George Caley (1770-1829)

George Caley was born in Craven the son of a horse dealer and educated at the Free Grammar School in Manchester before going to his father’s stables. Whilst looking at a book on farriery he became interested in the herbs mentioned in horse doctoring. This led him to teaching himself Botany. He was too busy with horses to have much time for study so he became a weaver in a mill that gave him free studying time. He had encouragement from botanist Dr William Withering and became associated with the Manchester School of Botanists.. Finally in 1795 he wrote to Sir Joseph Banks who suggested he come down to Kew to work as a garden labourer whilst he acquired more knowledge.

He must have done well because Banks appointed him as a botanical collector in New South Wales in 1798. He Left England on the good ship “Speedy’ and was paid 15/- a week plus rations and a cottage at Paramatta near where Governor King wanted to establish a botanical garden. Caley was assisted by an aborigine named Daniel Moowattin who was interpreter, bush guide and gatherer of specimens, both plant and animal.

Caley sent Banks many specimens and wrote about the general conditions of the Colony as well as about science. He studied Eucalyptus plants and went on a journey to the Vaccary Forest (cow pastures) where there were cattle living wild.

In 1804 he tried to cross the Blue Mountains. He climbed, and named, Mount Banks but saw some sheer cliffs ahead of him and decided to turn back. In fact, he was only a day’s march from the Western Escarpment and open country. He also visited Norfolk Island and Hobart, Tasmania.

In 1808 Banks offered Caley an annuity of £50 a year to stay in New South Wales and send specimens back voluntarily. Caley however wanted to come home to England. He married in 1816, the year Banks appointed him Curator of the gardens at St Vincent but he returned to England in 1822, retiring to Bayswater, London. His wife pre-deceased him. He died childless in 1829 and was buried in the St George, Hanover Square burial ground near what is now Marble Arch in London.

His accomplishments are honoured in Australia for his early explorations and contributions to Australian science, especially botany.

He does not seem to have been a very pre-possessing character, being described as, “Difficult, tactless and unreasonable”, but he was a skilful and accurate botanist and did much to spread the knowledge of Australian plants. He has plants named after him – Banksia caleyi, Grevillea caleyi and Eucalyptus caleyi.