The Western District has many historic botanic gardens, most established from the 1850s to the 1870s when it was the thing for a town to do, if nothing else, to keep up with the neighbouring town. For some it was scientific purposes, to acclimatise plants and sometimes animals, as with the Hamilton Botanic Gardens. There is a sense of history walking through each garden and the tall specimen trees such as oaks, redwoods and pines whisper the tales of times past.
The Portland Botanical Gardens, like the rest of the town, ooze history. Each botanic garden is unique in some way and Portland is no different and is unlike other gardens I have visited including Hamilton and Geelong.
Land for the gardens was first marked out in 1851, but it took a few years of public meetings for the gardens to be established. In 1853, the Honourary Secretary remarked on the “advantages of a botanical garden, and the study of botanical science”.
At a public meeting six months later, on February 4, 1854, chaired by James Blair, Stephen Henty proposed that a committee be formed to get the gardens up and running.
Works began in 1858, assisted by Alexander Elliot from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, however, a lack of funds was slowing progress.
By November however, the gardens were beginning to take shape and the curator’s cottage was under construction.
In 1859, a letter to the Portland Guardian questioned the practice of allowing horses to graze in the gardens overnight. “Delta” wondered why the committee could keep their horses at the gardens while “the great unwashed are warned at the gate, Dogs not Admitted”
If you visit the Portland Botanical Gardens, look up at the tall trees and think of those that planted them or as you walk the paths consider the hands that carved them. The story behind these features is my favourite story about the gardens.
At a meeting of the Portland Historical Committee in 1932, the secretary told the story of the Chinese prisoners and their work at the Portland Botanical Gardens.
On the wall of the curator’s cottage is a plaque recognising previous curators of the gardens from the kindly William Allitt in 1861 through to Colin Ellingworth, curator from 1982-1987.
Andrew Callander was curator from 1922-1949. Upon his appointment, Mr Callander set about tidying up the gardens and building a ti-tree green house for seedling propagation.
At one time both croquet and tennis were played at the gardens and there were often tensions between the two groups and any other group that hoped to share the space.
Croquet won out and is still played today. The tennis courts were converted to rose gardens. The rosary was first proposed in 1930 but it was 1931 before there was further action.
“Wandering Willie’s Wife” visited the Portland Botanical Gardens in 1926 and felt compelled to write a letter to the editor of the Portland Guardian on the subject of a nameless lifeboat on display in the gardens. Could it have been the lifeboat, captained by James Fawthrop, used to rescue survivors from the wreck of the S.S. Admella ? Why wasn’t there a name plaque?
Three years later, “Wandering Willie’s Wife” wrote to the editor again, prompted by the announcement that a “tablet” with the story of the lifeboat Portland would be placed beside the boat.
The lifeboat is now removed from the elements and is housed in the Portland Maritime Discovery Centre.
ABC Southwest broadcast a story about the Portland Botanic Gardens in March 2009. The story, including audio and better photos than my own (excluding the wonderful historic photos I found at Trove) can be found by following the link http://www.abc.net.au/local/photos/2009/03/26/2525642.htm
13 thoughts on “Portland Botanical Gardens”
the lifeboat not much bigger than the trough installed by those wonderful Bills, and how lucky the Portland curator was, in getting a stone cottage while the Ballarat Gardens founder and his poor family lived for 10 years in a TENT.
This vegetarian thinks that those bloody Hentys were so busy I wonder they had time to torture their sheep, and oh the hypocrisy of referring to the poor Chinese as ‘celestials’ while taxing them for daring to exist.
Thanks MR for another great Hamilton story.
Excuse me, who was “Wondering Willies Wife”, ? Margaret
Hi Margaret. The name was a pseudonym used by an unknown person, presumably a woman, that wrote to the Letters to the Editor of the Portland Guardian regarding the lifeboat. It sound like she wasn’t a resident of Portland. Merron
Thanks Merron for another great article.
Great blog Merron. It brought back memories of spending afternoons mucking around in the gardens while my Nana played croquet.
Thank you Lorraine. What a great memory to have of the Portland gardens.
Great story, and beautiful gardens. Makes me want to go there next time I visit my parents in Port Fairy.
Thank you Jackie. You should try to get there. They will be looking good in spring.
From the newspaper articles it would appear that the Chinese made an outstanding contribution to the Gardens which is still visible today. What a great idea of the gaoler and Mr.Allitt, certainly a win,win situation.
As gaol records are usually able to be accessed. (Portland Family History would know if these are available) how about a plaque to Mr.Allitt and the Chinese gardeners?
Thanks for a good story, its also a feel good story, and at this stage with the tenuous relationships in the colony quite heartening.
Thank you for your comment Margaret. Mr Allitt certainly showed compassion and ingenuity and his contribution and that of the Chinese prisoners certainly should be recognised. Certainly something to follow up.
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