Natural history and botanical drawings, ca. 1849-1872 / [attributed to Louisa Atkinson] ca. 1849-1872 State Library of NSW
This week’s trigger word, nature, made me question if an attachment to nature and the land was influenced by our DNA as not all humans seem to crave the peace and tranquillity that comes from living in the country and especially comes from the Australian Bush.
There is a strong link to farming on both sides of my family, not that unusual in any family tree. However, my 2 x great grandmother, Margaret Henderson had an enormously strong connection to her beloved family home of “Seven Oaks” in Kent. So much so that the farm they purchased at Homebush near Sydney was named Seven Oaks in its memory. I wondered if there was anything else in the records that points to a DNA memory of the love of the country life.
When the Henderson family immigrated to Australia they settled in Newtown, and I initially thought, here are a family who like the hustle and bustle of the city, the big smoke. That was not the case. They had moved to the country suburb of Burwood by 1858, a very different place than it is today.
Thomas Henderson’s son Charles must have enjoyed this move as he described this area in “Recollections”. Surrounding the area where they lived was Edrop’s Bush where he was captivated by the birds he saw there.
“Close to our residence was Edrop’s Bush, consisting of about fifteen acres of the original forest. Edrop’s Bush was the home of many birds. Any birds coming to the district would naturally make for so fine a shelter. Here one might see large hawks, cranes, moorporks, kookaburras and gill-birds when in season. I saw a kookaburra dart down on a snake here and carry it to the top of a tall tree, then drop it, and repeat the process. The Kingfishers had a nest here in an old leaning apple-tree. Small birds were also plentiful, yellow robins, black caps, silver eyes, yellow hummers, ring coachmen, the diamond bird, a ventriloquist and many others. Then there were Blue Mountain parrots, King parrots, parroquits and green leeks in their season, but there were no magpies that I remember except the peewhit.”
Charles Henderson “Recollections”
Source: Trove, National Library of Australia
Certainly not the Burwood we know today!
Charles also mentioned that the family were friends with Mrs Charlotte Barton and “her talented daughter, Miss Louisa Atkinson, a great botanist”. Well of ahead of her time, by the 1860s Atkinson was aware of the impact of European agriculture on native flora. She wrote about this on several occasions, making such statements as “It needs no fertile imagination to foresee that in, say, half-a-century’s time, tracts of hundreds of miles will be treeless”. What an amazing woman to have a connection with through family.
You can read more about her on this National Library site: https://www.nla.gov.au/blogs/behind-the-scenes/2015/05/20/the-road-to-louisa-atkinsons-nature-notes.
One other passage from her writings still remains very true today:
In these busy times, and in the universal pursuit of wealth which characterizes the universal state of things among us, the beauties of nature are in danger of being overlooked. We believe that there are many old inhabitants … who know little of the natural history of this great continent. Confined to the town, and engrossed by its pursuits, as they are, the thousand wonders of the creation vainly invite their attention. Perhaps a few remarks on our natural history, in a simple and popular style, may be acceptable.