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Dr Ferdinand Mueller (later Baron Ferdinand von Mueller) was appointed as Victoria's first Government Botanist in 1853 with a brief to study the native flora of the colony, particularly its potential for commercial and medicinal application. [Annual Report Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, 1993, p.5] As Government Botanist Mueller was also responsible for preparing botany and economic botany exhibits for the Melbourne exhibition of 1854 and the Paris exhibition of 1855. In the same year as his appointment he established a national herbarium.
In 1857 a new office was created and Mueller was also made Director of the Botanic Gardens (later Royal). He established close relations with similar institutions throughout the world and effected important exchanges of plants, re-arranged and extended the grounds and paid particular attention to the native vegetation. He also devoted part of the area to plant-beds showing a scientific arrangement of plants in their natural orders.
The National Herbarium, which houses a collection of dried plants, systematically named and arranged for research purposes and for the identification of plant specimens submitted by the community, was managed by the Government Botanist until 1982. The original herbarium was built in 1857 to accommodate the botanical collections of the Government Botanist and to house his collection formed from 1840 which was later presented to the State.
In 1873 the positions of Director of the Gardens and Government Botanist were divided and Mueller was deprived of the former office. In 1924 the offices of Director and Government Botanist were again united and the National Herbarium of Victoria was again brought into association with the Gardens, having been separated since Mueller's removal from the directorship in 1873. From 1924 the Royal Botanic Gardens and the National Herbarium have been administered jointly and in 1992 after 146 years of being part of the administration of various government departments, management of the National Herbarium and the gardens passed to the newly established Royal Botanic Gardens Board (VA 3124) in July 1992 under the provisions of the Royal Botanic Gardens Act 1991.