Georgiana Molloy, Botanical Networks and Naming in 19th Century Western Australia

Jessica White


In her book Through Other Continents: American Literature through Deep Time (Princeton UP, 2006), Wai Chee Dimock argues for a new approach to envisaging nations and their literary productions. Rather than perceiving a nation’s literary output as coterminous with its history, one could conceive of it as ‘a criss-crossing set of pathways, open-ended and ever-multiplying, weaving in and out of other geographies, other languages and cultures’. Dimock refers to this ‘tangle of relations’ as ‘deep time’—not bound by definitive dates such 1788, when Arthur Phillip jammed a pole in the sand of Port Jackson—but stretching across several temporalities and geographies.

If time is conceptualised not as a linear progression, but as ‘a structure of evolving relations’, then new interpretative frameworks such as capitalism, world religions, or the morphology of langauge are needed to understand developments in earth’s history. This essay proposes one more means of understanding time: botany and the naming of plants. Specifically, it focuses upon the networks formed by Georgiana Molloy, who emigrated from Carlisle, England, to south west Western Australia in 1829.

Molloy began collecting specimens and seeds for amateur botanist Captain James Mangles of London in 1837. As she was often weighed down by domestic labour, she requisitioned Noongars, soldiers, her children, and her husband in her collecting efforts. When her seeds were sent to England, Mangles distributed them among his botanical networks. Meanwhile, Molloy solicited the names for the plants she found from Mangles and Noongars alike.

The web of relations created by exchanging seeds and words within the south west, between England and Australia, and between white and Aboriginal people, disrupts the notion that Australia’s history and literature is coterminous with English settlement. It also defies the concept that Australia is a nation defined by its coastline. Rather, it is a country brought into our consciousness through networks which stretch beyond these coasts through the dispersal of, among other things, plants and their names.


Environmental literary criticism; deep time; Aboriginal culture

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