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Quakers in Australia

Tas RM Hortuculture -Sheila Given

 

Friendly Tasmanian Gardening Part 1

In 2006 The Australian Garden History Society (Tasmania) invited me to write about the influence of
the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) may have had on gardening and horticulture in Tasmania.
The following is a version of the text serialised in the Society’s Newsletter Nos.88-90 Sheila Given
The beginning of ‘horticulture’ in Tasmania can be traced back to the late eighteenth century
when fruit trees were planted at Adventure Bay during the 1788 Bligh visit. Four years later,
a French expedition laid out a garden at Recherche Bay. But it was the colonisation by the
British less than two decades later, which brought about the need to establish plots for food
and medicine for the growing population of settlers. The first colonists to Tasmania in 1803
faced a predominantly wooded country prone to drought, sparsely inhabited by
hunter/gatherer people. From the beginning, the settlers proceeded to create a familiar
landscape on this uncultivated island with plantings similar to those they had left behind the
other side of the world in England.
Among the influences shaping the development of gardening and horticulture in Tasmania,
a contribution can be found to have been made members of the Religious Society of Friends
(Quakers). It really began less than thirty years after first settlement when two English
Quakers, George Washington Walker and James Backhouse, visiting Van Diemen’s Land
(VDL) under concern, identified the place gardens already occupied for those first settlers.
Creating and tending gardens, seeing the growth of flowers, vegetables, trees and fruit
familiar to the colonists all were observed and recorded by the two English missionaries.
So began a tradition of Friendly interest and involvement in gardening that has continued to
the present time in Tasmania.
George Washington Walker and James Backhouse landed in Hobart Town on 8th February
1832. They had a mission to preach the gospel to scattered settlers, bond and free, to
investigate the penal system, the treatment of the people and to promote temperance.
They travelled the length and breadth of Tasmania, visiting every settled district over a fiveyear
period. Apart from religious concerns, Backhouse meticulously recorded his
observations and made sketches of the island in the course of travelling. His particular
interest in horticulture stemmed from his background as a botanist and proprietor of a plant
nursery in Yorkshire, England. His correct use of botanical terms and appropriate Latin
names for Tasmanian plants (eg. truncata telopea; drosera arctur; leptospermum) derived from
his knowledge and the reference books of botany he brought with him to the Antipodes.
He had a great enthusiasm for Tasmanian flora, ‘exotic’ he called it. While there are frequent
references in the Backhouse Narrative to the native flora of Tasmania he also keenly observed
the imported trees, flowers, fruit and vegetables. For instance, he noted pelaragoniums
which, like the flourishing lemon tree he saw in New Norfolk, ‘endure the Tasmanian winter
unlike the required greenhouses for them in England’. He took notice of ‘many pretty
flowers’: stocks, wallflowers, mignonettes (‘very gay’), irises, anemones, ranunculii and
polyanthii all ‘blooming in greater abundance than in England’. He recorded seeing
gooseberries and cherries on sale in Hobarton [sic] market. Backhouse frequently made
mention of fruit trees - peaches, plums, apples, pears, quinces, apricots, mulberries and
walnuts – which he commented repeatedly ‘produce in greater perfection than in England’.
He remarked on the importation of the root stock, carefully packed and stored during the
long emigration voyage in the ship’s hold, the husbandry of these fruit trees, and the
additional plantings of large European trees - oaks, ashes, sycamores - raised in England,
which, according to Backhouse ‘attain 3 feet in the first year’. Hawthorn and box hedges also
attracted his attention.
It is remarkable that there was such
productive cultivation within the first 35
years of the colonisation of Tasmania,
remembering too that these observations
were recorded at the precise period of
time in the streets of Hobart that Victoria
was being proclaimed Queen.
Backhouse’s observations indicate the
energy and unrelenting labour of the
settlers, many of whom provided
hospitality for the English travellers.
Among the homesteads they visited wasgiven iris
Kelvedon, home of Quakers Frances and
Anna Maria Cotton at Waterloo Point
near Swansea. Backhouse remarked it
was ‘more commodious than most
settlers in the Colony . . . fronted by a
good garden’. He records assisting in
planting young fruit trees which
Frances Cotton had carried on his back
over the 80 miles on foot from Hobart;
the Oyster Bay location being only accessible by sea except to walkers or horseriders.
The large families of many of colonists, notably those of Francis Cotton and John Amos in
which there were a dozen children in each family, would have necessitated a large supply of
fruit and vegetables to feed them all. The accompanying servants in these households were
extra mouths to be fed. In 1837 the Cottons had 22 servants, mostly convicts.
Sheila Given 2011
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