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John Frederick Bailey (1866–1938)

by Peter Vallee

This article was published:

John Frederick Bailey (1866-1938), horticulturist, was born on 5 August 1866 at Brisbane, son of Frederick Manson Bailey, botanist, and his wife Anna Maria, née Waite. Educated at the Normal School, Brisbane, and at Divinity Hall, the Presbyterian training college, in 1889 he became assistant to his father in the botanical branch of Queensland's Department of Agriculture. They travelled widely throughout the colony to collect, describe and evaluate its flora, and published their discoveries: John's appeared in the Queensland Agricultural Journal. He published articles on economic botany (1897) and on the plants of the rabbit-infested country, Bulloo River (1898); but his most notable work at this time was his 'Report on the Timber Trees of the Herberton District, North Queensland' (1899) which discussed the utility of trees on the Atherton Tableland. In 1901 he was a member of an expedition to the Gulf of Carpentaria with Dr W. E. Roth, the northern protector of Aboriginals.

In 1905 Bailey became director of the Botanic Gardens, Brisbane, and developed his interests in horticulture and economic botany, writing articles for popular publications and continuing his work on tropical timbers. He was active in the Royal Society of Queensland as secretary in 1893-1905 and president in 1909, and he was also secretary for ten years of the Horticultural Society. He lectured effectively on botany at the Queensland Agricultural College and on his father's death in 1915, while remaining director of the gardens, also became government botanist.

Two years later Bailey was offered the directorship of the Botanic Garden, Adelaide. One reason he accepted was that South Australia was prepared to fund its gardens more generously than Queensland. In 1917-32 he ensured that the Botanic Garden was confirmed in the floricultural emphasis which had developed since the death of M. R. Schomburgk. Bailey changed the garden's landscape, introducing 'windowing' effects, and popularized its displays of bedding flowers, particularly dahlias. A modest, unassuming director, his policy was to 'follow nature just as closely as ever' he could. By 1925 he was said to have effected 'striking' aesthetic improvements. He visited country towns to advise on the planting of parks and the eastern States to confer with other directors. He was president of the Dahlia Society of South Australia, vice-president of the State branch of the Wattle Day League and an office-bearer in the Field Naturalists' Section of the Royal Society of South Australia.

Upon retiring in 1932 Bailey returned to Brisbane, where he died of coronary vascular disease on 19 May 1938. He had married Agnes Sophia Rayer in Brisbane on 21 December 1893. They had a daughter and two sons: Frederick Manson was commissioner for forests in New South Wales in 1970-71 and John Rayer became curator of the Botanic Gardens, Brisbane.

Select Bibliography

  • Adelaide Botanic Garden, Centenary Volume 1855-1955 (Adel, 1955)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1906, 2, 146, (South Australia), 1918, 3 (89)
  • R. H. Pulleine, ‘The botanical colonisation of the Adelaide plains’, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (South Australian Branch), 35 (1935)
  • C. T. White, ‘The Bailey family and its place in the botanical history of Australia’, JRHSQ, 3 (1936-47)
  • Observer (Adelaide), 30 June 1923, 18 Apr 1925
  • Australian botanists biographical files (Australian Academy of Science Library).

Citation details

Peter Vallee, 'Bailey, John Frederick (1866–1938)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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