Life On The Job

Famous or Historic People

Margaret Lilian Flockton (29 September 1861 - 12 August 1953) - Australian Botanical Illustrator, first botanical illustrator at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney

Margaret Flockton
circa 1914


Margaret Lilian Flockton was an Australian botanical artist, particularly noted for her illustrating of "The Forest Flora of New South Wales" (some 300 plates), "A Critical Revision of the Genus Eucalyptus" (88 plates), and the genus Opuntia, all by the botanist and forester, Joseph Henry Maiden. She was the first botanical illustrator at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney.


Her early studies were at the South Kensington Schools in London, where, unusually, she was trained in lithography, and also Miss Gann's Life School. She emigrated to Australia in 1881, accompanied by her sister, Mrs Boulton, and were later joined by their parents, Francis and Isabel. Her first regular employment extending over 7 years, was as commercial artist for the Sydney firms of Gibbs, Shallard & Co. and S.T. Leigh. Since her father Francis was also an artist, it is not surprising that she dedicated her life to art.

Employment and Training

Trained in art and lithography in England, Flockton had sailed to Sydney aged 21 with family. She taught art, joined the Royal Art Society, opened a studio in Sydney's Castlereagh Street and exhibited her work.

To teach art, she opened a studio in Victoria Chambers, Castlereagh Street in Sydney, while her home was at "Tulagi", 30 Kemp St. in Tennyson Point, a suburb of Sydney. Her work was exhibited with the Royal Art Society between 1894 and 1901, consisting of wildflower studies and still-life paintings. In 1895 her watercolour of waratahs was purchased by the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

At the botanic gardens, then director Joseph Maiden was founding the National Herbarium of NSW, keen to establish it as the premier scientific institution to collect, identify, document and store Australian and exotic plant specimens.

In 1895, a Flockton watercolour of waratahs was purchased by the Art Gallery of NSW and in 1901, Maiden invited Flockton to work at the herbarium.

She started work at the National Herbarium of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney on 3 June 1901 at the rate of "2 shillings per hour" and was earning £330 per annum at her retirement in 1927. For 27 years, from age 40 to 67, she turned out botanical drawings of the highest quality, making use of a camera lucida. There are some 1000 of her illustrations in The Botanic Gardens Trust Archive. For 26 years, the meticulous Flockton, a magnifying eye glass habitually hanging from her waist, drew, painted and printed flawlessly accurate, diagnostic botanical illustrations for the Gardens, each work done with exquisite aesthetic style, composition and such feeling that her work also stands alone as enchanting art.

The herbarium, fronting Mrs Macquaries Road, is an invaluable scientific archive holding more than 1.2 million specimens including those collected by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander during Captain Cook's voyage to the Pacific and Botany Bay. Pressed plants, housed in archival paper, with notes documenting the botanical name, collector, date and place, are stored in floor to ceiling slim red boxes.


Brachychiton by Margaret Flockton
(Source: Royal Botanic Garden Sydney)

At that time Joseph Maiden was Director of the Botanic Gardens and Government Botanist, and was greatly impressed by the standard of her work, considering her "the most accomplished botanical artist in New South Wales", and inviting her to produce the illustrations for "A Critical Revision of the Genus Eucalyptus", which he was writing. Consequently, she spent 12½ hours a week at the Botanic Gardens and 25 hours at the Forestry Department.

In the end Flockton stayed on at the Botanic Gardens for five years beyond her retirement age, her last day of work at the Gardens being on 24 March 1927.

After her retirement the vacant post was not filled until the early 1980s, when the "Flora of New South Wales" was launched, employing 19 illustrators, 16 of whom were women.

Until 2003, when the archiving system changed, botanical illustrations were stored with the plants. Hundreds of Flockton treasures, along with other rare botanical illustrations, are now housed separately, but as the herbarium is closed to the public, Flockton's work had mostly been known only within scientific circles until recently.

"As we opened boxes, we were awestruck as we kept finding Margaret Flockton's gorgeous illustrations," Wardrop [a botanical illustrator] says. "Flockton's elegant individual style painted a century ago looks so fresh and stands out."

Wardrop and her botanical illustrator colleague, Lesley Elkan, have successfully helped bring Flockton's body of work from obscurity to prominence and there's now an annual international Margaret Flockton Award for Scientific Botanical Illustration.


Experiences & Opportunities

From 1901 to 1927, Margaret, a giant in the field of Australian botanical illustration, was Director J.H.Maiden’s right–hand woman.

The lion's share of Flockton's work consisted of botanical illustration and she produced the necessary lithographs herself, being at that time the only female lithographer in Australia. She published various books on her own, such as a small volume "Lichens", "Australian Wildflowers" (1908), illustrated with her coloured lithographs, and produced the wildflower borders for butterfly studies in "Scenic Gems of Australia", by Dr Riches. Much later in life she wrote and illustrated "Children's Stories - Little Stories of Little People", describing the life-history of plants and insects, but which remained unpublished.

Flockton’s style is recognisable by her hallmark meticulous observation, flawless accuracy and a supremely elegant sleight of hand. Treasured in the Margaret Flockton Archive are the images that combine sensitive and perfect pencil drawings of a species, with fruits or floral details embellished in watercolour. Painted details burst with volume; in contrast the pencil line work is exquisite in its elegant simplicity.

Memorial & Legacy

In recognition of her contributions to botanical art, and referring to her as joint author of his works, Maiden named a few species after her - Eucalyptus flocktoniae, Acacia flocktoniae and the Dorrigo Daisy-bush Olearia flocktoniae.

The Margaret Flockton Art Award, now the Margaret Flockton Award, was created in 2004 in her memory, and two prizes of A$5000 and A$2000 are awarded annually for excellence in botanical illustration.

Flockton Place in the Canberra suburb of Chisholm is named in her honour.

Her Biography

Margaret Flockton Biography was released in 2016. Written by her great, great niece Louise Wilson, work on Margaret’s biography began in 2004, with its progress dependent on private trips to Sydney and London from Louise’s home in Melbourne.

With access to family memorabilia and family stories about her ‘Aunt Mog’, Louise is perfectly placed to unveil a clever, talented, shy and reclusive woman.


She died on the 12th August 1953 shortly before turning 92. She became well-known amongst the scientific community of her day, but after her death in Sydney in 1953 she was then largely forgotten for half a century.

She was rediscovered by two botanical artists at Sydney's Royal Botanic Garden, Catherine Wardrop & Lesley Elkan, who championed her cause at an International Women's Day lunch in 2003. Their speech led to the establishment in 2004 of an award for scientific botanical illustration, honouring Margaret. Within a couple of years, the Margaret Flockton award became something of a phenomenon, attracting entries from around the world.

The Margaret Flockton Award

The Margaret Flockton Award commemorates the contribution Margaret Flockton made to Australian scientific botanical illustration. The Maple-Brown Family and the Foundation & Friends of the Botanic Gardens sponsor this annual, international award for excellence in scientific botanical illustration.

Every year, illustrators from around the world submit scientifically accurate drawings that accompany the published taxonomic description of a plant, clearly highlighting all of the distinctive features of the species. Original taxonomic illustrations are highly detailed black and white drawings primarily undertaken in pen and ink, pencil or digitally rendered


Did You Know?

Eucalyptus flocktoniae, commonly known as merrit, is a species of tree or mallee that is endemic to Western Australia. It has smooth, silvery grey bark, lance-shaped to curved adult leaves, prominently beaked flower buds in groups of seven or nine and barrel-shaped or urn-shaped fruit.

This plant is one of 3 plants named after Margaret Flockton


Scientific classification

Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Myrtales
Family: Myrtaceae
Genus: Eucalyptus
Species: E. flocktoniae

Binomial name
Eucalyptus flocktoniae

Margaret's drawing
Margaret's drawing of leaves and flowers of Eucalyptus flocktoniae

(Source: Wikiwand)



YouTube: 2020 Margaret Flockton Award




Royal Botanic Garden Sydney - The Life and Legacy of Margaret Flockton

A detailed history of Margaret by Catherine Wardop and Louise Wilson (a great niece of Margaret Flockton)


Sydney Morning Herald: The Work of Margaret Flockton by Botanical Illustrator Catherine Wardrop 24 March 2016 Video

ABC - Blue Print for Living  Listen

Blueprint for Living
Dictionary of Sydney - Margaret Flockton at the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney

Dictionary of Sydney
The Sun 1 January 1922 - Trove
[read the digitalised version]



My Garden Plant: in the footsteps of Margaret Flockton

PrimaryPrimary MiddleMiddle  High SchoolSecondary

CriticalAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical and creative thinking
Personal and social capability
Australian Curriculum General Capability: Personal and social capability

1. You are going to draw ONE plant in your garden. It can be a weed, a flower, a vegetable, a herb but NOT a tree! Make sure it is small and something you can view.

2. Obtain a magnifying glass - this tool is vital for you to see the details of your plant.  

Reading3. Choose ONE plant in your garden to draw in great detail. Take your time in deciding which plant.

4. Take a photo of it. Look up any Botanical drawings of it.

5. To get you on the right track - look at Margaret Flockton's illustration of the Coast Myall.

Coast Myall

6. Take note of the Botanical Art & Artists - tips and techniques. These rules are to be followed!

Botanically typical and accurate - The specimen chosen for the illustration is typical rather than unusual. The accuracy is derived from very close study of the plant, sometimes over the seasons
Black and white artwork - typically in pen and ink. This facilitates good quality printing at economical cost in learned journals
Depicts distinguishing features - the purpose of a botanical illustration is to help a botanist distinguish between different plants
based on herbarium specimens - most illustrations are created from dried specimens of a plant. This is typical for those illustrations produced by illustrators working for botanical gardens if no plant exists in the garden
Life sized or drawn to scale - Size is an important aspect of identification. Plants are usually sized and drawn at a 1:1 scale - this involves measurement during initial studies. Smaller distinguishing features may be depicted at a larger scale (see magnification below). Illustrations produced for publication on a defined plate size are typically produced larger and must indicate the relationship between the size of the drawing and the size of the published image.
Images for reproduction - MUST always include a scale bar rather than a multiplier
Bar scales must be precise, informative and visible but discrete. They represent one standard unit of measurement and must always include the unit of measurement. Otherwise any change in size on publication (expansion or reduction) renders the use of a simple multiple (e.g. x3) meaningless. (The latter method was used in the past but is no longer considered good practice)
Includes dissections and the use of magnification - identifying a plant is based on all aspects of the plant as exhibited on the exterior and interior. The smaller distinguishing characteristics are often identified through the use of a microscope (or a magnifier/loupe in the field). Illustrations always include a precise scale bar to indicate the extent of magnification.
States name: when presented in an exhibition or a publication it is always displayed with the botanically correct name (including the Latin).

7. Draw your plant




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