Allan Cunningham (botanist)

Allan Cunningham (13 July 1791 – 27 June 1839) was an English botanist and explorer, primarily known for his travels in Australia to collect plants.

Allan Cunningham
Allan Cunningham07
Portrait of Allan Cunningham
Born13 July 1791
Wimbledon, Surrey, England
Died27 June 1839 (aged 47)
Sydney, Australia
NationalityEnglish, Scottish
OccupationBotanist, explorer
Known forExploration of eastern Australia
RelativesRichard Cunningham (brother)

Early life

Cunningham was born in Wimbledon, Surrey, the son of Allan Cunningham (head gardener at Wimbledon Park House), who came from Renfrewshire, Scotland, and his English wife Sarah (née Juson/Jewson née Dicken). Allan Cunningham was educated at a Putney private school, Reverend John Adams Academy and then went into a solicitor's office (a Lincoln's Inn Conveyancer).[1] He afterwards obtained a position with William Townsend Aiton superintendent of Kew Gardens, and this brought him in touch with Robert Brown and Sir Joseph Banks.

Brazil and Australia (New South Wales)

On Banks' recommendation, Cunningham went to Brazil with James Bowie between 1814 and 1816 collecting specimens for Kew Gardens. On 28 September 1816 he sailed for Sydney where he arrived on 20 December 1816.[1] He established himself at Parramatta. Among other explorations, he joined John Oxley's 1817 expedition beyond the Blue Mountains to the Lachlan and Macquarie rivers and shared in the privations of the 1,200 miles (1,930 km) journey. He collected specimens of about 450 species and gained valuable experience as an explorer.

Coastal exploration

Cunningham traveled as the ship's botanist aboard HMS Mermaid under Phillip Parker King from 1817 to 1820.[2] The Mermaid was of only 85 tons, but sailing on 22 December 1817 they reached King George Sound on 21 January 1818. Though their stay was short many specimens were found but the islands on the west coast were comparatively barren. Towards the end of March the Goulburn Islands on the north coast were reached and many new plants were discovered. They reached Timor on 4 June 1818 and, turning for home, arrived at Port Jackson on 29 July 1818. Cunningham's collections during this voyage included about 300 species.

Shortly after his return, Cunningham made an excursion south from Sydney, ascending the prominent peak of Mount Keira overlooking the Illawarra region and present day Wollongong. Towards the end of the year he made a voyage to Tasmania arriving at Hobart on 2 January 1819. He next visited Launceston and though often finding the botany interesting, he found little that was absolutely new, as Brown had preceded him. In May he went with King in the Mermaid on a second voyage to the north and north-west coasts.[1] On this occasion they started up the east coast and Cunningham found many opportunities for adding to his collections. One of these was after the ship reached the mouth of the Endeavour River (the site of modern Cooktown) on 28 June 1819.

The circumnavigation of Australia was completed on 27 August when they reached Vernon Island in Clarence Strait. They again visited Timor and arrived back in Sydney on 12 January 1820. The third voyage to the north coast with King began on 15 June, but meeting bad weather the bowsprit was lost and a return was made for repairs. Sailing again on 13 July 1820 the northerly course was followed and eventually the continent was circumnavigated. Though they found the little vessel was in a bad state when they were on the north-west coast, and though serious danger was escaped until they were close to home, they were nearly wrecked off Botany Bay. The Mermaid was then condemned and the next voyage was on the Bathurst which was twice the size of the Mermaid.[1] They left on 26 May 1821, the northern route was chosen, and when they were on the west coast of Australia it was found necessary to go to Mauritius to refit, where they arrived on 27 September 1821. They left after a stay of seven weeks and reached King George Sound on 24 December 1821. A sufficiently long stay was made for Cunningham to make an excellent collection of plants, and then turning on their tracks the Bathurst sailed up the west coast and round the north of Australia. Sydney was reached again on 25 April 1822. Cunningham provided a chapter on botany to King's Narrative of a Survey.[3]

Further exploration of eastern Australia

Cunningham memorial
Memorial to Allan Cunningham's "discovery" of Cunningham's Gap, Cunningham Highway, QLD

In September 1822 Cunningham went on an expedition over the Blue Mountains and arrived at Bathurst on 14 October 1822 and returned to Parramatta in January 1823. His account of about 100 plants met with will be found in Geographical Memoirs on New South Wales, edited by Barron Field, 1825, under the title "A Specimen of the Indigenous Botany ... between Port Jackson and Bathurst".

In 1823 Cunningham set out from the upper Hunter River to explore inside the Great Dividing Range.[4] With five men and five horses, he set out from Bathurst to explore from the Cudgegong River, passing through Rylstone to Coolah and then eastwards to Scone and returning to Coolah through Merriwa. He examined the Cudgegong and Goulburn Rivers. On 2 June passing through Coolah to the north east, he explored Pandora's Pass, which could have opened out a fair and practicable road to Liverpool Plains.[5] He returned to Bathurst through an undeveloped Mudgee on 27 June 1823.[6] In September 1824 Cunningham accompanied John Oxley on his second expedition to Moreton Bay and explored up the Brisbane River.[7]

Cunningham also undertook an expedition to what is now Canberra in 1824. He travelled with three convicts, three horses and a cart and he travelled via Lake Bathurst, Captains Flat and the valley in which flows the Queanbeyan River. Poor weather prevented him from continuing his journey south.[8]

Cunningham had long wished to visit New Zealand and on 28 August 1826 he was able to sail on a whaler.[1] He was hospitably received by the missionaries in the Bay of Islands, was able to do much botanical work, and returned to Sydney on 20 January 1827. Accounts of his work in New Zealand will be found in Hooker's Companion to the Botanical Magazine, 1836, and Annals of Natural History, 1838 and 1839.

Cunningham set out to explore the area to the west of Moreton Bay in 1827, crossing to the west of the Great Dividing Range from the Hunter Region and travelling north. In June 1827, Cunningham climbed to the top of Mount Dumaresq (near what is now Clintonvale close to Maryvale) and after wrote in his diary that this lush area was ideal for settlement. Exploring around Mount Dumaresq, Cunningham found a pass, now known as Cunninghams Gap.[9]

Cunningham returned to the Moreton Bay penal colony in 1828, setting off from Brisbane with Patrick Logan, Charles Fraser and five men to find Mount Warning and to establish the route to Cunningham's Gap which he did, on 24 July.[4] The peaks on either side of the gap were also named, Mount Cordeaux and Mount Mitchell. After exploring the McPherson Range area, Cunningham travelled on the south side of the Gap whereas the highway today runs further north, through the gap, from the small township of Aratula. Spicer's Gap which runs parallel to Cunningham's Gap was actually the pass first identified by Cunningham in 1827.[10] After its rediscovery by Henry Alphen in 1847, Spicer's Gap was used as a stagecoach route. In 1829, Cunningham explored the Brisbane River.

Contributions to botany

Australia's most prolific plant collector of the early nineteenth century, Cunningham had been sent to Australia to expand the collection at the King' Garden at Kew and he was given the title of "King's Collector for the Royal Garden at Kew". He was so successful that a hothouse built for specimens from Africa was renamed "Botany Bay House". Although his main role was to collect propagation material, his lasting legacy are his herbarium sheets which are thought by his biographer, Anthony Orchard, to exceed 20,000.[11]

It is often thought that Cunningham published few papers on botany and in his obituary, John Lindley wrote, "How little he regarded posthumous fame is seen by the fewness of his published works, a brief sketch of the Flora of New Zealand being the only systematic account of his Botanical discoveries...".[12] In fact, although he was effectively barred from publishing on botany whilst employed as "King's Collector", he nevertheless later published seven major papers, and 57 shorter papers on subjects including taxonomy, geology, physical geography and zoology. He was one of the first scientists to publish papers on botanical geography.[13]

Cunningham was concerned that many of his discoveries sent to Kew were not published, allowing others, including William Baxter to be credited with their discovery. (Baxter had risked arrest and a possible flogging for undermining Cunningham's work by sending specimens to commercial interests.)[14] When Cunningham returned to London, he sent duplicates of his herbarium specimens to other botanists, including de Candolle, Schauer, William Jackson Hooker, Bentham, Lindley and others, who published his descriptions with acknowledgement to "A.Cunn.".[11]

Later life

In 1831 Cunningham returned to England, but went back to Australia in 1837 on board Norfolk as government botanist, resigning in the following year on finding that he was required to grow vegetables for government officials. He died in Sydney on 27 June 1839, of consumption and was buried in the Devonshire Street Cemetery. In 1901 his remains were "reverently removed" and reinterred in an obelisk within the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney.[15]


Memorial obelisk to Allan Cunningham (botanist)
Cunningham memorial obelisk in the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney

Some of Australia's plants: Araucaria cunninghamii (hoop pine), Archontophoenix cunninghamiana (Bangalow palm), Banksia cunninghamii, Bauhinia cunninghamii, Casuarina cunninghamiana (river sheoak), Centipeda cunninghamii (old man weed), Ficus cunninghamii, Medicosma cunninghamii (bone wood), Nothofagus cunninghamii (myrtle tree, Tasmania), Pennantia cunninghamii (brown beech), and Polyosma cunninghamii commemorate Allan and his brother Richard, a botanist.[16] The Cunningham Highway is named in honour of Allan. The genus Alania was created by Endlicher in Cunningham's honour.[17]

A species of Australian lizard, Egernia cunninghami, is named in honour of Allan Cunningham.[18]

The Australian federal seat of Cunningham, which stretches from Port Kembla in the south of Wollongong to Heathcote in Southern Sydney, was named after him in honour of his being the first European explorer to visit the Illawarra region.[19]

The locality of Allan, Queensland was named after him.[20]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Dictionary of Australian Biography Cl-Cu". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Project Gutenberg Australia. Archived from the original on 26 July 2015. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  2. ^ Konishi, Shino; Nugent, Maria; Shellam, Tiffany, eds. (2015). Indigenous intermediaries: new perspectives on exploration archives. Acton, A.C.T.: ANU Press. p. 88. ISBN 9781925022773. OCLC 917505639.
  3. ^ King, Phillip Parker; Cunningham, Allan (1827), "A Few General Remarks on the Vegetation of Certain Coasts of Terra Australis", Narrative of a Survey of the intertropical and western Coasts of Australia : performed between the years 1818 and 1822, 2, John Murray, pp. 497–533, retrieved 12 November 2012
  4. ^ a b Roberts, Beryl (1991). Stories of the Southside. Archerfield, Queensland: Aussie Books. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-947336-01-1.
  5. ^ Whitehead. Pandoras Pass. Sunnyland. p. 220. ISBN 978-0-9757163-8-0.
  6. ^ Heaton, John Henniker (1879), Australian dictionary of dates and men of the time : containing the history of Australasia from 1542 to 1879, George Robertson, p. 49, archived from the original on 27 September 2012, retrieved 12 November 2012
  7. ^ Oxley, John (1925). "Extract from Field Books of Mr. John Oxley". Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland. 2 (3): 137–157. Archived from the original on 30 April 2012. Retrieved 12 November 2012.
  8. ^ Exploring the ACT and Southeast New South Wales, J. Kay McDonald, Kangaroo Press, Sydney, 1985 ISBN 0-86417-049-1
  9. ^ Lee, Ida (1925), Early Explorers In Australia, Methuen, archived from the original on 13 November 2012, retrieved 9 November 2012
  10. ^ Environmental Protection Agency (Queensland) (2000). Heritage Trails of the Great South East. State of Queensland. pp. 34–35. ISBN 978-0-7345-1008-2.
  11. ^ a b Orchard, Anthony (12 May 2014). "The dispersal of Allan Cunningham's botanical collections". Telopea. 17: 43–86. doi:10.7751/telopea20147421.
  12. ^ Lindley, John (1840). "Miscellaneous Notices - Death of Mr. Allan Cunningham". Edwards's Botanical Register. 26: 1–3. Archived from the original on 10 November 2016. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  13. ^ Orchard, Anthony E. (14 November 2013). "Allan Cunningham's cryptic publications". Telopea. 15: 191–204. doi:10.7751/telopea2013022.
  14. ^ Endersby, Jim (2000). "A Garden Enclosed: Botanical Barter in Sydney, 1818-39". The British Journal for the History of Science. 33 (3): 313–314. doi:10.1017/S0007087499004033. ISSN 0007-0874. JSTOR 4027955.
  15. ^ "Allan Cunningham". The Sydney Morning Herald. 29 June 1901. p. 9.
  16. ^ Allan Cunningham 1791–1839 Archived 7 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 27-1-2009
  17. ^ CRC World Dictionary of Plant Names
  18. ^ Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. ("Cunningham", p. 63).
  19. ^ "Australian Broadcasting Commission electoral information - Seat of Cunningham". Archived from the original on 28 October 2010. Retrieved 15 January 2011.
  20. ^ "Allan (entry 45903)". Queensland Place Names. Queensland Government. Retrieved 13 March 2014.
  21. ^ IPNI.  A.Cunn.
  • Cunningham's Pandora's Pass, Tracking and Mapping the Explorers, 1823, Volume 4, 2nd Edition, Sunnyland Press

External links

Acacia rubida

Acacia rubida, commonly known as red stem wattle, red stemmed wattle or red leaved wattle, is a shrub belonging to the genus Acacia and the subgenus Phyllodineae that is native to parts of eastern Australia.

Auranticarpa rhombifolia

Auranticarpa rhombifolia is a rainforest tree of eastern Australia. Known as the diamond leaf pittosporum, this tree is planted in many parts of Australia as an ornamental. The white flowers and orange fruit make it a most appealing street or garden tree. Other common names include hollywood, diamond leaf laurel, white myrtle and white holly.

Australian botanists recently examined the large genus Pittosporum and decided the more northerly examples are significantly different from those in the south. Subsequently, a new genus was created Auranticarpa, which means "gold fruit".

The range of natural distribution is on red–brown basaltic soils from Richmond River, New South Wales (28° S) to Forty Mile Scrub National Park (18° S) in tropical Queensland.

Bossiaea buxifolia

Bossiaea buxifolia (Matted Bossiaea) is a species of flowering plant in the pea family (Fabaceae). It usually has a prostrate to procumbent habit, though some forms may have an erect habit, growing up to 1.3 metres high. The leaves are ovate to rounded, 2 to 5 mm long and have a short petiole. Flowers are produced between October and November in its native range. These

have dark-coloured standards, yellow and orange wings and purplish keels. The seed pods are narrow-oblong in shape and around 20 mm long.

The species was first formally described by Allan Cunningham who found it growing "upon rocky, brushy hills" in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales. His description was published in 1825 in Geographical Memoirs on New South Wales.

It occurs in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland in Australia.

Calytrix flavescens

Calytrix flavescens, commonly known as summer starflower, is a species of plant in the myrtle family Myrtaceae that is endemic to Western Australia.

Calytrix fraseri

Calytrix fraseri, commonly known as pink summer calytrix or pink summer starflower, is a species of plant in the myrtle family Myrtaceae that is endemic to Western Australia.


Cheiranthera is a genus of flowering plants within the family Pittosporaceae.

The species, which are endemic to Australia, include:

Cheiranthera alternifolia E.M.Benn.

Cheiranthera cyanea Brongn.

Cheiranthera filifolia Turcz.

Cheiranthera linearis A.Cunn. ex Lindl.

Cheiranthera preissiana Putt.

Cheiranthera telfordii L.Cayzer & Crisp

Cheiranthera volubilis Benth.

Coprosma acerosa

Coprosma acerosa, commonly called sand coprosma, is a shrub that is native to New Zealand. It is a coastal plant found on the landward side of sand dunes.

C. acerosa is a low, spreading shrub with yellow-brownish leaves, red bark and blue fruit.It is declining over large parts of its original range due to competition from marram grass.

Coprosma propinqua

Coprosma propinqua is a New Zealand plant belonging to the Rubiaceae family and the genus Coprosma. Its Māori name (in common New Zealand usage) is mingimingi, a name which is also applied to closely related species such as C. dumosa, C. rhamnoides, C. virescens and C. crassifolia. It is a small-leaved shrub or tree which grows 3 to 6 metres high.

It has divaricating branches, and is common in swampy forest, in scrub, along stream banks and in stony places. It has a wide distribution, ranging from Mangonui in the North Island as far south as Stewart Island. It grows from sea level to 460 metres.

The male flowers occur in axillary clusters of one to four on very short branches. Female flowers are found on their own at the ends of short branchlets.

The fruit is a drupe, pale when immature, turning dark blue or blue-flecked when mature.

Coprosma propinqua freely hybridizes with C. robusta (karamu).

Coronidium elatum

Coronidium elatum, commonly known as the white paper daisy or tall everlasting, is a perennial herbaceous shrub in the family Asteraceae found in open forests in eastern Australia. A woody shrub 0.6 to 2 m (2.0 to 6.6 ft) tall, it has white flowers which appear in spring. It was known as Helichrysum elatum for many years until it was finally reviewed in 2008.

Eucalyptus dumosa

Eucalyptus dumosa, commonly known as the white mallee, dumosa mallee, or Congoo mallee, is a species of mallee that is endemic to south eastern Australia. It usually has rough, flaky grey bark on the lower trunk, smooth bark above, lance-shaped to curved adult leaves, flower buds in groups of seven, white flowers and cup-shaped, cylindrical or barrel-shaped fruit.

Eucalyptus melliodora

Eucalyptus melliodora, commonly known as yellow box, is a medium-sized to occasionally tall eucalypt. The bark is variable ranging from smooth with an irregular, short stocking, to covering most of the trunk, fibrous, dense or loosely held, grey, yellow or red-brown, occasionally very coarse, thick, dark brown to black; shedding from the upper limbs to leave a smooth, white or yellowish surface.


Homoranthus is a genus of about thirty species of plants in the myrtle family Myrtaceae and all are endemic to Australia. Plants in this genus share similarities with those in both Darwinia and Verticordia. They are shrubs with their leaves arranged in opposite pairs and with flowers appearing either singly or in small groups, usually in upper leaf axils. They are found in Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia. The genus was first described in 1836. None of the species is common nor are they well-known in horticulture.

Hovea pannosa

Hovea pannosa is a shrub in the family Fabaceae, native to Australia. It grows to 3 metres high and has leaves which are 10 to 80 mm long and 4 to 7 mm wide. These have dense hairs on the undersurface. Purple flowers are produced between August and September in the species' native range.The species occurs in New South Wales and Victoria.

Hovea rosmarinifolia

Hovea rosmarinifolia, commonly known as mountain beauty or rosemary hovea is a shrub in the Fabaceae family, native to Australia. A small shrub bearing attractive blue-purple or mauve pea flowers from August to November.

Myoporum floribundum

Myoporum floribundum, commonly known as weeping myoporum or slender myoporum, is a sour-smelling glabrous shrub in the family Scrophulariaceae endemic to a small area of New South Wales and Victoria in Australia. It has long, thin, drooping leaves and profuse white flowers in clusters along the stems in spring. Although it is uncommon in nature, it has long been available as a popular garden plant.

Persoonia chamaepitys

Persoonia chamaepitys, commonly known as the prostrate- or mountain geebung, is a shrub endemic to New South Wales in eastern Australia. It has a prostrate habit, reaching only 20 cm (7.9 in) high but spreading up to 2 m (6.6 ft) across, with bright green spine-like leaves and small yellow flowers appearing in summer and autumn.

Persoonia cornifolia

Persoonia cornifolia is a plant in the family Proteaceae and is endemic to eastern Australia. It is a shrub with elliptic to egg-shaped leaves and hairy yellow flowers, and grows in northern New South Wales and south-eastern Queensland.

Persoonia microphylla

Persoonia microphylla is a shrub native to eastern Australia.Scottish botanist Robert Brown described Persoonia microphylla in his 1830 supplement to his Prodromus, from a specimen collected in 1824 by Allan Cunningham.


Pittosporum ( or ) is a genus of about 200 species of flowering plants in the family Pittosporaceae. The genus is probably Gondwanan in origin; its present range extends from Australasia, Oceania, eastern Asia and some parts of Africa. Citriobatus can be included here, but might be a distinct (though closely related) genus. They are commonly known as pittosporums or, more ambiguously, "cheesewoods".

The species are trees and shrubs growing to 2–30 m tall. The leaves are spirally arranged or whorled, simple, with an entire or waved (rarely lobed) margin. The flowers are produced singly or in umbels or corymbs, each flower with five sepals and five petals; they are often sweetly scented. The fruit is a woody seed capsule, which bursts on ripening to release the numerous seeds. The seeds are coated with a sticky resinous substance. The genus is named after their sticky seeds, from the Greek meaning "pitch-seed".

Tarata (P. eugenioides) and kohuhu (P. tenuifolium) – both from New Zealand – and the Japanese cheesewood (P. tobira) from southern Japan are widely cultivated as ornamental plants in subtropical regions; pittosporums can also be grown indoors as bonsai. The petroleum nut (P. resiniferum) yields petroleum nut oil, which is sometimes proposed as biofuel; due to its excessive n-heptane content and consequent low octane rating, it is better suited as a source of n-heptane, which is otherwise produced from crude oil.

Many herbivores detest the resinuous pittosporums, in particular their seeds, which will stick anywhere. But some animals eat them with relish, for example the kea (Nestor notabilis), which likes P. anomalum fruit and seeds. The cottony cushion scale (Icerya purchasi) is a common pest on ornamental pittosporums (in particular the New Zealand species); the sac fungus Nectriella pironii often infects Japanese cheesewood.


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