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Holtze, Maurice William (1840–1923)

by Darrell N. Kraehenbuehl

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Maurice William Holtze (1840-1923), by unknown photographer

Maurice William Holtze (1840-1923), by unknown photographer

B.C. Mettam Collection, Northern Territory Library, PH0429/0129

Maurice William Holtze (1840-1923), botanist, was born at Hanover (Germany) on 8 July 1840, son of C. Holtze, chief inspector of orphan houses. Educated at the Academy of Hildesheim and Osnabrück Gymnasium, Holtze was apprenticed to Th. Brown & Sons, Nurserymen and Landscape Gardeners of Hanover. He worked for four years at the Royal Gardens in Hanover while studying botany under Professor Johannes Leunis. In 1862 Holtze migrated to Russia where he spent two years at the Imperial Gardens, St Petersburg, and married on 23 April 1867 Evlampia Misinzoff.

In 1872, after returning to Germany, they migrated to Australia, landing at Melbourne but travelling to the new settlement of Palmerston near Port Darwin. In 1878-91 he was government gardener of the Palmerston Botanic Gardens. They had been used chiefly to supply government officials with fruit and vegetables but Holtze declared that the raising of cabbage heads was not the greatest ambition of the true botanist and suggested changes of function and site. With his eldest son Nicholas (d.1913) he pioneered tropical agriculture in the Northern Territory. They tested the suitability of a range of crops including rubber, rice, peanuts, tobacco, sugar, coffee, indigo and maize, and urged 'the introduction of cheap coloured labour, the passing of more attractive land legislation, and … Government assistance to settlers'. After touring Asian botanical gardens in Hong Kong, Canton, Saigon, Singapore and Batavia in 1887, the 'far-seeing' Holtze reflected that cheap labour could make 'the Northern Territory … the great rice field for the Australian colonies'.

He had a profound experience of local native tropical vegetation and sent many plants to Sir Ferdinand Mueller for identification. In 1892 Holtze published an account of his exploration of Melville Island and a list of introduced plants in the Territory in the Royal Society of South Australia's Transactions. Next year the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science published his 'A plea for a rational popular nomenclature for Australian plants'. Holtze spoke most European languages and read Latin and Greek. At Palmerston his geniality and his wife's hospitality made their home a centre of culture and sociability.

In 1891 Nicholas Holtze became curator of the Darwin Botanical Gardens when his father was appointed director and secretary of the Adelaide Botanic Garden. In Adelaide Maurice Holtze removed unsightly old trees and replanted with acacias and eucalypts. Lakes and canals were refurbished and the collection of water-lilies and lotuses became world famous. He was the first director to open the garden to the public and delighted in the response. He reputedly added 5000 specimens to the herbarium and over 1000 to the museum of economic botany. The following species, named by Mueller, recall him: Clerodendron holtzei, Sida holtzei, Habenaria holtzei and Polyalthia holtzeana.

In 1899 he established a branch, the Mylor Typical Orchard, in the Mount Lofty Range where growers could sample and obtain grafts and buds of 1500 varieties of apples, and 1100 varieties of pears. In 1913 Holtze was appointed I.S.O.; he was a fellow of the Linnean Society of London and of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia. He retired in 1917.

A placid, tolerant, generous man, Holtze died at his daughter's home at American River, Kangaroo Island, on 12 October 1923, survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • H. T. Burgess (ed), Cyclopedia of South Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1907)
  • M. Lamshed, A Centenary History of the Adelaide Botanic Garden, 1855-1955 (Adel, 1955)
  • Royal Society of New South Wales, Journal, 24 (1890)
  • Australian Territories, vol 1 (1960), 2 (1961)
  • Observer (Adelaide), 9 May 1891
  • Mail (Adelaide), 14 June 1913
  • Register (Adelaide), 15 Oct 1923
  • items 111/A1, 112/A1, 1047/152 (State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

Darrell N. Kraehenbuehl, 'Holtze, Maurice William (1840–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/holtze-maurice-william-6720/text11605, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 21 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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