Amalie Dietrich Exhibition Home Page A Bright Sparcs Exhibition

Godeffroy and his Museum

Amalie was determined to continue in her favourite profession, and soon was offered her first salaried job by the shipping magnate Johann Caesar VI Godeffroy (1818-1885). He had ships travelling regularly to the South Pacific, and decided to start a museum, stocked with the ethnographic and biological treasures that his captains collected during their voyages. Any extra items were sold at a great profit to other European museums. In 1861 he started employing field collectors to carry out this job, as his Museum Godeffroy was being established.

Ray Sumner writes:

"The innovativeness and risk-taking which Godeffroy showed in his business ventures was also demonstrated in his choice of scientific collectors and employees. Godeffroy's next collector appointed was quite the opposite of Gräffe [his first collector]: middle-aged, without academic qualifications (though with excellent references), without formally accredited training, and a woman - this was Amalie Dietrich, who was the only woman Godeffroy employed for scientific collecting." (1)

It was a difficult era for a woman to undertake such a venture, especially in a male-dominated field and facing the unknown dangers of the Australian bush. She arrived at the Brisbane River entrance to Moreton Bay on 7 August 1863, having spent 81 days (a speed record at that time, incidentally!) on Godeffroy's ship La Rochelle. Her new job allowed her to support Charitas, and send her to an expensive boarding school, giving her child the education she never received - but it was hard for Amalie to leave her only child for ten years. Charitas was 15 when her mother left Germany. Later Charitas wrote a book about her mother's life, much of which was, unfortunately, fictional. (2)

(1) Ray Sumner, A Woman in the Wilderness, The Story of Amalie Dietrich in Australia, NSW University Press, Kensington, 1993, p.15

(2) The book is by Charitas Bischoff, The Hard Road. The Life Story of Amalie Dietrich, Naturalist 1821-1891 (translated by A.L. Geddie) Martin Hopkinson, London, 1931.

Published by the Australian Science Archives Project on ASAPWeb, 23 May 1996
Comments or corrections to: Bright Sparcs (
Prepared by: Denise Sutherland
Updated by: Elissa Tenkate
Date Modified: 27 February 1998

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