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Bunce, Daniel (1813–1872)

by Roy H. Holden

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

Daniel Bunce (1813-1872), botanist, was born near Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, England. He was trained as a gardener and botanist, and emigrated to Hobart Town in 1833. He rode to Launceston, where he then opened the Denmark Hill nursery. In 1839 he went to Port Phillip, immediately joined a party of Aboriginals on a journey to Western Port, and made an intensive study of their spoken language. He established a nursery at St Kilda.

In 1846 Bunce joined Ludwig Leichhardt on his second attempt to cross Australia from east to west. Leaving the Darling Downs in December, they were back within six months, nearly dead from privation. Throughout the expedition Bunce had been a tower of strength; when advance seemed hopeless, he cast his vote to carry on, and his careful planting of melon and vegetable seeds at each camp assured the scurvy-afflicted party of food they needed most during their return. Although Leichhardt gave no public account of this journey, he wrote to a Melbourne friend: 'Mr Bunce has seen enough of our life in the bush, and of myself, to judge of the necessary qualities: activity, good humour, and sound moral principles, and perfect willingness to obey my orders, even if given harshly, and you well know that even one “sauve qui peut” is sufficient to upset a whole army'.

After his return Bunce followed the course of the Murray River to the sea. He was invited to join Leichhardt's expedition of 1848 but refused, claiming dissatisfaction over the allocation of any new botanical discoveries. Leichhardt, however, had adverse reports of his character from Port Phillip. Bunce applied in 1849 for the directorship of the Melbourne Botanical Gardens and later of the Adelaide Gardens. Unsuccessful, he became manager of a Bendigo mining company and soon was writing on the flora of Bendigo for the Melbourne Argus. Bunce's study of Aboriginal languages on his journeys in 1839 and 1846 led to the publication in Melbourne in 1851 of his Language of the Aborigines. In 1858 he became director of the Geelong Botanical Gardens, which he designed and planted with a large variety of species. While at Geelong Bunce suffered a very severe bereavement, when four of his young children died within three days in a diphtheria epidemic. Thrice married, he died in 1872, and was buried in the Roman Catholic portion of the Geelong cemetery with his second wife, Pelonamena, daughter of John Batman. He was survived by one of his five children.

Besides contributing articles to the Journal of Australasia, the Victorian Agricultural and Horticultural Gazette, the Argus (including 'Journal of a Naturalist', on his journey down the Murray River) and other journals, Bunce published a number of works. His Manual of Practical Gardening appeared in twelve monthly parts from July 1837 to June 1838 and a revised second edition was entitled Australian Manual of Horticulture (Melbourne, 1850; 3rd ed 1851). Ronald Gunn described Hortus Victoriensis (Melbourne; 1851), the first publication in Victorian botany, as a theft from James Backhouse's list of Tasmanian plants in James Ross's Hobart Town Almanack, 1835, enlarged by many genera unknown on the Australian mainland and 'palpable fabrications of names' for some plants which never existed. Bunce's monthly journal, the Rural Magazine (Melbourne), appeared from April to November 1855.

Twenty-Three Years' Wanderings in the Australias and Tasmania, Including Travels with Dr Leichhardt (Geelong, 1857), also entitled Australasiatic Reminiscences of Twenty-Three Years' Wanderings (Melbourne, 1857) and Travels with Leichhardt (Melbourne, 1859) is certainly Bunce's best work. In it he describes his first meeting with Leichhardt in Sydney and, although he may sometimes have felt like rebelling against his leader he never complains, and his criticism is always restrained. Although Bunce claimed two more publications, it seems that Guide to the Linnaean System was never published. His Hortus Tasmaniensis was printed but, because of fierce criticism, the destruction of all copies was ordered; the National Library, Canberra, has a unique copy.

Bunce must have collected in Central Australia, and later brought to Geelong, some seeds of the myall tree, for in late life he mentions that 'a sample of this elegant tree, the only one in Victoria, now flourishes in the Marshall Street garden of Mr William Weire, Town Clerk of Geelong'.

A portrait of Bunce is in the library of the Historical Society of Victoria.

Select Bibliography

  • W. R. Brownhill, The History of Geelong and Corio Bay (Melb, 1955)
  • E. E. Pescott, ‘The Pioneers of Horticulture in Victoria’, Victorian Historical Magazine, vol 18, no 1, Feb 1940, pp 1-33
  • E. E. Pescott, ‘The Writings of Daniel Bunce, 1813-1872’, Victorian Historical Magazine, vol 23, no 3, Sept 1950, pp 115-25
  • Geelong City Council records
  • Ludwig Leichhardt papers (copy held at State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Roy H. Holden, 'Bunce, Daniel (1813–1872)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bunce-daniel-1847/text2139, published in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 2 September 2014.

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

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