London Journal of Botany/Volume 2/Biographical sketch of Ferdinand Bauer

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Biographical Sketch of Ferdinand Bauer, Natural History Painter to the Expedition of Captain Flinders, R.N., to Terra Australis.

By Dr. John Lhotsky.

Having of late searched in vain through a series of works, such as the Biographie Universelle, for the slightest notice concerning the above named artist, than whom none ever pourtrayed botanical subjects more admirably, I have considered it incumbent on myself to make use of the original family documents in my possession, and so to plant, as it were, a cypress on the grave of a man with whom I may almost claim kindred, as my countryman and fellow-traveller in Australia.

Ferdinand Bauer was born in 1760, at Feldsperg in Austria, where his father held the appointment of Painter to the court of the reigning Prince of Lichtenstein, but died, when his son Ferdinand was only a year old. However, the elder Bauer must have possessed decided talents as an artist, all his three sons having become eminent in his profession, viz: Francis Bauer, F.R.S., botanical painter to the King at Kew, and Joseph, director of the picture gallery to the above named prince at Vienna. In his earliest youth, Ferdinand copied plants and birds from the designs of his late parent, but soon he took to painting from nature, and followed her as his chief guide throughout life. In the year 1775 we find him connected with the Rev. N. Boccius, Superior of the convent and hospital Fratrum Misericordiæ at Feldsberg; who, being very fond of botanical studies, employed F. Bauer to make miniature delineations of plants from nature. He executed the greater part of a collection, which, consisting of 16 volumes in folio, may yet be seen in the Prince's library at Vienna. Occasionally Ferdinand resided in that city, painting landscapes in the studio of the celebrated Artist, Professor Brand.

But the events which preceded and followed the decease of the Emperor Joseph II. of Austria, would probably have doomed the talents of our subject to cramped inactivity, had not favourable circumstances occurred which opened to him a sphere in which he might show all that he could do. It was in 1784 that Dr. John Sibthorp of Oxford arrived in Vienna, with the view of examining the unique manuscripts of Dioscorides in the Imperial Library. Having been introduced by Nicholas Jacquin to Pater Boccius, Dr. Sibthorp first met Bauer at Feldsperg, and the former was so much pleased with the young artist's performances, that he engaged him as a Natural History painter, to accompany him on a voyage which he then was about to undertake in Greece. They accordingly started the same year, proceeding through Italy to Constantinople where they spent the winter, and devoted the time to 1787, to visiting Athens, Corinth, the Greek Islands, and Cyprus; Bauer delineating both plants and landscapes. On their return to England, it was highly gratifying to Bauer to find his brother Francis settled as botanical painter to His Britannic Majesty, King George III., at Kew; and he now devoted the chief part of his time to finishing the drawings made for Dr. Sibthorp's Flora Græca; both brothers being also patronized by the late Sir Joseph Banks, Bart., who always remained their steady and kind friend. Dr. Sibthorp having died, Sir James Edward Smith published, in the year 1806, the first volume of the Flora Græca, mentioning in his preface the merits of our friend in a most honourable manner.[1] But Bauer possessed too discerning and unprejudiced a mind, not to perceive that he could never attain any eminence by merely copying plants even with the most mechanical accuracy; and it was, most probably, during his travels with Dr. Sibthorp, that he had devoted himself to the true study of Botany as a science, since several of the plants, for instance Veronica glauca, Ziziphora capitata, and Salvia crassifolia, are mentioned as discoveries of his and especially in the Isle of Cyprus he appears to have been eminently diligent and successful. Knowing as I do also, on the other hand, that, even in an advanced period of life, Bauer made numerous sketches after the celebrated flower-pieces of Van Huysum, merely for his own improvement mechanical in the part of the art; it is easy to perceive how he attained such inimitable truth in his performances, for he sought not to idealize nature, but to seize the ideal features of nature. And we think we may venture to point to the Salvia pomifera, Morina Persica, and Saccharum Ravennæ, as patterns of botanical iconography, which, though executed long ago, in an early part of the work, remain unsurpassed to the present day.

But even before the Flora Græca was published, so early as year 1801, we find the merits of our friend fully acknowleged, and himself appointed Natural History Draughtsman to the expedition to Terra Australis, commanded by Captain Flinders, of "H. M. S. Investigator." I am enabled, from letters in my possession, to state what were the liberal terms granted to Bauer. His salary was £300 a year, with rations for himself and servant. The E. I. Company having contributed £1200 towards the expenses of this expedition, the share which Bauer received, enabled him to make his outfit as an artist, very complete. It was farther granted, by the Lords of the Admiralty, that all drawings executed, which were not required for publication in any work connected with the expedition, should be the artist's own property, as well as the specimens collected by him, except those that should go to the British Museum. It is not, for a moment, my intention to follow our enterprising traveller through the different stages of this famous expedition, recorded as its events are by the ablest pens, and well known to all our readers who feel an interest in such subjects; but from Bauer's own letters I glean the following particulars.

During his excursions from False Bay to Table Mountain, and those at King George's Sound, until the first arrival of the "Investigator" at Port Jackson, Bauer had completed, up to the 22d. of May, 1802, 350 sketches of plants, and 100 of animals, &c. On quitting the latter place for Torres' Straits, he writes on the 20th of July that his collection then comprized seven hundred drawings, which he had left for safety in the house of the Governor. This astonishingly rapid increase might seem almost incredible in any artist of less ability than our friend; but such were the skill and facility to which he had attained, that he had only (so to speak) to transcribe nature, and his transcripts were ever alike faithful and elegant.

I possess, moreover, two letters of his, one written from the east coast of New Holland, when the "Lady Nelson" left the "Investigator," and the other, at the period when the latter vessel had been condemned, and Captain Flinders was on his way to England. In the latter communication, which is not dated, but probably written in the middle of the year 1803, Bauer states, that between the period of his starting from and his return to Sydney, he had executed designs of 500 species of plants, and 90 of animals; the latter chiefly birds. He complains, in this and former communications, that the wet state of the cabins in the "Investigator," by injuring all his paper, had hindered the perfect execution of his drawings. Captain Flinders having decided to go back to England, Mr. Robert Brown and Mr. Bauer awaited his return in Australia; and during this period, Ferdinand visited Norfolk Island, and spent eight months there, collecting those materials from which Endlicher has been subsequently enabled to compile his Flora Norfolkica.[2]

And here I shall conclude my notice of the part which Ferdinand Bauer bore in the expedition of the "Investigator," and proceed to that period when Flinders published the Narrative of his voyage. The high opinion which the Commander entertained of the subject of our memoir, appears from many passages of this work. In several instances, where Brown was otherwise engaged, Bauer went to investigate portions of the coast, and in different cases, Captain Flinders speaks of them conjointly, as "Botanists;" a juxtaposition, than which nothing can be more flattering to Bauer. But on the 5th of Feb. 1802, an honour was conferred upon him that promises to perpetuate his memory. "To the south-east of Franklin's island, at the distance of eleven miles, there is a low projection of the main land, to which the name of Point Brown was given, in compliment to the naturalist; and four leagues farther, in the same line, a cliffy head received the appellation of Cape Bauer, after the painter of Natural History.[3]" Such names are frequently changed by subsequent navigators, and it was with the view to obviate this possibility, that Governor Franklin, during his stay at Tasman's peninsula, issued orders that, in all official surveys, the original appellation, as bestowed by the earliest authentic discoverers, should always be preserved.

Although considerable delay took place ere Flinders' voyage was published, still its intrinsic and geographical value was duly appreciated. Bauer bore his full share in contributing to the production of this work, and I incline to think that he assisted Mr. Westall in executing the landscapes, for I know of no book, (the Vues des Cordillères even not excepted) where plants and groups of foreign trees, Seaforthia, Xanthorrhæa, and Casuarina, are pourtrayed with such surpassing beauty and truth. In the appendix, the description of ten species of plants are from Mr. Brown; these had been selected out of "the invaluable collection of drawings made by Bauer." It is easy to perceive by a glance at these plates, that they were never executed at home, and from dried specimens. Figures of Flindersia australis, Endesmia tetragona, and Franklandia fucifolia, are acknowleged by botanists to surpass every thing of the same kind.

In the year 1813, Bauer began his Illustrationes Floræ novæ Hollandiæ; a work which did not meet with the encouragement it deserved. The cause of failure lay wholly with our author himself; but the error which he committed was of the most honourable kind; for it may be truly said that this publication outstripped, by at least a score of years, the capacities and attainments of the time at which it appeared. There is something very naive in the remark made on the subject in a letter written by Bauer's brother. He says, "Ferdinand could not find people capable either of engraving or colouring the plates properly, and he was consequently obliged to execute every part of the work with his own hands, thus occupying far too much time. Very few, indeed, coloured copies has he been able to prepare and sell." Thus a botanical book which would have been appreciated and supported in the year 1834, or even during the magnificent and art-encouraging reign of Napoleon in France, fell to the ground in 1814. It appears, from documents in my possession, that Ferdinand was excessively and unduly disheartened by this failure; so much so, that, fearing he should never be able to do any thing else; he gathered up his papers, and closing, as it were, his accounts and transactions with the literary and scientific world, determined to withdraw to his native land, taking with him his most extensive collections, drawings of more than 2000 species of plants, several hundred sketches of animals, a very valuable herbarium and collection of skins, the whole occupying fourteen large cases, with which he set sail from England in August 1814.

The liberality with which Ferdinand Bauer had been treated by the English government, in whose service he had remained, finishing the plates illustrative of the expedition, up to the year 1813, enabled him, on his return to Austria, to purchase a small house at Hitzing, near Vienna, adjacent to the large Botanic Garden of Schœnbrunn. Here he worked very hard in executing aud completing his drawings of New Holland plants and animals, as well as some plates of his Illustrationes, filling two large volumes with the former. He enjoyed the friendship of the different Naturalists in Vienna; but the greatest compliment ever paid to his merits, proceeded from those enterprising and liberal-minded travellers, Drs. Spix and Martius, when they say in their Voyage, (vol. 1., p 9).) "that what chiefly animated their courage and enthusiasm, was the personal acquaintance of Mr. F. Bauer, who had accompanied Capt. Flinders in his expedition to New Holland, and whom they had seen actually engaged in delineating the extraordinary productions of those distant regions."

In 1819, Bauer again visited England, in order to see his brother, and the other valued friends, with whom a companionship of nearly 30 years had quite assimilated his ideas and feelings. He soon afterwards returned to Vienna, and continued to devote himself closely to painting, most of his productions being destined to go to England, where, besides the works above mentioned, were published his plates for the late Mr. A. B. Lambert's work on Pinus, Lindley's Digitalis, &c.

Thus continually engaged in the furtherance of his cherished science, and undertaking, even at this advanced period of life, botanical excursions into the Alps of Austria and Styria, and making collections of the plants which he there found, Bauer was seized, in the year 1825, by illness, which terminated his existence on the 17th of March, 1826, in the 66th year of his age. The bulk of his collections was bequeathed to his legal heirs; but the two volumes of miniature paintings of Australian plants and animals, he left to his brother Francis, by whom they have been recently sold to Mr. Robert Brown. His herbarium and skins of animals and birds, with the sketches illustrative of them, were purchased for the Imperial Museum of Vienna, and a great many drawings, as well as copies of the Illustrationes, were still, in the year 1829, in the possession of his brother Francis at Vienna.

Ferdinand Bauer, as his conduct through life proved him and his private letters attest, was a plain straightforward man, full of application and energy. His temper was most kind, and hardly had he obtained his appointment in the "Investigator" than he hastened to aid most liberally some of his indigent relations. He ever preserved a deep sense of gratitude towards those friends and patrons, who had done him service, and among them the names of Sir Joseph Banks, Lambert, and Walker, were frequently mentioned in the letters which he wrote while at sea. His own name, recorded as it is by his superior botanical designs, commemorated by the genus Bauera in the annals of botany, and, as we before stated, in those also of geography, will long live in the recollection of posterity.


  1. "Pictorem egregii nominis, Ferdinandum Bauer, cujus virtutem icones nostræ exhibent, secum duxit."
  2. "Baueri in colligendis stirpibus industriæ, in desiccando dexteritati et divino plane in pingendo ingenio debetur."—Endlicher. Preface.
  3. Voyage to Terra Australis, &c. By Capt. Flinders, 1818, vol. 1. p. 110.