Frederick Bailey

FM Bailey, botanist. SLQ image 160401.

One of the quieter characters who for a time worked in the Queen’s Wharf area was Government Botanist, Frederick Manson Bailey. From 1899 until 1912, Bailey occupied various rooms in what had been the former Immigration Depot, the building that from the late 1890s housed the Department of Agriculture.

FM Bailey with his parents and brother arrived in South Australia from England on 22 March 1839. His father, John Bailey, had been appointed Government Botanist and Curator of a Botanic Garden which the then Governor, Colonel Gawler, wished to establish. When this enterprise failed, John Bailey and his two sons established the Hackney Nursery.

Frederick Bailey moved with his new family to New Zealand for two years before arriving in Brisbane in 1861. He established a seed store in Edward Street and also collected botanical specimens for sale to Britain and Europe. In 1875 the Government set up a board to inquire into the cause of disease in livestock and plants in Queensland and Bailey was appointed to the board as botanist. As a result of this work he published two books, An Illustrated Monograph of the Grasses of Queensland and Handbook of Queensland Ferns.

In 1881 Bailey was appointed Colonial Botanist, a position he continued in until his death. When space was allocated in the office of the Department of Agriculture in William Street in what was the former Immigration Depot, Bailey established the Museum of Economic Botany and Herbarium. At its most expansive the Museum occupied 3 sizeable rooms, the largest contained 50 display frames containing wood veneers, mosses, lichens, and seaweeds and rows of glass cases containing medicinal and economic barks, plants, seeds, and fruits. In addition there were 160 specimens of Queensland grasses and 500 wood specimens cut in book form and polished. These had been shown at the Melbourne Centennial Exhibition in 1888, duplicates having earlier been displayed at the Indian and Colonial Exhibition in London in 1886.

According to newspaper articles and the memories of his grandson, CT White, Bailey was a quiet retiring man not given to standing up for himself even when it meant retrenchment during Public Service cut backs. He was, however, always willing to give advice when it was requested by farmers, graziers or any other member of the public. A slightly different view of Bailey was given by friends who accompanied him on two and three day trips into the surrounding bush looking for new specimens. They reported him as being ‘as good at giving or taking a joke as anybody, one of the mainsprings of our mirth’.

Bailey continued to publish throughout his life. His main works were Fern World of Australia 1881; Queensland Flora 1899-1902 in 6 volumes; and Comprehensive Catalogue of Queensland Plants 1912, in addition to many articles published in the Queensland Agricultural Journal. He died at Kangaroo Point on 25 June 1915.

Additional Reading

  • Australian Dictionary of Biography
  • Brisbane Courier, 11 November 1896, p. 4.
  • Journal of the Historical Society of Queensland, vol. 3, 1944, pp. 362-383.
  • Queensland Country Life, 1 March 1905, pp. 10-16.
  • Queenslander, 3 May 1890, p. 845.