Carl August von Wiarda (1852–1928) was born in East Prussia and grew up in Emden. His father was a lawyer and judge and also a portrait painter. Carl attended military school and served in the Prussian Horse Guard in the Franco–Prussian War in 1870. Soon afterwards, he gave up his commission and emigrated to South Africa, where he worked as an accountant. In 1888, leaving his family behind until he could establish himself, he sailed to Australia on the Cutty Sark. On arrival, he gave his name as Adam Forster. In 1897 he was appointed the first secretary of the NSW Pharmacy Board and held the position until his retirement in 1920. He was also the first secretary of the Pharmaceutical Association of New South Wales.

Forster had a strong interest in botany and was a member of the NSW Naturalists’ Society. From about 1915 onwards, he travelled widely, collecting wildflowers and painting watercolours. He was commissioned by the publisher George Robertson to illustrate a work on Australian wildflowers and had completed 248 small watercolours at the time of his death. The work was not published, as Robertson considered the text by Edwin Cheel to be too academic. However, several years later George Ferguson of Angus & Robertson commissioned Thistle Harris to write a new text and Forster’s paintings appeared in her book Wild Flowers of Australia (1938).

Thistle Harris and David Stead, the naturalist whom she later married, had both known Forster for many years. Harris wrote of Forster, ‘In his enthusiasm he took infinite pains to make his collection as wide as possible, and to this end made many a long and arduous bush trek. I remember him, in his later years, as virile and active as a schoolboy, scrambling over rocky precipices, pushing his way through dense scrub, walking miles without apparent fatigue. And his great joy when some new or long-sought plant was finally discovered’.

Wild Flowers of Australia (1938)


The Adam Forster Collection was purchased by the Library in 1949 from Elsa McGregor, the daughter of Forster.


The Adam Forster Collection consists of 911 water colours of Australian flowers, painted between 1916 and 1927. They were mostly collected and painted in Sydney and the surrounding region, including Goulburn and the Shoalhaven River. The inscriptions were mostly written by staff of the NSW Herbarium, who considered that the paintings combined artistic merit with a high degree of botanical accuracy. Other botanists have stated that, as botanical illustrations, the Adam Forster Collection is superior to the Ellis Rowan Collection.

The following are some of the flower genera represented in the collection: acacia, angophora, banksia, boronia, brachychiton, brochycome, caladenia, callistemon, clianthus, comesperma, correa, dendiobium, diuris, epacris, eriostemon, eucalyptus, eugenia, goodenia, grevillea, hakea, helichrysum, hibbertia, bibiscus, leptospermum, leucopogon, lobelia, melaleuca, olearia, persoonia, prostanthera, pterostylis, pultenaea, sarochilus, solanum, swainsonia, telopea, tetratheca, thelymitra and xerotes.


The Adam Forster Collection is held in the Pictures Collection (R789-1705). All the paintings have been individually catalogued and digitised.


Mattingley, Christobel, A brilliant touch: Adam Forster's wildflower paintings, Canberra, National Library of Australia, 2010.

Mattingley, Christobel, From Prussian Army Officer to Australian Wild Flower Painter, National Library of Australia News, vol. 15 (5), February 2005, pp. 15–18.

Obituary of Adam Forster, Sydney Morning Herald, 12 April 1928, p. 13.

Stead, David G., Adam Forster: An Appreciation, Sydney Morning Herald, 13 April 1928, p. 12.

First posted 2008 (revised 2019)