Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bidwill, John Carne (1815–1853)

by D. A. Herbert

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

John Carne Bidwill (1815-1853), botanist, was born at Exeter, England. In September 1838 he arrived in Sydney, where he joined a commercial firm while waiting for the survey of land that he had been allotted. Sent to New Zealand, he reached the Bay of Islands in February 1839, visited Rotorua and Taupo, explored the spurs of Tongariro and collected botanical specimens which included some new discoveries. He was recalled to Sydney in April, but returned to Port Nicholson in 1840; during his stay in New Zealand he collected plants from the mountains of Nelson. His firm then sent him to Moreton Bay, where his letters concerned little except plants; writing to his friend, Captain Phillip Parker King, he described among other things the Bunya Bunya pine, discovered by Andrew Petrie in 1838 and known in Brisbane as Pinus petrieana.

In February 1841, having established a reputation as a botanist, he sailed for England with a letter from King to Sir William Hooker at Kew. He took his plant collections, including seeds and seedlings of the Bunya pine, which Hooker in 1843 named Araucaria bidwillii. He complained that Professor Lindley had done nothing with the plants he had sent from New Zealand, and that Dr Dieffenbach, who had collected four years later, had received credit for their discovery. However, he succeeded in establishing the priority of his collections. His Rambles in New Zealand (London, 1841), which was reprinted in 1952 in Christchurch, contains observations on agricultural practices and the effects of firing.

He returned to Sydney in 1844, and in February 1845 was sent to Tahiti for a year. In September 1847 he was given charge of the Sydney Botanic Gardens as director and government botanist. By some misunderstanding, the Colonial Office gave the position to Charles Moore who arrived in January 1848. Governor Sir Charles FitzRoy sent for Bidwill and expressed his sorrow at his supercession. Bidwill in a letter to King showed no resentment. At his own request he was appointed commissioner of crown lands at Wide Bay. He wrote in 1849 that he had more than £500 a year for doing what was only a pleasure. At Tinana, now a suburb of Maryborough, he began to plant a botanic garden. While surveying a road from Wide Bay to Moreton Bay he was lost in the bush for eight days and died at his home from his privations on 16 March 1853. Most of his plants were transferred to Sydney after his death and the Tinana garden no longer exists. The genus Bidwillia and some twelve species of native Australian and New Zealand plants commemorate his name.

Select Bibliography

  • J. H. Maiden, 'Records of Australian Botanists: Bidwell, John Carne (1815-1853)', Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, vol 42, 1908, pp 85-93
  • W. W. Froggatt, 'The Curators and Botanists of the Botanic Gardens, Sydney', Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 18, part 3, 1932, pp 101-133.

Citation details

D. A. Herbert, 'Bidwill, John Carne (1815–1853)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bidwill-john-carne-1778/text1997, published in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 1 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

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