In 2019, the University of Melbourne Herbarium received the Victorian School of Forestry (Creswick) Herbarium for accession at Parkville. Within that collection, lay approximately 1500 herbarium specimens that formed the basis for the H.B. Williamson collection.
Herbert Bennett Williamson was a primary school teacher and principal (1875–1925) and a botanist, recognised by his colleagues as an authority on Victorian plants. He was a prolific field botanist and collector, describing 60 plant species and collecting upwards of 6,800 herbarium specimens. These dried and pressed plant specimens are accessioned in Australian and international herbaria. Williamson served as the Honorary Keeper of The University of Melbourne Herbarium from 1929 to 1931.
In creating this exhibition, Melanie Simpson, a student intern working in The University of Melbourne Collections Projects Program, has shined a light on Williamson’s botanical legacy. This exhibition was created in collaboration with Dr Joanne Birch, Curator of The University of Melbourne Herbarium.
Melanie Simpson, Intern and Exhibition Curator
It is my hope that this exhibition brings the work of H.B. Williamson into the contemporary landscape. Work as an intern on this exhibition provided the rare opportunity for me to bring to light Williamson’s contributions to botanical exploration in Victoria. Although Williamson’s herbarium specimens can be viewed online, there was little information available about the man himself. Through Biodiversity Online, I was able to access Williamson’s written field reports to piece together his botanical expeditions. These included his work with the Field Naturalists’ Club of Victoria and collaboration with members of the National Herbarium of Victoria. Sifting through Williamson’s correspondence with well-known botanists such as Baron von Mueller and Jean Galbraith at the State Library of Victoria was incredibly exciting. Additionally, corresponding with Williamson’s descendant Julie Martin proved invaluable as she was able to contribute personal effects including photographs, botanical slides and teaching records.
Dr Joanne Birch, Herbarium and Exhibition Curator
The University of Melbourne Herbarium integrates teaching and training within the research-based institution. Williamson spent countless hours training and mentoring others in botanical pursuits. However, information about his botanical research and teaching was limited outside of the scientific literature. Melanie Simpson ably took on the tasks of illuminating and illustrating Williamson’s botanical and mentorship work during her internship within the Collections Projects Program. Williamson’s curiosity for discovery and his productivity drove his scientific legacy; his impact was surely amplified by his life’s work in primary and tertiary education institutions and through his generosity sharing his knowledge in community organisations such as the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria. This exhibition also captures the many stories of herbarium specimens: behind every herbarium specimen and species description lies the joy of field-based exploration and herbarium-based study.
Thanks are extended to Julie Martin, H.B. Williamson's great grand-daughter for provision of photos and biographical information. Curation work on The H.B. Williamson collection was carried out by staff and student volunteers from the School of BioSciences and the School of Ecosystem and Forestry Sciences [previously the Victorian School of Forestry (Creswick)]. Financial support for curation of the H.B. Williamson collection has come from the Botany Foundation and The Russell and Mab Grimwade Miegunyah Fund. Photo credits: J. Birch, G. Carle and A. Webb.