Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria
(Surname also given as 'Camera'.) (sometimes signed himself as 'Anthony Camara')
Born in Spain in 1829, died at his home in Melbourne, Vic, 5 November 1884.
Antonio de la Camara was born in 1829 in the town of Priego de Córdoba in south-eastern Spain, to Dolores de la Camara (née Calabres) and Roberto de la Camara, a merchant. Unfortunately nothing more is known of his life in Spain, but one might assume from his later life that he was well-educated and had some botanical or agricultural training, possibly at the Central (Complutense) University of Madrid, then the nearest university to his place of birth. In about 1854 he emigrated to Victoria in the first wave of Spanish immigrants to Australia, at a time of great political and social upheaval in Spain.
The first record of him in Australia is his marriage in 1859 to an Irish emigrant, Bridget O'Brien, in Melbourne, when he was 30 years old and she was 17. They had three children: Frances (b. 1859), Lucy (b. 1873) and Josephine Mary (b. 1875). The birth of Frances was re-registered in 1860, presumably to avoid the stigma within the Catholic Church of pregnancy before marriage.
Some time between 1860 and 1867 the family moved to Eastern Creek, now a suburb of Sydney, where they were engaged in agriculture. In January 1867, Camara (signing himself 'Anthony Camara') wrote to the Acclimatisation Society of New South Wales on the cultivation and uses of 'wild artichoke' (Cynara cardunculus L.) and 'bastard saffron' or safflower (Carthamus tinctorius L.), noting that he had provided safflower blossom to Charles Moore of the Botanical Gardens in Sydney to exhibit at the Paris Exhibition (Camara 1867).
It seems likely that at this time he was experimenting with plants he knew well from Spain to see if they could be introduced into commercial cultivation in Australia. A few months later he was reported to be growing safflower successfully at Eastern Creek. Later in the same year a grower from Queensland reported that he had successfully raised a safflower crop from seeds supplied by "Mr. Camara of N.S. Wales, who imported them from Spain", and pointed to the potential of safflower as a new and valuable export crop for Queensland. In the following year Camara supplied a 'large lot of various specimens of seeds from New South Wales' to the Botanic Gardens in Sydney.
Soon after he returned to Melbourne, where he took up residence with his family at 29 Guildford Street, West Melbourne (now Guildford Lane in the CBD), and began once more to use his Spanish name. The Argus reported that "Don Antonio de la Camara, of this city, correspondent of the Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid, has just had the honour conferred upon him of being elected a corresponding associate of that museum. The gratifying terms of the letter conveying the appointment enhance the value of the compliment.". In the following year came the honour and title by which he would be sometimes known in the botanical literature: "By this mail Señor Antonio de la Camara, who has for many years been the Australian correspondent of the various learned societies in Madrid, received his decoration as Cavalier of the Royal Order of Isabel the Catholic, which has been conferred upon him in recognition of his services."
Travels in Australia
From 1875 to 1884, and possibly as early as 1870, de la Camara made several trips to New South Wales and southern Queensland, collecting seeds and plants.
A lichen collection he made at Bulli, in the Sydney region is dated 1870 on a handwritten label. Although it is possible that he collected this specimen in 1870, the date is much earlier than his other known collections, and I cannot find any record of him travelling at this time. It may be that the date was misread from an original label, but it is impossible to verify because most of his collections are undated.
The first traceable botanical trip that he made was from March to June 1875. He left Melbourne on 9 March on the Macedon and arrived in Sydney on 12 March, leaving there for Melbourne on the same ship on 8 June and arriving on 11 June. In January 1877 he again left Melbourne on the Macedon, arriving in Sydney on 8 January, then travelled on to northern New South Wales and Brisbane, returning to Sydney on 26 June and presumably from there back to Melbourne. In June of the same year he is listed as a donor of seeds to the Queensland Acclimatisation Society. His third trip was in 1879. On 18 March he left Melbourne on the Barrabool and arrived in Sydney on 21 March. He then left Sydney on 20 May for Grafton on the City of Grafton, arriving on 22 May . The purpose of his visit was announced in the local Lismore newspaper:
'Mr. Camara, an Italian Botanist, who visited this district some two years since, upon a botanizing tour, is now here again with a like object, and any person in doubt as to the name or value of any vegetable product, should not lose the present opportunity of getting it properly named or classified. Mr. Camara is anxious to secure seeds, flowers, &c., of the various Eucalypts growing in this district, or any other botanical specimens, and we shall be happy to receive anything intended for this gentleman, or give an introduction, &c.' .
In July he wrote to the editor of the Northern Star on the commercial value of wattle bark, and noted that he was of Spanish birth, not Italian as stated in the previous article. During this trip he must have travelled on to Queensland, as on 1 August he embarked on the Keilawarra in Brisbane, arriving in Sydney two days later and presumably sailing on to Melbourne afterwards. In that month he was again listed as a donor of seeds and plants to the Acclimatisation Society.
On his fourth trip he left Melbourne on the Leura on 5 February 1881, accompanied by one of his daughters, arriving in Sydney on 7 February. He then travelled on to northern New South Wales, and his trip was highlighted in the local press in Lismore, with his correct nationality noted:
'We note that Chevalier Antonio de la Camara, (Spanyard), has returned to the district again, upon a botanizing tour, being now busily engaged in making a collection of sea weeds, ferns, mosses, fungi, &c., for Baron Von Mueller, for illustration in his valuable works now going through the Press, upon the vegetation of Australia. The Chevalier left Lismore, for the Tweed River, on Tuesday last, [7 June] and after spending a time there in exploring the scrubs, will return to the Richmond River for a like purpose, and any person having, or knowing anything new in the shape of orchids, &c., would do well to communicate with this gentleman, care of this office.'.
On 5 June 1881 he was at Ballina, from where he wrote to Ferdinand von Mueller about an Alsophylla [Cyathea] that he had collected in the district, which he thought was different from others he had seen. In that letter he also noted that he had sent to von Mueller "a case containing fungus, mosses, Algae, etc". He was still in the district in July, and it was not until 30 September that he left Sydney for Melbourne, on the Koonoowarra. Soon after he returned to Sydney on the Leura, leaving Melbourne on 20 November and travelling via Twofold Bay, arriving in Sydney on 25 November. He may have left Sydney for Melbourne on 13 December aboard the Ly-ee-Moon.
Among the plants he obtained in 1881 was a moss later described by Carl Müller as a new species, Polytrichum camarae Müll.Hal., from 'White Cap Mountain prope dem Richmond River: De la Camara in Hb. Melb. 1881.' (C. Müller 1897). It is now a synonym of Pogonatum neesii (Müll.Hal.) Dozy. A lichen that he collected in 1881 was also a new species, named Sticta camarae F.Müll. (Arg.): "Ad Richmond River, New South Wales Novae Hollandiae: cl. Camara (ab ill. F. v. Muell. commun.)" (Müller in 1882). Galloway in 2001 said "an endemic epiphyte of rainforest trees in eastern Queeensland and N.S.W., but still very poorly collected and little known".
In 1882 he was once again in Sydney. Although the date of his arrival is not known, he left Sydney on the Coraki, arriving at Richmond River on 28 June , and at Lismore on the same ship two days later. He left Sydney on the Leura on 28 November, arriving in Melbourne two days later. While at Richmond River in 1882, de la Camara collected a Plagiochila that Stephani (1882) published as a new species, Plagiochila paucidens, but without description and therefore illegitimate. It was later published as Plagiochila camarae by Dugas (1928).
At least 15 collections from Lord Howe Island in 1882 (13 in MEL, 1 in NY, 1 in G) are attributed to de la Camara, including the epiphytic moss Pinnatella kuehliana (Bosch & Sande Lac.) M.Fleisch., an otherwise tropical species that has not been collected on the island since. (In regard to the collections from Lord Howe Island attributed to de la Camara, it seems doubtful that he ever visited the island. [see 'Discussion' in original paper])
In early 1883 de la Camara again returned to Sydney, arriving on 13 February on the Cheviot, but I have been unable to trace his movements on this trip further. He must have returned to Melbourne before April, as on 31 March his daughter Frances was married in Melbourne, and then returned north later in the year, as he is recorded departing from Sydney for Melbourne in the City of Melbourne on December 21.
Herbarium records indicate that he made at least one further trip to northern New South Wales in 1884, but I can find no records of him travelling in that year. It is possible that he travelled by train to Sydney rather than by sea on this occasion, as the Melbourne-Sydney railway connection had been completed in June 1883 and railway passenger records were not kept.
Chevalier Antonio de la Camara died suddenly at his home in Melbourne on 5 November 1884 of heart failure, and was buried in Melbourne General Cemetery two days later. His only known death notice read:
'CAMARA. - November 5, suddenly, at his late residence, 29, Guildford-street, West Melbourne, Don Antonio de la Camara, scientific botanist.'.
The year of his birth on the gravestone is 1831, rather than 1829 as stated in his marriage and death certificates, but the official records must be assumed to be correct.
After his death his family moved to a single-fronted terrace house in William Street, West Melbourne, which still stands today.
Source: extracted from: David Meagher (2014) 'Chevalier de la Camara first Spanish botanist in Australia' Telopea 16: 175–183, 2014 [consult this paper for more details, source references, graphs, tables and extensive 'Discussion' etc]