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Frederick Manson Bailey (1827–1915)

by E. N. Marks

This article was published:

Frederick Bailey, by P. Poulsen, n.d.

Frederick Bailey, by P. Poulsen, n.d.

State Library of Queensland, 160401

Frederick Manson Bailey (1827-1915), colonial botanist, was born on 8 March 1827 at Hackney, London, the second son of John Bailey (1800-1864), an experienced horticulturist, and his wife, née Manson. His father secured free passages for himself and his family; they arrived at Adelaide in the Buckinghamshire in March 1839 with a large collection of vines and fruit trees. Soon afterwards John Bailey cancelled his agreement to lease a farm from the South Australian Co., and held appointment as colonial botanist in 1839-41.

Frederick had attended the foundation school of the Independent Church at Hackney, London, but thereafter as an avid reader was self-taught. A partnership with his father and brother in a nursery near Adelaide was interrupted by a short visit to the Bendigo goldfields. In 1856 he married Anna Maria, eldest daughter of Thomas Waite, M.A.; they had three sets of twins, of whom a son and three daughters survived. In 1858 he took up land in the Hutt valley, New Zealand, but in 1861 moved to Brisbane where he opened a seed store and also collected plants to sell to overseas institutions. In 1875 when the Queensland government appointed a board to inquire into the causes of diseases affecting livestock and plants, Bailey was appointed botanist and travelled widely investigating pastures and plants reputed to be poisonous to livestock. Among his published works were Handbook to the Ferns of Queensland (1874) and, with K. T. Staiger, An Illustrated Monograph of the Grasses of Queensland (1879); his only publication extending beyond Queensland was The Fern World of Australia (1881).

Bailey was acting curator of the Queensland Museum in 1880-82 and in 1881 was appointed colonial botanist, a position he held until his death. He was tireless and happily absorbed in his work and when his appointment was suspended in the depression of the 1890s he continued to attend his office, saying the work must proceed whether or not he was paid for it. In 1902 he told the authorities that he would go on working as far as he could without pay, but if they wished to retire him they would have to carry him into the street. Public outcry caused his early reinstatement in the first instance and his retention on half salary in the second. Of his many collecting trips throughout Queensland the most notable was the Bellenden-Ker expedition to north Queensland in 1889. He sent lower plants (except ferns) to specialists and made many of his own descriptions in the field. His extensive systematic work culminated in publication in six parts of The Queensland Flora (1899-1902) with a General Index (1905) and the Comprehensive Catalogue of Queensland Plants (1912). Most of his numerous papers appeared in the Department of Agriculture Bulletin; his interests included economic plants and timbers, plants used in medicine and by the Aboriginals, and practical horticulture.

An honorary member of the Queensland Philosophical Society in 1880-83, Bailey was a foundation member of its successor, the Royal Society of Queensland, on whose council he served for thirteen years, being president in 1890. He was chairman of the field naturalists' section of this society in 1886-95 and never missed a meeting or excursion. An ardent collector himself, he was an inspiring leader, encouraging with patient help anyone interested in botany; the group made important collections in south-east Queensland. He was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1878, gave long service as an honorary corresponding member of the Royal Societies of Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia, and was awarded the Clarke medal of the Royal Society of New South Wales in 1902. In 1911 he was president of the biology section of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science. His name was given to more than fifty species of plants.

Bailey was kindly and lovable, rather spare and distinguished-looking, bearded and with drooping eyelids which in later life he had to prop up. It was a fitting tribute to his stature both as citizen and scientist that he was invested with the C.M.G. at the inaugural celebration of the University of Queensland in 1911 by Sir William MacGregor, governor of Queensland and chancellor of the university.

Brought up an Independent, Bailey attended his wife's Church of England for years, but later described himself as a 'Deist'. He died on 25 June 1915 at Kangaroo Point, Brisbane. He was succeeded by his son John Frederick and then by his grandson Cyril Tenison White, government botanist of Queensland in 1918-50, who had started as his pupil-assistant in 1905.

Select Bibliography

  • ‘Mr F. Manson Bailey, C.M.G., Late Colonial Botanist’, Queensland Agricultural Journal, vol 4, part 2, Aug 1915, pp 84-86
  • H. Johnston, ‘Presidential Address: Frederick Manson Bailey’, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Queensland, vol 28, 1916, pp 3-10
  • C. T. White, ‘The Bailey Family and Its Place in the Botanical History of Australia’, Journal (Historical Society of Queensland), vol 3, no 5, 1936-47, pp 362-68
  • C. T. White, ‘F. M. Bailey: His Life and Work’, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Queensland, vol 61, 1949, pp 105-14.

Citation details

E. N. Marks, 'Bailey, Frederick Manson (1827–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 20 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Frederick Bailey, by P. Poulsen, n.d.

Frederick Bailey, by P. Poulsen, n.d.

State Library of Queensland, 160401

Life Summary [details]


8 March, 1827
London, Middlesex, England


25 June, 1915 (aged 88)
Kangaroo Point, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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