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REV. FRANCIS ROBERT M. WILSON, PIONEER AUSTRALIAN LICHENOLOGIST

This very ordinary local cover has a pink ½d stamp of Victoria, canceled with a MELBOURNE/ 11 A/ MR 6/ 97 postmark, and it was addressed to Rev. F.R.M. Wilson, Kew, (Melbourne). The reverse was not seen (Figure 1).

Francis Robert Muter Wilson was born on 15 March 1832 at Low Waters, near Hamilton, Scotland. He studied at Edinburgh University and the Free College of Divinity in Edinburgh, after which he was licensed to preach in Scotland; however, he chose to offer his services in the colonies, sailing to Australia in 1857. He accepted a call to the Presbyterian Church in Camperdown, Victoria where he was inducted and ordained. In 1877 he became the Minister of Kew Church near Melbourne for many years. Wilson was hampered by ill health throughout his life, and in 1883 he was allowed to take nine months’ leave of absence, when he returned to Scotland.

In England, in August 1884 he collected lichens at Matlock, Derbyshire, and on the advice of a friend there, he took up lichenology. It was therefore at this early stage of his new field of study that he viewed the flora of Diego Garcia on 16 October 1884 during a stopover by the Orient Line steamer to take on coals. His account of these lichens is published in The Victorian Naturalist under the title "An hour on a coral island - by a student of lichenology" and it was based on a paper he read before the Field Naturalists’ Club of Victoria on 10 December 1888. Although Wilson’s visit provided only a few tentative names to the generic level, it should be acknowledged that he was the first lichenologist to set foot on the archipelago.

When Wilson returned to Australia he added considerably to our lichenological knowledge through his work and publications, not only on the flora of Australia, but also that of Fiji, New Hebrides, New Caledonia and Kerguelen, describing many new species to science. He died in Melbourne on 18 February 1902. His main lichen collection was donated to the National Herbarium of Victoria, Melbourne, but unfortunately the bulk of it, sent on loan to Messina University, Sicily, was lost in transit at sea or landed at a wrong port and perhaps his Diego Garcia specimens were also lost at this time. However, some of his material is still to be found at Melbourne and a large collection (ca. 20,000 specimens) of his is in the National Herbarium of New South Wales, Sydney. Other Wilson material, some of it unnamed, is scattered throughout the world, as he corresponded widely with leading lichenologists, particularly Johannes Müller Argoviensis in Geneva. Although based in Victoria he also wrote papers about lichens of Western Australia, New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania.

Wilson was the Pan-Australian expert at that time, for between 1887 and 1900 he wrote 20 authoritative articles for eight different journals, six of the earliest being devoted to Victoria. His last paper was about the Kerguelen lichens for the French journal Mem. De l’herbier Boissier, 1900. Francis Wilson was an associate of that great Australian botanist, Baron Ferdinand von Mueller, and Wilson published frequently in The Victorian Naturalist, the journal of the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria, of which Mueller was patron.

 

I acknowledge that I excerpted information from Mark Seaward’s paper on Francis Wilson.

 

 

 
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