Georgiana Molloy: The Mind That Shines

Bernice Barry

Georgiana Molloy: The Mind That Shines
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Georgiana Molloy: The Mind That Shines

Bernice Barry

In 1829, estranged from her family and living in an isolated Scottish village, Georgiana Kennedy makes a sudden decision to marry Captain John Molloy of the Rifle Brigade - a handsome hero with a mysterious past. Together, they emigrate to the remote southwest of Western Australia with the first small group of European settlers, experiencing great hardship in the fledgling colonies of Augusta and Busselton.

In times of personal tragedy and privation, botany is Georgiana Molloy’s salvation. Entirely self-taught, she becomes the first internationally successful female botanist in Western Australia.

Today, her collections of indigenous flora of the southwest, including type specimens, are archived in the world’s leading herbaria.

Drawing on primary sources and fresh evidence to explore previously undisclosed influences that shaped Georgiana’s strong values and attitudes, Bernice Barry sheds new light on the pioneering botanist’s writing, and answers questions asked for a hundred and fifty years about John Molloy’s complete history and his influence on her life. This minutely researched biography covers some of the most dramatic scenery, geographical and historical, of two centuries in England, Scotland, Spain and Australia a tale of love, drama, adventure and resilience.

Review

Can you imagine arriving in the early 1800s to the remote Western Australian coast, leaving friends and family behind and starting a new life in a foreign landscape with only your husband for company? It would break so many of us, but not Georgiana Molloy, nee Kennedy. She decided almost immediately upon arrival to make something of her new life, and thus she became the first internationally successful female botanist in WA.

Georgiana Molloy’s story as a contributor to the discovery of the unique flora of the state’s south west is well known, however, until now, details of her life before leaving Scotland and arriving in Australia were not known, nor considered important. Bernice Barry’s biography brings Molloy’s life prior and throughout the gruelling 12 years on the WA coast alive (she died in childbirth at the age of 37), it tells the story of her marriage and also records the extraordinary hardship women of this time faced. This book includes a thoughtful collection of Molloy’s papers, diaries, images and documents that provide evidence of her loneliness and her fortitude, as well as her capacity to savour a harsh environment and leave a legacy that is still distinguished today.

This biography is a must for fans of Australian history, of determined women and of anyone who has ever savoured the beauty of our natural flora. This is not a politically angled study; don’t read it for the wrongs of our past, but rather as a celebration of a woman able to make her mark.


Chris Gordon is the Events Manager for Readings.

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