wanted live specimens.
Botany was Amalie Dietrich's greatest love; but she collected any living thing, including fungi, algae, ferns, seaweeds, grasses, tree woods, sea-slugs, fish, corals, birds, marsupials, spiders, insects, amphibians and reptiles.
Amalie Dietrich was the first person to collect a Taipan snake!
In the late 1800s, most scientists believed that native peoples, like the Aboriginals, were Darwin's 'missing link', and more animal than human. Thus, Amalie Dietrich was also asked to collect Aboriginal artifacts, skulls, skins and skeletons! She sent at least eight (8) Aboriginal skeletons, one skull and one tanned 'pelt' to the
After collection, all specimens had to be treated by drying, pressing or skinning, preserving, labelling and packaging for shipment back to Germany.
Amalie Dietrich collected between thirty (30) and forty (40) samples of
species! Godeffroy kept the best samples for his own museum and sold the extra samples to European museums and scientists.
Australian specimens were rare in Europe in the 1800s, and Amalie Dietrich's shipments were eagerly awaited by scientists, who were indebted to her. Scientists praised Amalie's work and bravery; she won awards, and several species were named after her, including the wasp
and the wattle
Amalie Dietrich was recalled to Germany in late 1872. As a result of her work in Australia, Amalie was able to support her daughter, Charitas, and give her a tertiary education, which was rare for females in that era.
As a field collector, Amalie Dietrich published nothing in her own name. Only a few footnotes referring to her work in scientific papers remain.
Amalie Dietrich died in Germany on 9 March 1891. Her collections remain in museums around Europe to this day.
A Woman in the Wilderness
, University of NSW Press, 1993.
Bright Sparcs: http://www.asap.unimelb.edu.au/bsparcs/
Published by the
Australian Science Archives Project
, 30 June 1997
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