Early History

EarlyHistory1The eucalyptus oil story began in 1788 with the arrival of the First Fleet and Surgeon-General John White.   Within a few weeks of arriving White recorded in his diary the olfactory oil in the eucalyptus.   Governor Arthur Philip sent a sample to Sir Joseph Banks in England.

In 1790 Surgeon-General White distilled a quart of oil from a eucalypt he called ‘Sydney Peppermint’ because its oil closely resembled that of peppermint, Mentha piperita, which grows in England.   He sent the quart of oil to Thomas Wilson in England for further experimentation.

When the oil was tested in England it was reported to be ‘much more efficacious in removing all cholicky complaints than that of the oil obtained from the well known English peppermint, being less pungent and more aromatic’.  

The properties of eucalyptus oil were already well known in many of the local aboriginal communities in Australia at the time. In one account, an early settler had this thumb nearly severed by an axe. His father had been taught by aborigines to use eucalyptus leaves for the healing of almost every kind of wound and he applied a bandage of tightly-bound leaves around the cut after he had stitched it. A surgeon who later saw it was amazed at the rapidity of healing and the absence of any infection.

Following such discoveries other people extracted eucalyptus oil including the pioneer Dr Robert Officer, a ship’s surgeon who set up a eucalyptus still in Hobart in the 1830’s.   However none exploited the opportunity commercially. 


Commercial Development of Eucalyptus Oil

In 1852 Joseph Bosisto a Victorian pharmacist, encouraged by Baron Ferdinand von Meuller the famous government botanist of Victoria, began investigation of the commercial production of eucalyptus oil.

Joseph Bosisto was a Yorkshireman who had qualified as a pharmacist in Leeds and London.   He arrived in Adelaide in 1848 at the age of 21.   In 1851 he moved to Victoria in search of gold but after a few months at Castlemaine without success, he opened a pharmacy in Richmond where he built a laboratory to investigate the medicinal and chemical properties of Australian plants.

As a result of Bosisto’s collaboration with von Mueller the eucalyptus oil industry was born.  Bosisto commenced operations in a small, crudely constructed still at Dandenong Creek Victoria, using the leaves of a form of Eucalyptus radiata (then known as E. amygdalina) which grew profusely in the district.   Bosisto soon built other distilleries at nearby Emerald, Menzies Creek and Macclesfield.  


Eucalyptus Oil & Light

On 2 May 1858 the town of Kyneton, Victoria, found a novel way to use eucalyptus oil. On this date, the town’s shops, hotels and residences were lit for the first time by gas of first rate quality made from eucalyptus leaves. The oil was converted into a gas that burned steadily and brightly and which could be substituted for gas produced from coal.


Joseph Bosisto C.M.G.    

Joseph Bosisto was undoubtedly among the great Australian pioneers.  As well as being the first commercial producer of eucalyptus oil, Bosisto was an active promoter of the first Pharmaceutical Society in 1857.   Bosisto was the first vice-president of the Society and gave the inaugural address.  Bosisto was also the first president of the Pharmacy Board in 1877.   He became an honorary member of the Medical Society of Victoria in 1878.


Bosisto was Mayor of Richmond 1864-1866.   He was also a magistrate and was chairman of the Bench for six years.   He was elected to Parliament where he became a very active member from 1874 to 1889 and again in 1892.   He was heavily involved with the Great Exhibitions of 1880 and 1888. In 1886 Bosisto was knighted C.M.G. by Queen Victoria in London.


Bosisto and Felton Grimwade

Sales of Bosisto’s Eucalyptus Oil were to a restricted local market until overseas interest grew sufficiently for Bosisto to begin exports to England in 1865.   Messrs Alfred Felton and Frederick Grimwade saw the possibilities of the trade and their firm, Felton Grimwade & Co became the distributors of Bosisto’s Oil of Eucalyptus which then was the only distinctively Australian substance in the British Pharmacopoeia.

To develop the new industry Felton, Grimwade, Bosisto and others formed a new firm, the  Eucalyptus Mallee Company and bought Antwerp Station – a property on the Wimmera River near Dimboola Victoria.

In 1885 the Antwerp company was merged with Bosisto’s original business and a firm called J. Bosisto and Co. was formed.   The new company was to be solely a manufacturer with Felton Grimwade and Co undertaking distribution and all the necessary bookkeeping and marketing.


Development of international markets

Sales of Bosisto’s Eucalyptus Oil continued to increase with interest being fostered through international exhibitions.  Between 1854 and 1891 Bosisto’s Eucalyptus Oil was exhibited and was awarded prizes in seventeen international exhibitions. 

At the Victorian Exhibition of 1861 Bosisto displayed 28 samples of oil from different plants, mainly eucalypts.   Medals won at other international exhibitions are shown below :


London Exhibition

Bronze Medal


London Society of Arts

Silver Medal


Dublin International Exhibition

Bronze Medal


London Annual International Exhibition

Gold Medal


Vienna International Exhibition

Bronze Medal


Melbourne International Exhibition

2 Silver Medals


Philadelphia International Exhibition

Bronze Medal


Paris International Exhibition

2 Bronze Medals


Sydney International Exhibition

1 Silver, 1 Bronze Medal


Melbourne International Exhibition

Bronze Medal


Amsterdam International Colonial Exhibition

2 Gold, 1 Silver Medal


Calcutta International Exhibition

3 Silver, 1 Bronze Medal


London Colonial and Indian Exhibition

5 Bronze Medals


Adelaide Jubilee International Exhibition

Bronze Medal


Sales were brisk following a lively promotion campaign.    Bosisto produced an elaborate new label and a thousand circulars attesting to the powerful properties of Oil of Eucalyptus for “arts, manufactures, medicine and sanitary purposes” which were distributed throughout the colonies and in Europe.

By the turn of the century oil was being exported to the United Kingdom, Germany, USA, Canada, South Africa, India, China, New Zealand and several countries in the Far East.

A very popular use at this time and during the influenza epidemic of 1918-19 was the addition of 2 or 3 drops of eucalyptus oil onto a teaspoon of sugar.  The mixture was slowly dissolved in the mouth.

Consumer Comments

“I am a great user of eucalyptus oil.  We are 4th generation users.  My grandmother used to give us 2 or 3 drops on a teaspoon with sugar for sore throats, colds or flu”. J.A.  Vic

“Having used the oil most of my life I can vouch for it.  Father, I remember in childhood, as soon as he got a cold, 4 drops on a teaspoon of sugar fixed him”. D.C.  Vic

Note:  The above use is no longer permitted to avoid the possibility of over-dosing and accidental poisoning.