Remarkable natural history illustrations from Museum Victoria
Ludwig Becker (1808–61)
Ludwig Becker was one of several German-speaking intellectuals who were attracted to the Victorian gold rush. Professor Frederick McCoy encountered Becker among Melbourne's small circle of scientific gentlemen and commissioned him to illustrate specimens for the Memoirs of the museum.
Ludwig Becker created this animated pen-and-watercolour study on 18 December 1858.
The Weedy Seadragon is endemic to Australia's southern coast and is now Victoria's state marine emblem. This bizarre fish has captured the imagination of many who have encountered it. Frederick McCoy noted: 'this most singular-looking Fish must have struck the Aborigines with some superstitious feeling, as I have seen a native drawing of a ghost, manifestly inspired by its strange form.'
Educating the people
As well as the advancement of science, 19th century museums aspired to contribute to the moral education and material betterment of their constituents.
As director of the National Museum of Victoria, Frederick McCoy exercised authority on behalf of the government, providing answers to practical questions for the benefit of the settlers. Instruction came in the form of displays at the museums and publications, as well as educational posters.
Australian snakes were rightly feared for their deadly venom. The majority of colonists, having arrived from countries where snakes were a rarity, were fearful of their prevalence and ferocity.
The Dangerous Snakes of Victoria poster was created by the Museum with the backing of the Education Department to educate and improve awareness in the community. However, it may well have caused consternation. It was distributed to every school and railway station from Melbourne to cities and towns across the colony.
Unlike the majority of native animals, insect-eating birds were valued by the colonists for their capacity to control insect pests. This poster was intended to standardise the names for some of Victoria’s most common and useful birds.
It was issued to schools in 1878, with the Minister for Public Instruction’s warning to slingshot-wielding children that ‘These birds will be protected by law from destruction.’
This exhibit is based on works held at Museum Victoria and showcased in the Art of Science exhibition which toured Australia during 2012-2014.
The exhibition was devised and curated by John Kean.
Full text digitised versions of some of the works shown here are available in the Biodiversity Heritage Library.