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Cheel, Edwin (1872–1951)

by Ann G. Smith

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Edwin Cheel (1872-1951), botanist, was born on 14 January 1872 at Chartham Hatch near Canterbury, Kent, England, son of Reuben Cheel and his wife Elizabeth, née Manual. Educated at Newcastle upon Tyne and in Kent, he migrated as a farm-labourer to Mackay, Queensland, on the Jelunga in May 1892 and worked in the cane-fields, before moving to Sydney.

Cheel found work as a carpenter and on 14 April 1897 married Ada Spencer. In December he was employed as a gardener at Centennial Park. Encouraged by J. H. Maiden, Cheel showed an unusual aptitude for botanical studies and developed a particular interest in cryptogams. In 1901 he was given 'honorary charge' of lichens in the National Herbarium, Sydney, and next year transferred to the outdoor staff of the Botanic Gardens. He took unpaid leave to study lichen herbaria in England in 1905. Returning to Sydney, he had the fungi section added to his care and was appointed botanical assistant in 1908, becoming principal botanical assistant, in charge of the herbarium, on the death of Ernst Betche in 1913. His appointment in 1924 as curator inaugurated a period of administrative separation between herbarium and Botanic Gardens. He was botanist and curator from 1933 until 1936 when he retired.

Cheel's botanical interests extended beyond cryptogams to most groups of plants. He made a special study of the Myrtaceae, many species of which he cultivated and observed at his home at Ashfield and at Hill Top, south of Picton. He published numerous papers, frequently exhibited botanical specimens and was an enthusiastic leader of field excursions. Recognized as an authoritative, self-trained naturalist, he was praised for his 'unfailing courtesy', 'generous help and unstinted devotion' over many years.

Cheel was president of the local Naturalists' (1911-12 and 1923-24) and Linnean (1930) societies, also of the Horticultural Association (1929-31) and of the Royal Society of New South Wales (1931) whose bronze medal he received in 1943 for 'his contributions in the field of botanical research, and to the advancement of science in general'. President of the botanical section of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science in 1937, he was also a trustee of the National Park from 1933 and that year represented the Australian National Research Council at the fifth Pacific Science Congress in Canada. A warm supporter of the friendly society movement from the age of 12, he was grand master of the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows in New South Wales in 1926.

Survived by his wife and daughter, Cheel died at Ashfield on 19 September 1951 and was cremated with Anglican rites. His extensive collection of New South Wales botanical specimens is housed in the National Herbarium, Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • Botanic Gardens … Report of the Director, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1898-1924
  • Australian Naturalist, 3 (1915), pt 8
  • Australasian Herbarium News, June 1947
  • Linnean Society of New South Wales, Proceedings, 86 (1952)
  • Royal Society of New South Wales, Proceedings, 77 (1952)
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 22 Oct 1925
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21 Dec 1929
  • Hunt Institute biographies (Australian Academy of Science Library).

Citation details

Ann G. Smith, 'Cheel, Edwin (1872–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cheel-edwin-5571/text9501, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 20 April 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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