Georgiana Molloy, taken from a miniature painted before she left England in 1829
May 23, 1805|
|Died||April 8, 1843
Busselton, Western Australia
Georgiana Molloy was born Georgiana Kennedy in Cumberland on 23 May 1805. In her youth she was caught up in the Christian revival sparked by the preacher Edward Irving. She became deeply religious, and gradually became estranged from her family, who did not share her fervour. Early in 1829, she accepted a marriage proposal from Captain John Molloy, and they were married on 6 August of that year. Shortly afterwards, the Molloys sailed for the Swan River Colony in Western Australia on board the Warrior. The couple then decided to join with a number of other settlers in forming a new subcolony at Augusta.
Until 1836, Georgiana Molloy's life was one of great hardship, typical of early settlers in Western Australia but unfamiliar to one of her social class in England. It is evident from her diary that she was unhappy and wished to return to England. However in December 1836, she received a letter from Captain James Mangles, asking her to collect botanical specimens for him. This letter was to fire in Georgiana a great passion for botany. Thereafter she spent nearly all of her leisure time in collecting, collating and documenting botanical specimens.
Mangles had arranged for a number of people in the colony to collect specimens for him, but had been disappointed with the results. The specimens sent by James Drummond, a professional botanist, were poorly packed and carelessly labelled, and seeds consistently failed to germinate. Other collectors were more careful but largely unskilled. In contrast, Molloy's collections were "full of pressed plants mounted and set out with delicacy and precision, and carefully numbered... showing great evidence of care and cleanliness in the sorting" (Hasluck 1955). Mangles broke up Molloy's collections, sending seeds to a number of horticulturists and botanists throughout England. A number of horticulturists had great success growing from Molloy's seeds, and many new species were described. John Lindley, Professor of Botany at University College London, for example, described many new species from her collections, including Corymbia calophylla.
In 1839 the Molloy family moved to the Vasse district. Georgiana Molloy was visited by botanists Ludwig Preiss in 1839 and Drummond in 1842. She continued to collect seed, making use of the knowledge of the local Indigenous Australians, and she taught herself the rudiments of botany from books sent to her by Mangles.
Georgiana Molloy suffered bouts of ill health after each of her pregnancies. Following the birth of her seventh child, she fell ill and failed to recover. On 8 April 1843, three months after the birth, she died. On hearing of her death, George Hailes, a horticulturist who had been most successful in growing from Molloy's seeds, wrote to Mangles
Not one in ten thousand who go out into distant lands has done what she did for the Gardens of her Native Country, and we have indeed as regards her specially to lament, that "From Life's rosy Chaplet, the Gems drop away."
Molloy did not receive much recognition for her contributions to the description of the Western Australian flora. The shrub Boronia molloyae was named in her honour, as was a street in the Canberra suburb of Cook. Her collections, which are kept at the Kew Herbarium and the University of Cambridge Herbarium, are attributed to Mangles. She has a school (Georgiana Molloy Anglican School) named after her in the town of Busselton, Western Australia. A book was released in 1994 about her work, An All Consuming Passion: Origins, Modernity and the Australian Life of Georgiana Molloy by William J. Lines. A young adult novel based on her life, Georgiana: Woman of Flowers, by Libby Hathorn (published by Hachette) was launched at the Georgiana Molloy Anglican School in 2008.
- Hasluck, Alexandra (1955). Portrait with Background: A Life of Georgiana Molloy. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
- Patrick, S (2002). "Georgiana Molloy, a remarkable woman". Landscope 17 (3): 43–48.
- Lines, W.J. (1994). An All Consuming Passion: Origins, Modernity, and the Australian Life of Georgiana Molloy. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-20422-0.