Purple Enamel Orchid, botantical name: Elythranthera brunonis
Georgiana Kennedy was born in 1805 in Cumberland, in the North of England near the Scottish border. She enjoyed a relatively comfortable and privileged childhood but when the family moved to Rugby after her father’s death, she went to live in Scotland with her close friends, the Dunlop family. When she received Captain John Molloy’s marriage
proposal by letter she was unsure what to do. She knew could not remain as a permanent household guest of her recently married friend Helen, but Molloy was about to set sail for the Swan River colony, an isolated new settlement near the South Western tip of Australia.Putting her faith in God to provide for her and guide her, she accepted Molloy’s proposal. Before her wedding day had ended she was on her way to Glasgow and the first leg of a journey to the other side of the world. During the sixth month voyage, Georgiana was pregnant and suffered greatly with sickness but her relationship with her ‘beloved Jack’ grew stronger and closer.
Funnel Web Spider Orchid, botanical name: Caladenia infundibularis.
After spending time in the heat of the young city of Perth, the Molloys decided to take up their grant of land further South, in a region that had been only briefly explored. In May 1830 they arrived with a small group of settlers in Flinders Bay, near the mouth of the Blackwood River, where the town of Augusta lies today. Three weeks later and still sheltering in a leaky tent on the beach, Georgiana gave birth to her first child with the help of a servant who knew little more than she did about childbirth. John and Georgiana were devastated when the baby died a few days later.During the next thirteen years Georgiana had five more daughters who all survived her. Her only son, John, drowned in a well when he was nineteen months old.
The first years were difficult for the Augusta settlers. They worked hard and often went without everyday items while they waited months for supplies to arrive from Perth. Contact between the colonists and the indiginous people was often explosive as they struggled to understand one another’s way of life. The actions of some individuals challenged the moral and ethical beliefs of both societies and first-hand
accounts of the settlers’ methods of implementing their imposed justice system make shocking reading today.
As Resident Magistrate, John Molloy was often away on business and it fell to Georgiana to manage not only the household and the smallholding but also her husband’s administrative duties. Often despairing with exhaustion and loneliness for the friendship and intellectual connections she missed so much, Georgiana continued to delight in music, poetry and any reading matter that she could lay hands on from the world she had left behind. Her interest in gardening blossomed in the temperate climate of Augusta and, when she received a letter out of the blue from the English botanist Captain James Mangles, asking her to collect seed specimens of the region for him, she was quick to accept.
Hortus siccus (circa 1912). By kind permission of Neville Marchan
In the years that followed, Georgiana became a self-taught expert on the indigenous flora of the land around her. She was meticulous in her methods of collection, drying and storage for the long journey the seeds and flower specimens would make back to England. Some of the plants she sent to Mangles were new, un-named species and the seeds were
successfully grown on in the gardens of the aristocracy and the wealthy.
Plants became her obsession and she found great contentment wandering in the
bush. Although her religious belief was still strong, her letters reveal a growing awareness of the beauty of nature for its own sake and not as something that God created solely for Man’s delight. Her writing, surprisingly personal and even sensual given the social protocols of the time, shows how much her views had changed and
how much she had grown to admire the often small but exquisite flowers of her adopted home.
Clubbed Spider Orchid, botanical name: Calandenia longiclavata
Never truly happy about leaving Augusta when the family moved North to Vasse and never having recovered fully after the birth of her last daughter, Georgiana became increasingly weak. She continued to collect seeds for Mangles even when she could no longer walk, by engaging
the support of her daughters and her aboriginal neighbours. Her last efforts were to successfully collect and send the seeds of the Nuytsia Floribunda, a tree that is deeply significant to the indigenous people of Western Australia, with brilliant orange-yellow flowers appearing in December. It was not known at the time that the semi-parasitic Nuytsia requires a ‘host’ plant to survive, so she did not succeed. Georgiana died in great discomfort after spending the last three months of her life in her bedroom.