2017 Advent Calendar / Advent calendar

Door 12 – Can’t See the Wood for the Trees

Today’s geoadvent post features another unusual treasure from our map library…07-162 1873 Victoria Tree Coverage

Apart from a couple of interesting stains, this map is hasn’t been touched in many years.  It’s covered in a swatch of green, but that is not chalk, nor anything Cretaceous.  They’re trees.  This is map of tree coverage in the Australian state of Victoria.

It’s designed to almost look like a geological map.  Wide swathes of colour indicating Iron Bark, Stringy Bark, Honeysuckle, Lightwood and Box.  There are some notes by Dr. F von Mueller, the Government Botanist as to the trees found in Victoria, although the notes are mainly a list of species to be found.  Compiled by one Arthur Everett, the reason that this map has been deposited with us may found in the name of his supervisor, Robert Brough Smyth FGS and in 1872 when the map was given to us, he was secretary for the Department of Mines.


He’d originally arrived in Victoria in 1852, having been born in the North-East of England.  The year previous to his arrival was a fateful one in the history of Victoria.  It was the year of the gold rushes.  Discoveries were made in the summer of 1851 that drew men from around the globe.  Robert Brough Smyth not only was a young geologist, but also the son of a mining engineer and perhaps this opportunity was too good to pass up.  Starting out in the mines, he soon progressed into officialdom, working as a draftsman and meteorological observer.  Over the decade he rose to become Secretary in 1860 then later Director of the Australian Survey and oversaw the boom years for gold in the state.

During his time working for the Survey, he produced guides for prospectors notably “The Prospector’s Handbook” and “The Gold Fields and Mineral Districts of Victoria”.  It wasn’t only geology that his office was responsible for.  As noted, he’d also been in charge of gathering weather observations, it seems he was also in charge of forestry resources for which this map was made.


His time in office was brought to dishonourable close when he was forced to step down when a number of complaints about him were made by his staff to Minister for Mines regarding his ‘despotic conduct’ towards them.  He occupied himself by studying the native inhabitants of Australia, publishing several volumes on them.  Later in life he was bitten by the gold bug again, reporting on new finds in India.  His reports resulted in a short-lived speculative bubble on ‘Malabar Gold’ leading to bankruptcy and malaria among the miners who were drawn there.


The reason for this map in particular might also be rooted in the events of 1851.  Not only was this the year of the Gold Rushes, but it was also the year of the Black Thursday bushfires.  These were the largest bushfires in a populated area that have ever been recorded.  25% of the entire area of Victoria was burned, causing many deaths and loss of animals and property.  Despite the destruction, the native trees of Victoria are well adapted to bushfires which regularly sweep the region.  Acacia and Eucalyptus trees can regenerate solely from unburned buds and also other plants germinate in response to smoke or release seeds in response to fire.  20 years had passed since Black Thursday and it would seem appropriate to demonstrate the recovery in tree coverage since the disaster.

If you’d like to buy a print of this map, you can.  Prints are available in various sizes from our Picture Library

The Great Geoadvent challenge!

Yesterday’s window was Ben Arnaboll, Scotland – leave a comment below identifying which plate tectonic story is featured in today’s window to take part!

3 thoughts on “Door 12 – Can’t See the Wood for the Trees

  1. Pingback: Door 24 – Quiz answers, challenge winners and a very merry Christmas! | Geological Society of London blog

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