VII — Foelsche, The Naturalist
On his arrival in the Northern Territory, Paul Foelsche was struck by the beauty of the landscape, and the variety of its plant and animal life. He quickly became an enthusiastic naturalist. He sent specimens to the South Australian Museum and collected plants for the famous botanist, Ferdinand von Mueller.
The South Australian Museum's first Curator, Frederick Waterhouse, encouraged Foelsche's interests, sending him books and collecting equipment. Foelsche also befriended the ornithologist James Stapleton, and sent bird specimens to Adelaide during 1871 and 1872. A year later, despite increasing police duties, Foelsche found time to collect grasshoppers and other insects for the Batavia Museum.
Foelsche's interest in botany was encouraged by the mercurial Baron Ferdinand von Mueller, a fellow German. During the early 1880s Foelsche sent more than 200 carefully preserved plant specimens to von Mueller at the Melbourne Herbarium. Among them was a new species of orchid, and a previously unknown eucalpyt. Von Mueller named both species in Foelsche's honour.
During 1891 Foelsche assisted the collecting efforts of the South Australian Museum director, Edward Stirling, gathering a large collection of ethnographic and natural history specimens, including crocodiles, birds, mammals, insects and shells.
Foelsche took few photographs of natural history subjects. He preferred to take wider, more complex views, rather than close-ups of single subjects. Perhaps he considered that his scientific specimens served the purpose of a photograph.
Unfortunately, with the exception of his botanical specimens, few of Foelsche's natural history specimens can be identified today. Despite this, it is clear that he formed part of a wide community of interested amateurs who sustained the growth of museums and their collections during the late nineteenth century.
50. Termite nest, with Corymbia foelscheana, early 1880s
Foelsche did not include this photograph in his album sets. The probable reason is that the horse and buggy distract attention from the apparent main subject, the termite nest. But the main subject of this photograph is probably the distinctive large-leafed eucalypt tree at the right. This tree has been identified as Corymbia foelscheana, a species discovered by Foelsche and named in his honour in 1882 by the botanist Baron Ferdinand von Mueller. A facsimile of Foelsche's original specimen, and further details of his plant collecting, are contained in the adjacent display case. Foelsche probably took this photograph to document the tree, rather than the termite nest. The horse and buggy serve as a useful scale for both.
51. Banyan tree, Palmerston Botanic Gardens, 1887
One of two Foelsche photographs of the distinctive banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis), with its aerial roots harbouring a range of other plant species. These trees stood in the Palmerston Botanic Gardens, near the site of the present Gardens. His interest in the banyan may have been provoked by understanding its importance to Aboriginal people, who helped him collect many botanical specimens during the early 1880s.
Foelsche collected samples of banyan tree bark and the fibre which Larrakia people used for making string and woven bags, like those in this exhibition. Foelsche recorded the Larrakia name of the tree as lamumber, and the name of the bark (illustrated here) as bailigimber.