DIETRICH, Amalie (1821-1891)


DIETRICH, Amalie (1821-1891)
naturalist
daughter of Gottlieb Nelle, a purse-maker, was born at Siebenlehn, Saxony, in 1821. About the year 1848 she married Willhelm Dietrich a member of a well-known family of botanists, who trained her as a collector of botanical specimens. He was completely wrapped up in his work; he appears to have been quite selfish, and his wife eventually had to part from him. She maintained herself and her daughter with difficulty for several years as a botanical collector but in 1863 she was introduced to J. C. Godeffroy, a Hamburg merchant who had a private museum. He gave her an engagement as a collector of specimens, and in May 1863 she sailed for Australia with a first class passage for Brisbane. She arrived on 1 August with very little English, began collecting, and found such a wealth of material she hardly knew where to start. She worked up the Brisbane River, in the Gladstone district, and then from Rockhampton. Writing from there in April 1864 she mentions that she has already sent 12 cases of specimens to Hamburg, and that she is very happy in her work—"it is just as if Herr Godeffroy had made me a present of this vast continent". Her original training had been in botany, but quite early in her travels she speaks of "slugs, spiders and centipedes, and the implements, skulls and skeletons of the aborigines". A little later she nearly lost her life in a swamp, but was rescued by aborigines, and then had a great misfortune, her house being burnt down with a large number of specimens. A reassuring letter from Godeffroy restored her spirits, and in 1867 she was informed that she had been elected a fellow of the Entomological Society of Stettin, and that her collection of fifty specimens of Australian wood had won a gold medal at the horticultural exhibition. She was then working in the Mackay district and employing two assistants. She was at Lake Elphinstone for nearly the whole of 1868, and in 1869 obtained much material of ethnological interest in and near Bowen. In 1870 she went to Port Denison and the Holborn islands, and was enchanted with the marine life. She visited Melbourne in 1871 where she met von Mueller (q.v.). Later on she returned to Germany by way of Cape Horn after visiting the Tonga islands. She arrived at Hamburg on 4 March 1873, having been away a little less than 10 years. Godeffroy gave her quarters in his house, and a position in the museum, until his death in 1885. After his death part of his museum went to Leipzig and the remainder to the city of Hamburg, when Amalie Dietrich was given a post in the botanical museum. To the end of her days she remained a student, attending all the lectures of the learned societies, and she was much respected by all classes. In the summer she would sometimes visit her daughter who had married a clergyman in north Sleswick. There she was happy, still botanizing, or playing with her grandson, and there she died on 9 March 1891. Her marriage had not been happy, but she was always grateful to her husband for her knowledge of science which had given such interest to her life. She was a woman of extraordinary courage and strength of character, and science has probably never had a truer servant. Her name is preserved in various species named after her such as Acacia Dietrichiana, Bonamia Dietrichiana, Nortonia Amaliae and Odynerus Dietrichianus (two varieties of wasps discovered by her).
C. Bischoff, The Hard Road, the Life Story of Amalie Dietrich, 1931. C. Bischoff was her daughter and this volume is a translation of the life of her mother published in Germany in 1909; Meyer's Lexikon, vol. 3. This gives 1823 for the year of birth but the probabilities are in favour of the earlier year.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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