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Very rare engraving of four plates printed on a single uncut sheet, of freshwater fish from Wilhelm Blandowski’s, Recent discoveries in natural history on the lower Murray, Melbourne 1858. Blandowski was the first zoologist hired to develop collections for the … Read Full Description
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Very rare engraving of four plates printed on a single uncut sheet, of freshwater fish from Wilhelm Blandowski’s, Recent discoveries in natural history on the lower Murray, Melbourne 1858. Blandowski was the first zoologist hired to develop collections for the then National Museum of Victoria . He is best known for the expedition to the junction of the Murray and Darling rivers in 1856-57.
Blandowski findings were presented at the Philosophical institute of Victoria in 1858 but the plates were removed by order of the council due to Blandowski’s attempt to publish descriptions of species of fishes he had collected and naming several after prominent members of the Council of the Philosophical Institute (later, The Royal Society of Victoria). Blandowski’s motivation for recognising the council members was apparent in uncomplimentary descriptions accompanying his accounts of purported new species. Brosmius bleasdalii, named after the Reverend Mr Bleasdale, was described as a ‘slimy, slippery fish‘ that ‘lives in the mud’, while Cernua eadesii, ‘honouring’ Dr Eades, was portrayed as ‘a fish easily recognized by its low forehead, big belly and sharp spine’. An editorial in the Argus declared that Dr Eades considered Mr Blandowski’s description to attack ‘peculiarities in the conformation of the Doctor’s frontal and abdominal regions’. Public objections from council members resulted in the removal of the article from the issue prior to its binding. The scandal forced Blandowski to return to Hamburg, taking with him notes, drawings and many of the specimens from the expedition.
What was presented to the Institute was the text only consisting of pp. 124-137 of volume 2 of the, Transactions of the Philosophical institute of Victoria, 1858. The 4 pages (pp. 131-134) and 4 plates were the ones omitted from that volume by order of the Council.
The National Library of Australia has engraved plates of:
a. Our plate III but as a single plate numbered 70. With the catalogue entry comment: Lettered u.r.: Plate 70. One of 29 engravings of a projected 200 in William Blandowski’s unpublished work: Australia terra cognita.
b. Our plate I but as a single plate numbered 71. With the catalogue entry comment: Lettered u.r.: Plate 71.One of 29 engravings of a projected 200 in William Blandowski’s unpublished work: Australia terra cognita.
Australian Dictionary of Biography, v. 3, p.183.
Hood, T. and Museums Victoria Staff (2004) William Blandowski’s Fish – Pathways – Treasures – Museums Victoria, 2004
WILLIAM BLANDOWSKI: A FRUSTRATED LIFE, The Fish Scandal:
On 5 March 1858, proofs of Blandowski’s paper on the Murray Expedition became available at the Institute’s Council meeting and immediately drew the ire of some Council members, offended by the section describing new species of fish, some of which were named for Council members. He was asked to replace the offending descriptive matter with ‘scientific descriptions’ and to ‘withdraw the names of such gentlemen as may object to the intended compliment’. He stubbornly refused, so the Council resolved that the Transactions be issued without the descriptions and plates of the fishes. The matter caused enormous controversy among the members of the Institute and amused the general public. This episode has been dealt with in detail by others, though some aspects have not been covered (Allen 2001:221-4; Pescott 1954:14-15; Paszkowski 1967:156-159; Humphries 2003:160-165). On reading over the descriptions as a whole, one could give Blandowski the benefit of the doubt and agree with a substantial number of the Institute members that Blandowski did not intend to insult, but that he was grossly discourteous and stubborn in not withdrawing the names when asked. Also the descriptions are neither detailed nor scientific, reflecting badly on Blandowski as a scientist. However, when Gerard Krefft, by then in London, read a report of the matter in the Argus, he wrote to the secretary of the Institute on 15 July 1858 and claimed that ‘they were selected to insult’ and that ‘Mr Blandowski had informed me of his intentions and expected a great deal of fun from these proceedings. Being no Latin scholar at all, myself and his secretary had to give our aid in transforming the English into Latin Names and the one, which gave us the greatest trouble was that of Dr Eades. The description of the habits and economy of these fishes, which is the only attempt at describing Fig. 3. Cartoon of Blandowski and the Royal Society. Photograph in Georg Neumayer Album, Pfalz them, made by Mr Blandowski, is totally false and was invented for the purpose of throwing ridicule on the gentlemen after which they had been named. For instance the “Bleasdaliae” described as living in filth and slime or some such stuff is a fish often and most always caught in clear water. Mr Blandowski knows nothing of the habits of these fishes whatever, as he was never present when the natives caught them, which I can prove by my own diary. Mr Blandowski always stopped at the camp with the exception of a four weeks trip to Mr Jamiesons station near Mount Murchison and an occasional visit to that gentleman’s home at Mildura, but as he insulted Mr Jamieson and every other squatter he met with, he seldom was invited again and had to stop at the camp…. I have been the only person who was able to stand and bear all Mr Blandowski’s mad pranks and insults…. 82If Krefft’s allegations are correct, then Blandowski’s behaviour was despicable and the joke back-fired on him.83 However, Krefft’s accusations need to be treated with caution. He had previously curried favour with McCoy, who was keen to appoint Krefft as his assistant at the National Museum, by making accusations against Blandowski in letters written from Germany (Pescott 1954:17-18). In July 1858, whilst in London, Krefft wrote to the Argus correcting ‘misrepresentations made by Mr. Blandowski’ in his report on the Murray expedition. Krefft concluded his letter by stating that McCoy could furnish additional proofs to his statements (Argus 13 October 1858, supplement).The last years in Australia Blandowski’s last years in Australia were plagued with problems, and almost all because of his own stubbornness. He never reported for duty at the Museum, or it seems at the Survey Office. In addition, he retained specimens collected on the Murray expedition for the purpose of having illustrations made.84 Claim and counter-claim about moneys owed by him to the Government due to unauthorised expenditure and moneys owed by the Government to him for wages and expenses, as well as about ownership of documents, went back and forth between himself, McCoy, the Surveyor General and the Chief Secretary’s Office. The Government claimed that all documents associated with the Murray expedition were Government property, whereas Blandowski claimed he submitted regular reports during the period of the expedition and that anything he had in his possession was his private property. He had in fact sent in numerous reports to the Surveyor General, as well as letters since 1854, but, with the exception of a few insignificant documents, these can no longer be found.85 He requested to be told his duties, but seems to have got no reply; indeed at one time was told he had no place in the Public Service.86Between his return from the Murray expedition and his departure from Melbourne, Blandowski seems to have occupied himself with writing and making il-lustrations. He continued to employ Arthur Bartholomew to make finished drawings, either based on his own sketches or from fresh specimens he collected, such as fish from the fish market. Bartholomew also painted a series of butterflies for him. Blandowski also seems to have spent a little time in the field recollecting from sites he’d previously visited, such as Fossil Beach near Mornington. And despite the controversy he had stirred up, he also regularly attended Philosophical Institute Council meetings until his last on 8 March 1859, shortly before his departure from Melbourne. Indeed at the annual meeting of the Institute held the following day, he was renominated to the Council but not re-elected.87 He had been elected to the Society’s Exploration Committee and attended his first meeting on 14 November 1857. Based on his experience he argued with good reasons against altering the suggested starting point from Port Curtis to a point on the Darling River as suggested by Mueller and others, but he was outvoted.88 Mueller claimed in a letter to Augustus Gregory (1819-1905) that ‘Mr Blandowski is rather savage about the alteration’. Mueller also implied that Blandowski wanted to take part in the proposed expedition, but was ‘not at all conversant with the use of astronomical Instruments’. This latter statement seems to be at odds with Blandowski’s training and experience as a surveyor. A new exploration committee was set up in September 1858, but he was not included (Home et al. 1998:339).Blandowski was present at the preliminary meeting to form a Mining Institute of Victoria on 7 September 1857 and was elected to the Provisional Committee, but resigned in July 1858 on the grounds ‘that his other arduous duties call in requisition his undivided attention’.89 He also attended preliminary meetings to found the Zoological Society of Victoria in November 1857, and accompanied a delegation to the Governor to ask him to be patron of the Society, but he was not on the general committee when the Society was formally constituted in January 1858 (Argus 3 November 1857:4; 6 November 1857:4).90Eventually at the end of 1858, a Board was appointed to consider his claims for salary and the expenses he had incurred on the Murray expedition. Even though Blandowski had undertaken no official duties, in fact had not reported for duty during 1858, the Board found in his favour on the technicality that he had never been told that his services were no longer required and that provision had been made for him in the estimates. The amount they approved was £475/19/-. However, it was stated that payment should not be made until Blandowski had delivered up his drawings and official papers. Blandowski was so informed but declined to agree to give up his material. After more argument and the matter being aired in Parliament on 12 January 1859, Blandowski agreed to submit his drawings for examination. An-other Board, comprised of Ferdinand Mueller and Robert Brough Smyth, inspected them and reported on 31 January 1859 that in their opinion the drawings ‘are, in their present unfinished state not of high scientific value to the Government’. On the basis of this comment, the Surveyor General agreed that the amount owed be paid, so Blandowski received his money and departed. There is no doubt that the Government had a legitimate claim on those drawings made on the Murray-Darling Expedition and Blandowski had behaved very badly in claiming they were done in private time and paid for with his private funds. In contrast, for some reason Gerard Krefft, who drew many of them and kept copies of some of the material as well as a journal with the later intention of publishing it, was never asked to produce anything.
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