Amalie Dietrich Exhibition Home Page A Bright Sparcs Exhibition

An Unexplored Wilderness

"O, how easy and free I felt on the one hand, and on the other hand I felt lonely and uncertain in this foreign continent. Mr. Heussler told me that Australia is still very little explored and I will find something new and interesting at every step."(1)

Pitcher Plant Travelling around the bush with a horse and cart to carry her equipment and provisions, and a small boat, Amalie Dietrich was an unusual, solitary figure. Botany was her greatest love, but anything living was fair game - her collections included fungi, algae, ferns, seaweeds, grasses, tree woods, sea-slugs, fish, corals, birds, marsupials, spiders, insects, amphibians and reptiles. She also collected Aboriginal artifacts, which are important nowadays, as they date from before European contact. In 1866 she became the first person to collect a taipan snake. Her Australian bird collection is probably the largest ever collected by a single person.

Amalie also made the first significant collection of Australian spiders. This collection was the basis for what is still the major reference work on Australian spiders. For all her specimens, she was requested to collect 30-40 items of each species.

After collecting, she would then start on the intensive work of preparation, drying, pressing, skinning, preserving, labelling and packaging all her samples for shipment back to Germany. Occasionally she had help from one or two German assistants. On the whole, she worked and lived frugally and alone - an outsider. It was hard for her to learn English, and she lived in remote villages, socialising with German settlers and spending days out in the bush.

During her time in Queensland, Dietrich collected in many different areas. Initially she was in Brisbane (around Moreton Bay) for a few years, and then briefly in Gladstone . By February 1866 she was in Rockhampton. In 1867 she lived in Mackay, and then was at Lake Elphonstone in 1868, where she spent an enjoyable time living with a German family.

Amalie's longest and most northern stay was in Bowen, where she lived from 1870 until the end of 1872. Here she had the most enjoyable time of her whole Australian experience. She had learnt English, and had more friends. It seems that here she was much more relaxed and sociable. In Bowen she set up a small zoo, as Godeffroy was interested in importing live animals, and this proved a welcome interest. Her favourite was a tame white-breasted sea eagle Aquila audax. She brought him back to Hamburg with her, where she donated him to the Zoological Gardens.

(1) Letter from Amalie Dietrich to her daughter Charitas Bischoff, Letter 1, Brisbane, 1 August 1863, cited in Ray Sumner, A Woman in the Wilderness, The Story of Amalie Dietrich in Australia, NSW University Press, Kensington, 1993, p.112

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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