John Lhotsky

John Lhotsky (1795–1866) was a Galicia-born Austrian naturalist, lecturer, artist and author. He wrote and published on the topics of zoology, botany, geology, geography and politics. Lhotsky was active in the early colonies of New South Wales and Tasmania from 1832 until 1838. During his sojourn in Australia, Lhotsky described himself, and was known as, Polish.[2]

"Captain Cook's tablet at Cape Solander, Botany Bay, New South Wales" published by Lhotsky in 1839[1]

Early lifeEdit

Lhotsky, whose first name is also given as Joannes Lhotsky, Johann Lhotsky and Jan Lhotsky, was born in Lemberg, Galicia, Austrian Empire (now Lviv, Ukraine), the son of Joseph Lhotsky. He moved to Vienna in 1812 and was awarded his doctorate from the University of Jena. He became a member of the Bavarian Botanical Society during this period. In 1819 he published a botanical work Flora Conchica, and other papers for scientific journals, however, his political writing led to a prison sentence of six years. He was released in 1828.[1]

Travel to AustraliaEdit

Lhotsky was commissioned, by Ludwig I of Bavaria, to explore and describe the 'new world', spending eighteen months in Brazil before travelling to Australia. He landed at Sydney on 18 May 1832, moved to Hobart in 1836, and sailed to London 1838. While in Australia, and after his return to Europe, he published seminal works on a range of topics. In addition to his books and articles, his works include landscape paintings, and zoological and botanical illustrations.

He produced numerous articles for newspapers and scientific journals, describing his investigations of the natural history of Australia. His first work on this topic is supposed to have been 'Australian sketches, no l', anonymously published in the Sydney Gazette.[3] The account of his expedition, A Journey from Sydney to the Australian Alps,[4] was important for the description of the Monaro region and Snowy River.[5] One article, Song of the Women of the Menero Tribe,[6] gives the earliest specimen of Australian music.[1] Lhotsky also visited the site of the future capital, Canberra, and was the first to note the name 'Kembery' from which it derived.[7] His unpublished works include a vocabulary of the Tasmanian peoples. He published art criticism in Sydney from 1834 onwards, and is noted as the first to do so, describing the possibilities of the Australian landscape as a subject and its absence in the colony's active artists.[8] Lhotsky obtained an interview with William Buckley.[5] The volume Illustrations of the Present State and Future Prospects of New South Wales (1835–36) was published by William Moffit with coloured plates, and gave the "State of Agriculture and Grazing in New South Wales".[9][10]

Lhotsky made important scientific collections and discoveries while in Australia, although he did not succeed in gaining the posts he sought as the official zoologist or naturalist. He attempted to sell his scientific specimens to the authorities, for the foundation of a collection at the Australian Museum, but his offer was rejected with a comment that the price was too high. Lhotsky made early collections of Alpine flora in New South Wales, and arranged a collection of 200 species from Tasmania.[11] He also collected mineralogical samples and specimens of the native fauna. These early collections were advertised, and sold from his private concern, the "Australian Philosophical Repository".[1] Lhotsky's works in Australia include the completion of a geological map of the Tasman Peninsula.[11] He has also been credited as the first discoverer of gold in New South Wales, although his later attempts to seek reward for this failed.[1][5][12] His artwork was also advertised and raffled, depicting scenes of the Australian landscape and its unique flora.

After AustraliaEdit

After arriving in London he wrote The state of arts in New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, the first review of art in Australia.[1] Many of the scientific illustrations produced by Lhotsky, such as those of fishes, were thought to have been commissioned; the lithographs and other printed works credited to him were often derived from the sketches he received from convicts. Lhotsky also wrote a biographical sketch on Ferdinand Bauer, whom he greatly admired, for the London Journal of Botany,[13] and placed letters from Bauer, written on the Investigator expedition to Australia, with the Linnean Society of London.[5] His sketch of the highly regarded botanical illustrator was the earliest source of biographical information,[11] the only one for a century after Bauer's death.[citation needed] After his arrival in London, Lhotsky continued to publish material on politics and social commentary, as he had in Vienna and Australia. He died at the Dalston German Hospital in London on 23 November 1866 in apparent dire poverty.[1]

Lhotsky was variously appreciated or damned in the colonies. He was frequently published in local newspapers and, later, castigated in the same. His public disputes with officials led to his leaving New South Wales for Tasmania, then two years later for London. He published many articles on his discoveries and experience in Australia for a public eager for information on the colonies, but some of this was described as slanderous in the Sydney Gazette. He found critics in London too. Impey Murchison described him as the "mad Pole". Later commentators recognised the contribution of the scientist and that his failures were due to indiscretion with his monies and criticism.[1][5]

The genus Lhotskia, of the family of fish Belonidae, was named for this author, as were the species of shrubs Lhotskya, later transferred to Calytrix.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "John Lhotsky". Dictionary of Australian Artists Online. Australian Research Council. 2007. Retrieved 20 June 2009.
  2. ^ "First Man From Snowy River". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 13 March 1954. p. 10. Retrieved 11 November 2011.
  3. ^ Sydney Gazette, 6 October 1832
  4. ^ Lhotsky, J. "A journey from Sydney to the Australian Alps, undertaken in the months of January, February, and March, 1834: being an account of the geographical & natural relation of the country traversed, its aborigines, &c.: together with some general information respecting the colony of New South Wales"
  5. ^ a b c d e f Whitley, G. P. (1967). "Lhotsky, John (1795? – 1866?)". Australian Dictionary of Biography, Online Edition. Australian National University. Retrieved 20 June 2009.
  6. ^ Lhotsky, J. Native Melody, a Song of the Women of the Menero [Monaro] Tribe, near the Australian Alps 1834
  7. ^ "Native Name". The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser. 7 April 1945. p. 11. Retrieved 26 June 2009.
  8. ^ McCulloch, Alan; Susan McCulloch (1994). The encyclopedia of Australian art (3 ed.). Allen & Unwin. ISBN 978-1-86373-315-1.
  9. ^ L. F. Fitzhardinge, 'Moffitt, William (1802–1874)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Online Edition, Copyright 2006, updated continuously, ISSN 1833-7538, published by Australian National University
  10. ^ Sothebys (Auctioneers) (1894). Rare and valuable books, on the history and literature of the Australian colonies. London (Sothebys).
  11. ^ a b c Jupp, James (c. 2001). The Australian people : an encyclopedia of the nation, its people and their origins (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-80789-1.
  12. ^ Heney, Helen (1967). "Strzelecki, Sir Paul Edmund de [Count Strzelecki] (1797–1873)". Australian Dictionary of Biography, Online Edition. Australian National University. Retrieved 25 June 2009.
  13. ^ Lhotsky, J. "Biographical sketch of Ferdinand Bauer" London journal of botany 2 pp. 106 – 113
  14. ^ IPNI.  Lhotsky.

Further readingEdit