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The Tryon Diary

5 Nov 2019 2:59 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Henry Tryon (b. England 1856) worked as curator at the Queensland Museum from 1883 and then joined the Queensland Department of Agriculture in 1894 where he was appointed the state’s first Government Entomologist and Plant Pathologist. Tryon was the founding Secretary of the Royal Society of Queensland and a member of RGSQ.

Tryon made several major scientific contributions to agriculture in Queensland. He was the first scientist to report upon the diseases of economic crops in Queensland (1889), warning farmers and politicians against the uncontrolled importation of plant material into Queensland. During the early 1890s, he drafted the regulations which became the Diseases in Plants Act of 1896. This legislation effectively led to the first plant-quarantine service in Queensland.

Tryon’s greatest contribution, however, involved his association with the Queensland sugar industry which suffered from reduced yields in the 1890s due to gumming disease, a very nasty bacterial infection (not discovered until 1926-1927) that destroyed the centre of stalks of cane, thereby reducing sugar content. During 1893 and 1896, Tryon was a member of expeditions to different parts of British New Guinea. Here he was associated with collecting nearly 100 wild varieties of sugar cane then unknown to European science, but his vigilance ensured that no diseased sugar cane material or foreign insects were imported into Queensland. Subsequently, two of these cane varieties – Badila and Goru – were found to be very sucrose-rich and displayed considerable natural resistance to gumming disease. Both varieties were widely grown in Queensland after 1906. 

The Tryon collection held in the Museum library with RGSQ’s 1874 diary, 2nd from the left.

Tryon also identified methods to combat insect pests troubling the Queensland sugar industry, especially the cane grub (or larvae of the numerous cane beetles in Queensland). In an era before insecticides, Tryon advised Queensland’s canegrowers to collect cane grubs and cane beetles by hand – children earned pocket money doing this task – destroy the beetles’ feeding trees, and fumigate the soil with carbon bisulphide which killed the cane grubs (all methods used by the state’s canegrowers between 1900 and 1940). In the mid-1900s, Tryon also identified that Metarhizium aninsopliae, a fungal pathogen, was fatal to cane grubs, but, unexplainedly, he did not pursue this finding. In 1991, his research was re-examined by CSIRO scientists trying to find a new way to kill cane grubs, following the Commonwealth government’s ban on the insecticide BHC which was widely used by Queensland’s cane growers.

In 2017 one of his diaries (1874) was found in the storeroom at the Milton premises. How it got there is unknown. A search revealed that the Museum had another of his diaries (1868) amongst its Tryon Collection. Steps were then taken to transfer the diary to the Museum but delayed during RGSQ’s move to Spring Hill. The transfer was accomplished on the 4 October with the diary joining the Tryon Collection at the Museum (see the photos).

Words by Peter Lloyd and Peter Griggs

The work continues
The Tryon Diary story is just a small part of an on-going audit and assessment of the Society’s numerous artefacts and memorabilia begun by Bernard Fitzpatrick in 2015. This work included the 2017 Assessment of Significance report by Judith McKay and Bill Kitson and a detailed listing and photographing of artefacts by UQ student volunteers before the move to Fortescue Street.

The assessment and placement are now continuing and if anyone is interested in helping please contact the office.

Photos: I Childs

Handover – Iraphne Childs with Shannon Robinson, Co-ordinator, Collections & Research Resource Centre (Library), Qld Museum.

The Royal Geographical Society of Queensland Ltd
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Tel 07 3368 2066
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