Susan Fereday – Botanical Artist (1810 – 1878)

Susan Fereday – Botanical Artist (1810 – 1878)

By Marita Bodman

As a young woman, Susan Georgina Marianne Apthorpe was a trained and accomplished artist who travelled widely on the Continent, painting and sketching the classical scenes and buildings of the ‘grand tour’. She met and married John Fereday in 1837, a well educated man, who had undertaken medical as well as theological training, and graduated as Master of Arts becoming a Fellow of Worcester College at Oxford University. He had already been ordained a priest in 1835.  

Susan and John Fereday and their six children sailed to Van Diemen’s Land  in 1846 in the ‘Aden’ and settled in George Town, named in 1811 after King George III by Governor Lachlan Macquarie, who intended the town to be the Chief Settlement in the north of the island. That lasted only until 1825 when the Bigge Report saw Launceston take over that role.    

John Fereday was appointed the rector of St Mary Magdalene Anglican Church and they purchased one of the earliest residences in George Town, ‘The Grove’ in which to live. They were both interested in education, and they had plans of setting up a school. 

Both Susan and John were also interested in the natural world, particularly in algae and shells. Susan painted many of the native species around her, including a native Correa peculiar to the George Town area, Correa Speciosa and Eucalyptus Viminalis. They both collected the different seaweeds and algae of the Tamar River Estuary, collating, listing and drying them. John had a dredge and a boat and when William Henry Harvey, professor of Botany at Trinity College, Dublin visited George Town in 1855, he stayed with the Feredays who helped him collect thousands of species as they all explored the area together. 

Apparently William Henry Harvey, this visiting academic dignitary from Dublin, was quite shocked at the living arrangements of his hosts and the following extract comes from his book “The Contented Botanist”, published after he returned to Ireland where he painted a delightful picture of the Feredays and the conditions of the time  (1855): 

 “… Reverend Fereday is a real ‘Master of Arts’ being able to turn his mind to almost everything – for instance, he makes his own clothes and his own shoes and boots – bakes bread, carpentizes and cabinet makes. He made the pulpit and reading desk with the carved cross with his own hands. He cleans and mends watches – he put up and tunes organs. He cuts hair (he cut mine). He has a chemical laboratory and a forge; in fact he is almost better at any trade than divinity and I find it difficult to keep awake during his sermons … … There are no servants to be found in George Town and Mrs Fereday herself, and her children, have to clean the house. …  Mrs. Fereday is a good cook.” 

Nevertheless, as well as her cooking and cleaning duties, Susan still found time to provide many preserved species and she helped Harvey to lay out to dry those he had collected. He was so appreciative of her efforts that he later named two species after her – Dasya Feredayae and Nemastoma Feredayae. Harvey later wrote:  

“… Mr. Fereday tendered me the most efficient aid in prosecuting my researches. His boat and strong arms were almost daily at my service and many thousands of specimens were collected under his auspices… … to Mrs. Fereday I am indebted for many beautifully preserved specimens and for aid in “laying out” and drying the tub full of delicate specimens of delicate algae. ”  

Harvey also dedicated the 5th and 6th volumes of his book ‘Phycologia Australica’ to Susan and John Fereday. 

By the early 19th century, collection and preservation techniques had been established  and networks of collectors around the British Empire sent specimens and drawings to Kew Gardens and the British Museum in London, in the mid 1800s. George Town, in the Tamar Valley where the Feredays lived, was one of the major collecting spots in Australia for seaweed and plant species.  Baron Ferdinand von Mueller was Victoria’s Government Botanist and  Director of the Melbourne Botanic Gardens and he wanted to compile a flora of Australia which formed the basis of what is now the National Herbarium of Victoria.  Many of the collectors in the George Town area were women, including Susan Fereday, her daughter Elizabeth Fereday, Eliza Cox and Sybella Goodwin. Their specimens were sent to von Mueller in Victoria as well as museums and herbariums in England, Sweden and France. 

Tragically Susan’s husband, the Reverend Fereday, met with an accident when his horse bolted on a trip to a gold mine near George Town in which he had an interest, and he was thrown from his gig and died.  

After that, Susan moved across Bass Strait to Sale in Gippsland where she lived with her daughter, Susan Palmer, and son-in-law. While living there she exhibited botanical watercolour paintings of local native and plants and algae at the Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition of 1866-1867 for which she received a special mention. More than fifty of her works are held in the National Library which include her watercolours of Tasmanian scenery and George Town buildings, algae, flora and plants along with portraits of herself and her husband. Examples of her work are to be found in the Latrobe Regional Gallery, the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston as well the Allport Library in Hobart. She was a very early citizen scientist. 

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