This blue ‘On Her Majesty’s Service’ envelope from the Department of Agriculture was addressed to Professor Bayley Balfour, University (crossed out in red ink), Edinburgh, Scotland and a ’10’ was also added in red ink, close to an illegible postmark. The stampless cover was sent with a small MELBOURNE/ 3A/ AU 14/ 94 duplex VICTORIA postmark as well as a black Department of Agriculture/ Frank/ Stamp/ Victoria (first used in 1886).

I wondered why the ‘University’ had been crossed out, and a possible reason for this became apparent when I saw a cover addressed to his wife, Mrs Bayley Balfour, sent from Hankow, China in 1908, at Inverleith House, Edinburgh, Scotland, and this will be revealed later.

Isaac Bayley Balfour lived in the footsteps of his father, John Hutton Balfour (1808-1884) who was a botanist of some repute. Isaac was educated at the Edinburgh Academy, but he made very little impression as a student. His interests were in the biological sciences taught to him by his father, rather than the classics taught at school. Because his father was professor of botany, young Balfour had access to the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens, which was not open to the public at that time. Balfour studied at the University of Edinburgh, from which he graduated with first class honours in 1873, and he continued his studies in Germany.

In 1874 he participated in an astronomical expedition to Rodriguez to observe Venus, but he used the opportunity to study the local flora. This fieldwork gained him his D.Sc. and he was appointed to the chair of botany at Glasgow. He was also awarded his medical degrees (MB, CM) at Edinburgh and he eventually took over his father’s position as professor of botany. Balfour transformed the Botanical Gardens at Edinburgh, (where he had the title of Regius Keeper from 1888-1922), particularly its arboretum, as well as he built new laboratories and improved scientific facilities. He was especially knowledgeable about rhododendrons and primulas and at least 2 plants are named after him. A photo of Isaac Bayley Balfour is shown in Figure 2.

The above-mentioned Inverleith House lies within the Royal Botanical Gardens of Edinburgh and the house became the home to its Regius Keeper. Thus when the cover was addressed to him at the University of Edinburgh, it was directed to his home which is shown in Figure 3.

It would have been very interesting to know whether the Department of Agriculture, Melbourne were consulting him about specific plants.

Addendum (October 2009):  A label from a parcel has a printed ‘On Her Majesty’s Service’ and a ms. ‘Specimen of Plants’ at top left and it is addressed to Prof. Balfour, M.D. F.R.S., Director of the Botanic Garden, Edinburgh.   It was sent from the Government Botanist, Melbourne in 1890, and there is a Victorian Frank Stamp of the Chief Secretary (Figure 4).

Categories: Professors