Henry Deane – botanist and railway man

By Warren and Gloria Sheather

We have a passionate interest in the environment in general and native plants in particular. We also have an interest in railways and particularly railway history.

Henry Deane

We first encountered Henry Deane (1847-1924) when we read about the now abandoned Wolgan Valley Railway in the upper Blue Mountains of NSW. Henry was engineer-in-charge of construction in the early 1900’s. At the same time, he was collecting botanical specimens. More research brought to light Henry’s skill both as a railway engineer and botanist. He was involved in the construction of the Transcontinental Railway, the electrification of the Sydney tramway system, the construction of the railway bridge across the Hawkesbury River north of Sydney and was president the Royal Society of New South Wales (1897 and 1907) and of the Linnean Society of the same State (1895-1896).

Henry collected many specimens during his engineering career and five species carry his name. They are Acacia deanei, Boronia deanei, Eucalyptus deanei, Leptospermum deanei and Melaleuca deanei.

Acacia deanei, image Warren and Gloria Sheather

We are not familiar with Leptospermum deanei and Melaleuca deanei. They are both rare species from the greater Sydney region. We are familiar with the first three species to a greater or lesser degree. Acacia deanei is an old favourite. We first met this wattle in the Warrumbungle National Park. When cattle were removed from an area added to the park, Acacia deanei regenerated particularly behind contour banks. We have many specimens in the garden of this attractive tall wattle. Light green bipinnate foliage contrasts with the pale yellow flowers that are carried for most of the year. Henry Deane collected this species near Gilgandra, central NSW, during railway construction.
Boronia deanei, image Alan Fairley

Boronia deanei is a rare species from the upper Blue Mountains.

We observed Boronia deanei growing along a watercourse in Kanangra Boyd National Park some time ago. Henry collected this species during construction of the Wolgan Valley Railway.

Eucalyptus deanei is a tall smooth-barked tree that is found in the coastal ranges of central NSW as well as the northern tablelands of NSW extending into southern Queensland. There is a large specimen growing in the grounds of the old College of Advanced Education, Armidale. We also came across the species in the Torrington State Conservation Area, northern NSW. A specimen was growing in the cleft of a granite boulder so its size was a trifle restricted.

Henry Deane, the botanist, is remembered by the naming of the four plant species mentioned. Henry Deane, the railway engineer, is remembered by Henry Deane Plaza at Central Railway Station, Sydney. He passed away in 1924 whilst gardening at his Melbourne home.

Eucalyptus deanei, za

The photograph at the top was taken during an excursion by the Linnean Society of NSW to the Nepean River in September 1888. Henry Deane is shown surrounded by plant specimens and umbrella. A plant press is visible to the right of Henry.