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Ernst Bernhard Heyne (1825–1881)

by F. M. McGuire

This article was published:

Ernst Bernhard Heyne (1825-1881), botanist and horticulturist, was born on 15 September 1825 at Meissen, Saxony, son of Carl August Heyne, M.D., and his wife Marianne, née Tierof. He graduated at the University of Leipzig with a diploma in botany. An accomplished linguist and mathematician, he obtained a post in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Dresden. In 1848 he was chosen to lead a botanical expedition in Spain, but it was cancelled because of political troubles. Heyne's brother Carl, who had become involved in politics, killed an officer in a duel and fled to America. Although not implicated, Ernst also decided to migrate. He left Hamburg for Melbourne in the Godefroi. His journey and arrival on 13 February 1849 are described in his letters. Published in German as Australia Felix (Dresden, 1850), they contain shrewd observations of the climate, soil, vegetation, water supplies and economy and habits of the colonists as well as advice to prospective migrants. After his father died, his mother had founded a school in Dresden. In 1851 she migrated with her daughter Agnes to join her son in Melbourne where she continued her educational work.

In 1854 Heyne was employed at the Melbourne Botanic Gardens as chief plantsman. When Ferdinand von Mueller became director Heyne was appointed his secretary and went with him on several Victorian expeditions. He helped to classify much of the botanical material collected by von Mueller in the 1850s, and is commemorated by Aster heynei F. Muell. = Olearia xerophila, and Cyperus heynei Boeckel. = Cyperus ornatus R. Br. His own large herbarium was destroyed after his death.

Heyne moved to Adelaide in January 1869 and made an extensive collection, since lost, of local seaweeds. He is credited with finding Dicksonia antarctica on the eastern slopes of the Mount Lofty Ranges. The identification of these tree-ferns, now extinct in South Australia, is authenticated by a specimen in the Melbourne Botanic Gardens: the label written by von Mueller reads: Mount Lofty, S. Austr. 1870—E. B. Heyne.

Heyne established a nursery at Hackney, near Adelaide, and opened a shop for seeds and plants in Rundle Street. He contributed regularly to the South Australian Register and the Observer in the 1870s, chiefly on the cultivation of forest trees, forage plants and pasture grasses. The colonists were then interested in finding the crops best suited to their soil and climate, and those plants and trees likely to prove of economic and industrial importance. Heyne translated many articles and pamphlets on viticulture from German, French and Spanish, and wrote on the best methods of treating plant diseases, especially dodder in lucerne and oidium in vines. At a meeting sponsored by the Chamber of Manufactures in 1870 after a lecture by Dr Moritz Schomburgk Heyne spoke on the importance of growing trees, hedges, hickory, yellow willow, sultana vines, tobacco, sunflowers and mulberries. He had published Vines and their Synonyms in 1869 and became secretary to the Vignerons' Club, which in 1876 presented him with a gold watch as a tribute to his work. In 1871 he published The Fruit, Flower and Vegetable Garden, which was enlarged as The Amateur Gardener in 1881 and ran to four editions. His Rueckblick in German had appeared in the 1850s.

Heyne was a sincere adherent of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, but on 3 December 1870 at the Unitarian Christian Church, Adelaide, he married Wilhelmina Laura, daughter of Henrich Edouard Hanckel, bookseller of Norwood, and his wife Johanne, née Von Bruno; they had two sons and three daughters. Heyne continued to work until he became ill with asthma and nearly blind. He died on 16 October 1881 at his home in Norwood. His son Carl was still at Roseworthy Agricultural College and, when he qualified, managed his father's shop and nursery with a partner.

Though serious, Heyne was cheerful and sociable with many friends. He delighted in conversation and was a prodigious writer. Though overshadowed by von Mueller, his botanical and horticultural work greatly contributed to the early development of two colonies.

Select Bibliography

  • J. H. Maiden, ‘Records of Victorian Botanists’, Victorian Naturalist, vol 25, no 7, 1908, pp 101-17
  • J. B. Cleland, ‘Dicksonia in the Mount Lofty Ranges’, South Australian Naturalist, vol 43, no 1, Sept 1968, p 27.

Citation details

F. M. McGuire, 'Heyne, Ernst Bernhard (1825–1881)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


15 September, 1825
Meissen, Saxony, Germany


16 October, 1881 (aged 56)
Norwood, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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