In the 19th century, most of the state capitals had established botanical gardens. Here’s a taste of their history as well as links to contemporary gardens in each of Australia’s capital cities.
THE BRISBANE BOTANIC GARDEN
Walter Hill – The Queenslander – 9 July 1904 – the story of a Scottish horticulturalist (one of many as it happens) and his contribution.
About this time the Government of New South Wales determined to establish a botanic garden at Brisbane, and applications for the position of superintendent were made by different candidates. The selection was left to the late Sir William S. Macleay of Elizabeth Bay, who stated that Mr. Hill would accept the appointment, he was the most practical botanist and horticulturist that could be found, and the latter quite unexpectedly found, himself gazetted as Superintendent of the Brisbane Botanic Garden in February, 1855. On taking charge Mr. Hill found that the garden (in which little had been attempted in the way of cultivation) comprised merely the small area of six acres, a considerable proportion consisting of swampy ground.
Today, the Brisbane Botanic Gardens are located on Mt Coot-tha with the original gardens now called City Gardens.
ROYAL MELBOURNE BOTANICAL GARDENS
The botanist Ferdinand Von Mueller was director of the gardens from 1857 to 1873. The Australian Dictionary of Biography mentions his arrival, and his departure from that position.
After his return to Melbourne, in August 1857 he was appointed director of the Botanical Gardens while still retaining his post as government botanist from which he had been given unpaid leave. He immediately arranged for the construction of an herbarium, contributed his own already extensive collection and began work on his Fragmenta Phytographiae Australiae which was published in twelve parts in 1858-82. As director of the gardens Mueller was responsible for exchanging seeds and plants with botanists throughout Australia as well as European and American herbaria. [….]
By 1868 Mueller was already answering criticism of his directorship of the gardens: ‘no foundations exist … neither are statues erected … works of art we can call forth at pleasure, while time lost in forming the plantations cannot be regained’. Late in 1871 he lectured on the objects of a botanic garden but his efforts were in vain and in 1873 he was replaced by W. R. Guilfoyle. Mueller remained government botanist and suffered no pecuniary loss but felt the injustice of his dismissal from the gardens; he is reputed never to have entered them again.
ROYAL TASMANIAN BOTANIC GARDENS
These gardens were established in 1818 in Hobart.
Charles Fraser was the first Superintendent of Sydney’s Botanic Garden. The Australian Dictionary of Biography notes:
Meanwhile in Sydney, on 1 January 1821, Macquarie formally appointed him colonial botanist, and in September Frazer persuaded the governor to form a ‘Botanical Garden’ of fifteen acres (6 ha) at Double Bay in addition to the older ‘government garden’ at Farm Cove; though Brisbane abandoned the former he added five acres (2 ha) to the latter, and in 1825 reported that ‘nearly 3000 varieties of Grapes, Trees, Fruits and other valuable productions of the Vegetable Kingdom have been introduced and cultivated with success’.
In 1952, the Sydney Morning Herald printed Geoffrey Powell’s historical summary of the first gardens – plants and seeds that began Australia’s agricultural and horticultural industries.
In 1841, The Colonial Times in Hobart had this snippet tucked away in the report from South Australia.
Despite much earlier lobbying from correspondents, a Botanic Garden per se was not established in Perth until 1965.
This letter to the editor of the Western Australian Times was published in 1879.
PERTH BOTANICAL GARDEN.
SIR, – It is very amusing to read in the issue of the Inquirer of the 4th June that we are in , possession of a ‘Botanical Garden” under the leadership of a “Curator.’ Brand new discovery that. I am not aware that there is such a garden in existence in Western Australia and if this be the case, perhaps the sapient editor of the Inquirer will not keep this secret and will oblige the public with pointing it out to us?
The use of the above term as applied to this colony is calculated to mislead, and convey a false impression to our neighbours. Knowing very well your readiness, Mr. Editor, to correct false statements, I take the liberty of asking youto make free use of the above disclaimer for public information.
Your obedient servant,
JOSEPH POLACK. Perth, June 5.
And in 1953 from the West Australian …