Friends of the Baillieu Library donation allows for important rare book acquisition

Through a generous donation from the Friends of the Baillieu Library, the University Library’s Rare Books collection has purchased a first edition of Exotic Botany: consisting of coloured figures, and scientific descriptions, of such new, beautiful, or rare plants as are worthy of cultivation in the gardens of Britain.

Published in 1804, this work follows on from James Edward Smith’s earlier publication Specimen of the Botany of New Holland (1793), which Rare Books also holds. It introduces 38 new Australian specimens, drawn by James Sowerby either from drawings and specimens supplied from New South Wales by John White, the First Fleet surgeon or live specimens grown in England from seeds sent from Australia. The beautiful illustrations of plants give us a glimpse into the flora of the time and present us with important scientific data.

This two-volume set is in the original publisher's boards with untrimmed pages, which gives us a sense of the how a buyer would have received the book. Usually owners would then have the book re-bound to suit their library, so to see it in this state is another exciting piece of book history, as is the armorial bookplate of former owner Joseph Radcliffe Baronet of Rudding Park.

This is an important addition to the Rare Books' collection of items relating to flora and fauna in Australia, as many of the plants had not been described before this publication. We thank the Friends of the Baillieu Library for their generous support that allowed the purchase this significant item.

Drawing of flowering Andromeda Acuminata
Image: James Sowerby, Andromeda Acuminata, from James Edward Smith, Exotic botany…, 1804-05. Rare Books, University of Melbourne Library