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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 6

Introductory Notes to the Victorian Collection of Timber at the Intercolonial Exhibition

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Introductory Notes to the Victorian Collection of Timber at the Intercolonial Exhibition.

This series of wood samples was brought together on behalf of the Royal Commission. It comprises representatives of barely one-half of the timber trees known to exist within the limits of the Victorian colonial area; but, inasmuch as the localities richest in the diversity of their trees are also the least accessible; as, moreover, but in few places the timber is obtainable at frequented shipping ports, and as but very slender means were available for bringing together a display of all our timber, the collection is now less extensive than that formed in 1861 for the London Exhibition. Nevertheless, it comprises nearly all the leading kinds of wood, which have attracted hitherto more or less commercial attention, and displays—at least in some samples—the huge dimensions of many of our trees, broad planks of blackwood, evergreen beech, red gumtree, and a few other kinds of eucalypts, having been secured. To demonstrate still more fully the gigantic size of some of our timber trees would have involved means over which I had no command; but a drawing in the Victorian Timber Court will more readily exemplify how, by a moderate outlay, the colossal sizes of our trees could be brought before the eye of the general population. This design demonstrates, in a monumental structure, how the slabs of various sections of the stem and branches could be placed over each other for showing the proportionate dimensions. Thus, for instance, we might have a fair illustration of a tree of Eucalyptus amygdalina, ascertained by Mr. D. Boyle to have attained, in the valleys of Dandenong, a height of 420 feet. These trees do not merely exceptionally rise to this amazing height, but, contrarily, very many, in the deep recesses of the mountains, advance to the same magnitude; and this we see repeated in regard to other tall kinds of Eucalyptus in other parts of the country. It would appear from measurements hitherto extant as if, even in Tasmania, the sizes of trees fall short of ours, perhaps because of the mean annual heat of the forest ranges in that island being somewhat less than the temperature of our wooded mountains. There is only one instance on record which brings certain of our highest trees in rivalry with those of the other Australian colonies—the instance page 4 of a measurement of the Karri Eucalypt, on the Warren River, of Western Australia, where Mr. Pemberton Walcott's measurements gave a result of, approximately, 400 feet. It is by no means thus unlikely that Victoria possesses the most elevated trees of the globe, excelling even those so famed for enormous height in California. It would be of the highest interest if actual measurements of these giants of the forest could be obtained wherever they occur; and in Australia they would be of all the more significance, as here the extraordinary dimensions of the trees is not so much the result of very great age but extreme rapidity of growth—a quality which has rendered our trees already so celebrated, and caused their introduction—for fuel, shelter, building purposes, and other intentions—to be effected into many of those countries which bear a clime similar to ours.

It may on this occasion not be out of the scope of reference to draw attention to the very promising quantity of tar, acetic acid and wood spirits obtainable from timbers, either not sufficiently accessible for the operations of sawmills, or (as in the instance of the Melaleuca ericifolia, which covers all our swamps) not of sufficient size to be used for building purposes. A series of these tars, &c., prepared under my direction by Mr. A. Hoffmann, in the laboratory of the Botanic Gardens, from ten of our trees, of which nine are very widely prevailing over most others, is placed in the Exhibition, and will become the subject of a special memoir. When viewing our trees, it should also be remembered that not merely for the purposes indicated, but also for obtaining potash, tannic and gallic acid, dye material, volatile oil, and paper material, trees of such vast abundance should find full appreciation. One branch of industry has already sprung up for utilising the latter-mentioned products. I refer to the extensive distillation of oil from Eucalypts and species of Melaleuca. This industry was initiated by the distillation of about thirty species of oils for the last London and Victorian Exhibition. It was undertaken at my request, and from material selected by myself, chiefly by Mr. Joseph Bosisto, the present Mayor of Richmond, who, with a most praiseworthy spirit of enterprise, when thus becoming aware of the great yield of oils, gave to this branch of industry commercial dimensions. This use of our native trees might be advantageously followed up in other directions, and for other purposes, for the benefit of unprovided families, and for the lucrative employment of capital.

The main number of the wood specimens were secured by the Royal Commission through a few special emissaries; but some valuable additions were made by the contribution of Wimmera timber through Samuel Wilson, Esq.; Gippsland woods from near Port Albert, by Mr. Commissioner Tyers; Murray timber, by Allan Hughan, Esq., and Peter Beveridge, Esq.; Mount Macedon timber, by J. Snowball, Esq.; and Berwick timber, by G. W. Robinson, Esq. These contributions have added more to the specimens than to the species, and are interesting for comparing the same wood from various—occasionally even geologically different—localities. In adopting a nomenclature for the woods it is difficult, without new inventions, to assign to them other than strictly scientific names; it would, indeed, be a great gain if the present colonial names, on account of their ambiguity or their want of logical meaning, or their absolute incorrectness, could be entirely discarded, and new names, based on the well-fixed appellations by which they are now fully known in the scientific world, could be substituted. It is my intention to elaborate page 5 this subject in detail. A convenient method to demonstrate within narrow space the qualities of wood, both scientifically and technologically, was adopted by the writer at the last Exhibition, in preparing the specimens as small boxes in book-form, the back-title giving the systematic name and native country of each special tree. According to this design a fine collection of wood-books (if we may term them so) was caused to be prepared by Colonel Champ, and it could be wished that for our future Industrial Museum every kind of wood, at least of Australia, might be secured in this form for the sake of easy access and comparison. Planed and polished surfaces are thus readily and elegantly shown, while the cavity of the imitation book serves for placing in it samples of such products as the particular tree may yield.