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A fresh perspective on the first successful (?

)
introduction of honey bees into Australia in 1822.
During the early years of the 1990’s I’d been keeping bees in the lower Blue Mountains as a
hobby, at the same time accumulating books on bees, concentrating on those published in
Australia. My natural tendency towards logical thinking reinforced by my professional training
as an analyst, inevitably drew me to their historical references. Hence grew my dissatisfaction
with the depth and accuracy of information then available on Australian beekeeping history. In
December 1994 I acquired a copy of Albert Gale’s 1912 Australian Bee Lore and Bee Culture.
Its contents very quickly inspired the commencement of my research, centred upon the question
“by whom and when and how were honey bees introduced into Australia?” Many others before me
had addressed the whom and the when, with few exceptions concluding or reiterating the same 1822
answer. Recent research has revealed a fresh perspective which challenges the general belief that
Captain Wallace’s Isabella hives of bees were the first to successfully establish in Australia from
1822.

Failed Attempts – both before and after 1822


Others, both before and after 1822 had tried and failed to successfully introduce bees into the
antipodean colonies:
• 1806: Gregory Blaxland sailed from England on 1 September 1805, arriving New South
Wales 13 April 1806, a journey of seven and a half months. Henry Hacker states in the
Illustrated Australian Encyclopaedia of 1925 that “The first reference to bees in Australian
records occurs in a letter from Gregory Blaxland dated 1st March, 1805, asking for cargo
space on the William Pitt for a ‘swarm of bees in cabin with wire cage over the hive’. There
is, however, no record of their safe landing.” (p.1). From the Historical Records of
Australia, a report to Governor King dated 13 July 1805 from Viscount Castlereagh states
“Mr. Blaxland takes out no live Stock excepting possibly a few Spanish Sheep.” This letter
was despatched upon the William Pitt - the sheep numbered twelve. Amongst the extensive
list of the supplies that Blaxland did bring includes “2 cases of plants, hops, &c, in cabin, 2
cases of field and garden seeds” (p.569)
During the voyage Blaxland lost many valuable seeds. These seeds he had collected at the
Cape of Good Hope literally cooked in the heat. They did not germinate “owing to the heat
of the ships hold in which they were stowed” 1 Not surprising then that Blaxland planned to
keep his hive of bees in cabin which may have afforded a greater degree of ventilation and
heat control. There is no evidence that the bees were ever taken on board. Blaxland's letter
requesting shipment was written before he embarked on the William Pitt under Captain
Boyce.
The fate of the bees could be explained by an ongoing dispute between Blaxland and Boyce,
both before, during and after the voyage, the basis for which is unclear. Blaxland attempted
to litigate on his arrival and legal opinion on his right do so was sought by the Governor. “It
appears that Some disagreement took place between the Commander of the Pitt and Mr.
Blaxland, a passenger, in which others were concerned, previous to the Ship leaving

1
Historical Records of Australia, Vol.V, p.748
England and during the Voyage". (p.717) Blaxland wrote "Myself and family met with
exceeding bad treatment from Capt'n Boyce”.

Gregory Blaxland (1778 - 1853), unknown artist

• 1809: In the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal for 1820 and repeated in Charles Bucke’s
1823 On the beauties, harmonies and sublimities of nature …, “Bees were introduced to
New South Wales in 1809. Two hives were taken from England; but the bees were
suffocated by the melting of the wax, in crossing the Line. Captain Wallis afterwards
introduced four more hives in 1822, and the last time I heard of them, they were healthy
and increasing.” (p.186) This anonymous attempt should not be confused with Samuel
Marsden’s 1 December 1809 letter 2 and his 27 January 1810 arrival in Sydney with hives
of stingless bees procured in Rio de Janeiro.

Samuel Marsden (1765 - 1838), by Joseph Backler


2
written on board the Ann at Rio “Two Hives of Bees I found in Rio and shall attempt to take them out”
• Circa 1816-1817: In one of two related letters to the Editor of the Colonial Times and
Tasmanian Advertiser for Friday 8 December 1826: “In another part of the Paper, we
have given insertion to a Letter, signed C.Y.X. on the subject of bees. We think what our
Correspondent says is true, and should rejoice to see something done of the nature of
what he advises. We remember, that about 9 or 10 years back, a few bees were imported
to this Colony, which were turned loose in Hobart Town, but, in consequence of their then
being so few flowers and herbs about the town, they flew away and were never seen
since. What C.Y.X. says about the culture of thyme might perhaps prevent a recurrence of
this.”
• Circa 1817-1819: The Sydney Gazette for 12 April 1822 (p.2), recalled within a report on
the progress of the Isabella’s bee hives, then in the possession of Mr Parr of George-street:
“A species of this industrious race was introduced some years ago, 3 and lived only a
short time, in Parramatta;”
• 1821: Extracted from the Tasmanian for 24 August 1832, 4 the following also appeared in
the Sydney Gazette for Saturday 8 September 1832: “We are pleased to learn that His
Excellency Colonel Arthur, mindful of the interests of the sister colony, has sent a hive of
bees, one of the progeny of that brought out by Dr. Wilson last year in the John, to
Governor Bourke, for the benefit of the now very thriving colony under his Government;
and what is a singular coincidence, the hive has gone up in the ship England, under the
immediate care of Dr. Wilson, who originally and so successfully imported the original
from which it was produced.
It is but just here to mention that so long ago as the year 1821, Mr. [William] Kermode,
no less mindful of the interests of the colony, brought out a hive of bee from England in
the finest possible condition, which he transferred on arrival to the care of the Lieutenant
Governor, Colonel Sorell, but owing to the want of such a person as Mr. Davidson, at the
head of the Government garden, to manage them so successfully as he has done those
brought out by Dr. Wilson, they unfortunately perished. …” (p.3)
• 1821 (another): From research aired by Keith Campbell of the South Coast of New South
Wales, made available via the ABC Radio program Ockham’s Razor on 29 December
2002: “In 1821, John MacArthur (of Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta) wrote to his brother
James from London, that he understood that he had acquired English bees, and wanted to
know how they were doing. The MacArthurs were first to do with livestock in Australia:
perhaps this was another. … It is possible that all these early bees [ie., including the
Wallace / Isabella bees] perished with Braidwood Wilson's being the first successful
imports.”

3
I’ve interpreted “some years ago” to approximate between three and five years.
4
Also appeared in the Hobart Town Courier, 24 Aug. 1832, p.2
James Macarthur (1798 - 1867), artist unknown
• 1824: F.R. Beuhne stated in his 1916 book Beekeeping in Victoria “The Black Bee, it has
been stated, was first brought to Tasmania from Great Britain in 1824. From Tasmania some
hives were then taken to Sydney and from thence the variety has spread pretty well over the
whole of Australia.” (p.13). Unfortunately, Beuhne did not mention any prime source for his
observation. The scanty specifics of this 1824 reference appear nowhere else in all the
material I have studied. It could be a confusion with the next item: -
• 1824: Gale, 1912, quoted from the Sydney Morning Herald, 10 August 1863 “.... it stated
that at a meeting of the Acclimatisation Society of New South Wales … bees were brought
from England to Sydney in the year 1824, in the ship Phoenix, which sailed from
Portsmouth in March of that year.” In Charles Bateson’s 1969 The Convict Ships “The
Phoenix, after disembarking her convicts at Hobart, sailed for Sydney, and early in August
arrived off the entrance to Port Jackson.” ( p.230)
From John Ross’s 5 letter, dated 10 August 1863 at Moruya, subsequently appeared in the
Sydney Morning Herald: “In your paper of the 28th July, I see it stated at a meeting of the
Acclimatisation Society of New South Wales, that bees were first brought to this country
by Dr. Braidwood Wilson, from Hobart Town, in the year 1831. This is evidently a
mistake. Bees were brought from England to Sydney in the year 1824, in the ship
Phoenix, which sailed from Portsmouth in March of that year.” The bees were in charge
of Dr. Quede [sic.] Surgeon Superintendent of that ship, of which I was junior officer, and
it was understood on board that they were sent by the Home Government. However that
may be, I have the most perfect recollection of being one of the boat’s crew who
conveyed the bees, accompanied by Dr. Quede, from the ship in Sydney Cove to
Parramatta, where they were landed near the factory, in presence of Sir. Thomas
Brisbane.

5
Ross was First Pilot of the Newstead Pilot Station, Moruya River, NSW, 1860-1871
I returned to Sydney in February, 1825, when I again visited Parramatta. I was then
informed that the bees had greatly increased, and were doing well. Soon after I left for
India, and did not return to Sydney until 1828, when I found bees common in
gentlemen’s gardens, and was given to understand that they were the produce of bees
imported in the ship Phoenix.”

Governor Brisbane: soldier, astronomer, colonial Governor;


Honey bee patron and/or a beekeeper as well ?
• 1826: Several late 20th century scientific papers have quoted Keith Doull’s 1973 article
which appeared in Australian Plants (7:223-236), titled Bees and their role in pollination.
The quotation referred to simply reads “Honeybees are not native to Australia, and the
first hives were introduced in 1826.” No prime source was provided.
• 1829: In the Hobart Town Courier for Saturday 3 October 1829, it is stated that bees were
not present in Van Diemen’s Land: “While upon the subject of vessels touching at the
Cape of Good Hope, we suggest the propriety of any settler or commander of a vessel
touching there on his voyage hither, to speculate in bringing out with him a few hives of
bees. The voyage from the Cape hither is but short compared to that from England and
although some attempts to introduce the honey bee in Van Diemen's land have already
been tried and have failed, they must eventually succeed, and he who first speculates in
them must realise a small fortune. Of all places in the world Van Diemen's Land with its
honeyed blossoms at all seasons, is most eligible for the rearing of bees.” (p.4)

Evidence for and against Capt. Wallace in 1822


Much evidence exists supporting the success of Wallace’s venture. Countless entries both in print
and on the web attest to Wallace’s triumph eg., 1820’s issues of the Sydney Gazette, early 19th
century books accessible in significant Australian libraries, Heaton’s 1879 Dictionary of Dates,
20th century encyclopaedias (eg., The Australian Encyclopaedia, 1958), all attest and repeat the
barest facts of the Isabella event.
The following historical accounts are relevant to Wallace’s reputed achievement:
• The general belief in Captain Wallace’s success is based on oft referenced editions of
early 1820’s issues of the Sydney Gazette, chiefly including:
o 15 March 1822: “SALES BY AUCTION BY MR. LORD At his Auction Mart,
Macquarie-place, on Tuesday next, the 19th Instant, at 11 o'Clock in the
Forenoon, THE FOLLOWING ARTICLES, without Reserve; seven hives of bees,
just imported from England; ...” (p.3)
o 12 April 1822: “Captain Wallis, of the Isabella, brought out a number of bee-hives
on his last visit to the Colony. Mr. Parr, of George-street, has four of these thickly
populated habitations, which seem not to lose any of their forces from a change of
climate. … the present generation appear to be a hardy and thrifty set. As soon as
the dawn appears, the little animals issue forth from the rest they have enjoyed
during the night, and commence their aerial journey over their newly-acquired
land; and one squadron no sooner returns heavily laden with spoil, than another
troop may be viewed winging away for some favored spot that seems perfectly
congenial to their prosperity and nature. … Mr. Parr has no doubt, with the
exercise of proper attention, that the four hives might become twenty, in the space
of only twelve months. The experiment is doubtless worthy of a trial.” (p.2)
o 14 June 1822: “Mr. PARR has only ONE HIVE of BEES for SALE, having
disposed of all the other Hives imported by Captain Wallis, which are the only Hive
Bees in New South Wales.- When the above Hive was landed the number of Bees
were reduced to 476, and the quantity of honey to little more than half-a-pound; but
now, although the depth of winter, the number of bees exceed 6000, and their stock
of honey, about eighteen pounds - Mr. Parr will engage that this hive will cast a
swarm in July next, and before Christmas three others may be expected.” (p.4)
o 6 November 1823: “The bee-hives taken out by Captain Wallis, of the Isabella,
fortunately arrived safe, and four of their thickly populated habitations are now in
the neighbourhood of Sydney, where the valuable little colonizers seem to lose none
of their forces from the change of climate, but rather to increase in thrift and
hardihood. The owner expected to extend his four to twenty hives in twelve months,
so congenial to their prosperity and nature is their newly acquired land.” (p.2)
• An item under the heading “Australasia. New South Wales” in the European Magazine
and London Review for 1823, referenced “an article in a late Sydney Gazette”, dealing with
the price of oranges, thriving sheep in Van Diemen’s Land, Blaxland’s prize winning wine
and the Isabella’s bees: “ The news from this country continues to be highly satisfactory.
… Bees have been imported without suffering from the voyage, and are doing well.”
(p.270) The comment “without suffering from the voyage” was inaccurate for one of
Parr’s hives up for auction had a seriously depleted population of only 476 bees - I’ve
always wondered how they were counted!
• An article simply signed “B.F.” and titled “Journal of an excursion across the Blue
Mountains of New South Wales” appeared in The London Magazine for July to December
1823. 6 It documented Supreme Court Judge Baron Field’s journey which commenced
Monday 7 October 1822. Part of the entry for “Tuesday, Oct. 15. - Morning windy and
cloudy, but the day proved fair. The Macquarie very high and still rising. Left Bathurst at

6
The London Magazine, July to Dec. 1823, by John Scott & John Taylor. Vol. VIII, C. Baldwin, London.
Article appeared in the Nov. issue (pp.469-470).
half past 10 o'clock … Procured a cod-fish from a creek of the river Macquarie, which we
crossed in our way, weighing nineteen pounds. This is truly a land flowing with milk and
honey, if there were but dairymen and bees. …” He made no comment either way on the
presence of bees closer to Sydney.

Barron Field (1786 - 1846), by Richard Read, c1820


• The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British and Foreign India ..., (Vol.16, July
– Dec. 1823, p.483) “During the last three weeks, three swarms of young bees have been
produced from two hives, the property of D. WENTWORTH, Esq. purchased by him from
Captain Wallace.” On the surface such a report demonstrates a vigorous increase in the
number of honey bee populations. A closer think could indicate something was amiss,
with the real possibility of absconding and/or poverty swarms having occurred. Three
swarms from two hives in three weeks could equally be good news or an omen. The real
question is, were the virgin queens left in residence in the two Wallace sourced hives able
to successfully mate and their hives subsequently prosper. One of the three swarms can
be assumed to have been headed by an antipodean born Queen, which, once mated,
issued forth with its consorts, leaving behind another virgin Queen.
The report in the Asiatic Journal supports an expectation rather than a statement of
success: “The five hives of bees taken out by Captain Wallace of the Isabella, were
thriving well, and had thrown off many swarms, the greater part of which had escaped
into the woods, where they will multiply fast, from the climate and country being so
favourable to their propagation; so that wild honey and wax will may hereafter become
objects of interest to the Colonist for domestic purposes and exportation, besides what
will be produced from the bees in their tame state.” (pp.460-1) Given that Parr had seven
hives in March 1822, either this report was in error or two hives were lost.
• It was the practice in the days of sail before the advent of under-sea cables and radio, for
ships to carry newspapers from their port of departure, they to be avidly read and
consumed on arrival. Excerpts from those newspapers swiftly appeared in local reports.
Thus it was after the Competitor, Captain Ascough, on 16 June 1824, “arrived off the Isle
of Wight … in one hundred and thirty-four days from Sydney …” Extracts from the news
she carried appeared in London’s Morning Chronicle for Monday 21st June and
subsequently in the January-June 1824 issue of The Philosophical Magazine and Journal.
The report of the Isabella’s bees appeared with other items under the heading
“Intelligence and Miscellaneous Articles – New South Wales.” It included such notes as
Hannibal M’Arthur’s import of olive trees; the commencement of a daily stage coach run
between Parramatta and Sydney; Archibald Bell’s discovery of a new route over the Blue
Mountains; and John Oxley’s December 1823 discovery of a river in Moreton Bay which
he named the Brisbane. Any report made on the progress of Wallace’s bees was therefore
available to a London audience up to and concluding with the date of the Competitor’s
embarkation, announced in the “Ship News” section of the Sydney Gazette, 5 February
1824 (p.2)
Following the arrival of the Isabella in March 1822 the bees had the opportunity to enjoy
Sydney’s Spring season of late 1822, a first Summer to the end of February 1823, a
second Spring in late 1823 and the majority of a second Summer until the Competitor’s
departure in early February 1824. The Morning Chronicle report of 21 June 1824 stated
“The five hives of bees taken out by Captain Wallace of the Isabella, were thriving well,
and had thrown off many swarms, the greater part of which had escaped into the woods,
where they will multiply fast, from the climate and country being so favourable to their
propagation; so that wild honey and wax may hereafter become objects of interest to the
colonist for domestic purposes and exportation, besides what will be produced from the
bees in their tame state.” This account reflects, word for word, that which appeared in the
July – December 1823 collation of The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British
and Foreign India.
• The Spirit of the English Magazines (1825) essentially rehashed the Asiatic Journal’s
1823 report: “The Hives of Bees taken out to New South Wales by Capt. Wallace, were
five of them thriving well, and had thrown off many swarms, although the greater part of
these had escaped into the woods, where they are multiplying …” Here we have the
implication of personal observation, though I suspect optimistic journalistic interpretation
was in play rather than the first hand gatherings of a naturalist. An increase in potentially
viable feral swarms is indicated, but Wentworth at his Homebush property apparently still
had the same number of “managed” hives he started with, viable or otherwise.
“Homebush” near Sydney, by Louisa Anne Meredith, c1841

• The Sydney Gazette, 7 April 1825, carried an advertisement for the auction of “the late
Mr. Riley's valuable property.” The list of household goods and items included wines and
liquers, [sic.] elegant plate and plated ware, a handsome musical snuff-box, a set of ivory
chess-men, a quantity of valuable books, as well as agricultural items such as bullock
carts, harnesses, a winnowing machine, a lathe, cows, bullocks, and “a patent cooking
machine, two boats, lying in the creek at Wooloomooloo, and 3 hives of bees, now in the
garden there.” (p.4) Edward Riley, merchant and pastoralist, had acquired the property in
May 1822. Were the hives traceable back to the Isabella’s bees - possibly through the
property’s former owner, John Palmer, merchant, ship‐owner and former 1788 First
Fleeter and Commissary‐General? 7
• An extract from James Atkinson’s 1826 An Account of the State of Agriculture and
Grazing in New South Wales, &c., appeared in the Sydney Gazette for Friday 19 January
1827. It suggests bees were not then plentiful in the colony: “… barren scrubs almost
every where border the sea coast, and extend to various distances inland; in some places
two or three miles; in others, lands of a better description approach close to the water's
edge. The soil in these scrubs is either sand-stone rock, or sterile sand or gravel, covered,
however, with a profusion of beautiful shrubs and bushes, &c. The grass trees, with its
lofty flower stalk, is a conspicuous object in these wastes. Very few trees grow in these
places, except a few stunted gum trees, in situations sheltered from the sea winds. Much
honey might probably be collected from these scrubs were bees plentiful in the colony,
and some small profit may possibly be thus made of them hereafter; but with this
exception, they scarcely seem susceptible of any improvement.” (p.3b) This article
clearly states bees were not plentiful in the colony, be they managed or feral hives. Does
it imply there were none at all?

7
From the 1967 Australian Dictionary of Biography, (Vol. 2, Margaret Steven, pp.309-311) “In February
1793 Lieutenant-Governor Francis Grose had granted Palmer 100 acres (40 ha) at the head of Garden
Island Cove, then known as Palmer's Cove. Here, set in an extensive orchard, Palmer built
Woolloomooloo Farm, one of the colony's first permanent residences, where the Palmers lived and
elegantly entertained the first rank of colonial society.”
Wooloomooloo, the residence of Edward Riley Esq., J. P., (c. 1825)
Waterolour by Joseph Lycett.
• An unattributed article in the Sydney Gazette, 7 March 1829, asked “Game: Somewhere
about three years ago, an Association was formed in Hobart Town for the importation &
propagation of British Game, and a considerable sum of money was, we believe, contributed
and remitted home for that purpose. But it is long since any thing farther about that matter.
Maybe we might.” This question was immediately followed by the query: “Has the bee been
any where successfully propagated, in other of the colonies?” This implies there’d been
earlier failures to propagate honey bees in New South Wales. 8
• The Sydney Gazette for Thursday 29 July 1830 carried the following under the title
“Australian Capabilities” – “A Member calls the attention of the Agricultural and
Horticultural Society to sundry productions which the Colony is capable of yielding, and
which it is important to encourage by premiums. Whether the bee would, as he supposes,
thrive well in our climate, is at present problematical. They have been several times tried,
but we believe in each instance failed.” (p.2c)
• In Rev. William Dunbar’s 1840 The Natural History of Bees: Comprehending the uses
and economical management of the British and foreign honey-bee ..., “It appears from
recent accounts, that in the distant regions of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land,
besides the indigenous insect, the Bee of Europe has obtained a firm footing, and already
rivals the prolific race of South Carolina. The following account is from a periodical of
8
With potential to confuse matters, a lengthy letter, originally to the Editor of the Waterford and Weekly
Waterford Chronicles from one Matthew Hindson - not the Matthew Hindson of the merchant and ships’
agents firm of Icely and Hindson in Macquarie-place Sydney - was reproduced in the Sydney Gazette, 17
February 1829. (p.3) The letter was dated “Grange, Waterford, Sept. 10, 1828” and advanced the benefits
farmers may obtain through the propagation of bees. Clues within the letter (eg., qualification of currency in
terms of pounds sterling, mention of native clover – of which Australia had none - and his perusal of
Parliamentary reports) leave no question that the letter was written in England for local consumption.
extensive circulation and great utility. - Loudon's Gardener's Magazine, Dec. 1835. …
The European Bee has been oftener than once introduced into Sydney, but without
success; the swarms having always left the hives for the woods.
There is a government garden at Hobart Town, under the care of our correspondent Mr.
Davidson; 9 … The latest accounts which we have had from this quarter relate to the
European honey bee. … A hive was carried to Van Dieman’s Land, in the autumn of the
year 1830, by Dr. T. B. Wilson, at the suggestion of his friend Mr. R. Gunter of Earl’s
Court, brought from London in a wire case. It arrived in safety, and the bees swarmed
several times the first year; and in the True Colonist (a Hobart-Town newspaper) of
February 14th 1835, it is stated that a hive descended from Dr. Wilson’s, belonging to a
gentleman in the neighbourhood of Hobart-Town, had already swarmed eighteen times!”
(pp.282-3) Robert Loudon’s observation did not favour Wallace’s success.
• In John Milton’s 1843 The practical bee-keeper; or, concise and plain instructions for the
management of bees and hives, under the heading “Bees in New South Wales”, after a
description of some native bees: “Some European bees were introduced here a few years
ago, but falling into careless hands, little attention was paid to them. Lately, however,
some swarms have been obtained by a careful individual, 10 and we hope soon to see the
colony stocked with them. A number of swarms have, at different times, escaped into the
woods, and the climate being exceedingly favourable for bees, we may expect soon to see
honey and wax added to our list of exports. …”
• The Sydney Morning Herald, 28 July 1863, covered a meeting of the New South Wales
Acclimatisation Society held the previous day, Mr. L. Samuel in the chair. At the end of
the article the correspondent noted “The chairman mentioned that he had received some
hives of the bees from Tasmania in 1834.” Why would anyone undergo the expense of
shipping bees from Tasmania if they freely available in NSW?

Overwhelming evidence for Dr. Thomas Braidwood


Wilson’s success in 1831
Of late, with the rapid increase in the digitization of old newspapers as well as rare books long
buried in world wide library archives, significant evidence, not previously aired, strongly
indicates Wilson’s success. Was Gwendoline Wilson, in her contribution to the Australian
Dictionary of Biography, 1967, ahead of her time? She credited Dr Thomas Braidwood Wilson:
who “arrived in Hobart Town in the John in 1831, bringing with him many European plants and
the first hive of bees to survive in Australia.” 11 The encapsulation of this evidence is the subject
of a future paper of mine.
Peter Barrett
Caloundra, Queensland, June 2009

9
It was to Mr. Davidson that R.N. Surgeon Thomas Braidwood Wilson entrusted his hive of bees brought
to Hobart Town aboard the convict transport John in Jan. 1831.
10
I believe this “careful individual” was William Davidson, appointed as the first Superintendent of the
Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens in November 1828.
11
Vol. 2, p.612