In an era of limited opportunities for women, Fanny Anne Charsley was one of five sisters who were taught the delicate art of watercolour. She was born in 1828 and spent her early years in England. At the age of 29 Fanny accompanied her family on a journey to Australia. They settled in Melbourne where Fanny busied herself painting the local flora. She also corresponded with Baron Ferdinand von Mueller, then botanist for the Colony of Victoria. Becoming his pupil, Fanny gathered botanical specimens for Mueller who in turn helped her to identify the flowers she painted.

Anthropodium laxum Villarsia parnassifolia Patersonia glauca. Illustration by Fanny Anne Charsley; 30328102131454/4
Goodenia geniculata Leptospermum myrsinoides Viola betonicifolia Caesia corymbosa Anguilaria dioica Drosera auriculata Bulbine bulbosa Stylidium graminifolium Viola hederacea. Illustration by Fanny Anne Charsley; 30328102131454/12

Fanny was a prize student, so much so that Mueller named a flower, Asteraceoe Helipterum chorsleyae, after her. 1 He thought Fanny had talent and was impressed by the veracity and intricacy of her work. Mueller left Fanny with a fond impression that would remain for the duration of her career.

With meticulous precision Fanny continued to paint wildflowers inspired by the flora of this new land that was so different from her native England. Not only did she document wildflowers, Fanny is said to have also described the medicinal and edible plants used by Aboriginal peoples in and around Melbourne.2

Daviesia ulicina Hardenbergia monophylla Acacia oxycedrus Clematis microphylla Leptospermum laevigatum. Illustration by Fanny Anne Charsley; 30328102131454/9
Tetratheca ciliata Hibbertia fasciculata Grevillea latrobei Hakea ulicina Wahlenbergia gracilis. Illustration by Fanny Anne Charsley; 30328102131454/11

Fanny returned to England in 1867 where she set about the publication of her book, The wild flowers around Melbourne. The original album of watercolours is held by the National Library of Australia and has been described as a ‘work of art in its own right.’3 State Library Victoria has a copy of The wild flowers around Melbourne in our Rare Books Collection. The book is dedicated to Baron Ferdinand von Mueller.

Fanny Anne Charsley never married. She died in Sussex, England in 1915. She was 87 years old. Her legacy is The wild flowers around Melbourne which continues to delight audiences. Plates from Fanny’s book have been digitised by State Library Victoria. She also leaves behind a love of painting flowers that is shared by later female artists like Margaret Preston and Margaret Olley.

Thelymitra ixioides Thelymitra aristata Burchardia umbellata Stypandra caespitosa Stypandra umbellate. Illustration by Fanny Anne Charsley; 30328102131454/6
Brunonia australis Craspedia richea Dianella revoluta Lobelia pedunculata Convolvulus erubescens Ammobium alatum Helichrysum bractaeatum Helichrysum bracteatum Lobelia simplicicaulis. Illustration by Fanny Anne Charsley; 30328102131454/13

  1. Australian National Herbarium, Biography, ‘Fanny Anne Charsley’, last updated 28 Jan 2014, viewed 10 August 2022
  2. Norton, L, 2009, Women of flowers: botanical art from the 1830s to the 1960s, National Library of Australia, Canberra
  3. As above

This article has 3 comments

  1. I am the great Granddaughter of Fanny Hamilton Coote ( nee Charlsley ) & have been very lucky to have one of her much loved books by her niece Fanny Ann Charsley. The illustrations of her works is simply amazing.
    I live in Bunbury WA & I believe Kings Park in Perth also have some of the plants dedicated to her. I have been lucky enough to have germinated some seeds of the plant named after her.
    I am so pleased she is being recognised for her work & illustrations done in combination with Ferdinand Von Meuller.

    • Thank-you so much for your comment. We are pleased to recognise and share the beautiful work of Fanny Ann Charsley. She was an amazingly talented woman!

  2. I have just discovered Fanny
    Anne Charsley and Fanny de Mole whilst reading the book Ellis Rowan “A Life in Pictures” by
    Christine Morton -Evans. A truly recommended read. !!!

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