History of the Williamstown Botanic Gardens
In March 1856, following a petition by the residents of Williamstown to the Government of the Colony, a 10 acre (4 hectare) site was formally set aside for ‘a Public Park and Pleasure Ground’. The gardens were designed by Edward La Trobe Bateman, designer and artist, and laid out by William Bull appointed as Municipal Surveyor to the newly established Williamstown Borough Council in 1856.
Photo courtesy of National Gallery Victoria
By 1859 works carried out were described with pleasure in a report submitted by Council. “Great progress has been made in laying out and planting of the Garden. Paths are all formed and the shell metalling nearly completed…shrubs and flowers are already showing their heads and tout ensemble is assuming a cheerful and enlivening aspect. Liberal contributions of plants, cuttings, seeds have been received from Dr Mueller(sic) of the Botanic Gardens (and) Mr Bunce of the Geelong Public Gardens…”
Plan of Williamstown Botanic Gardens laid out (c 1856) by Bateman. Earliest known plan of the Gardens. Courtesy University of Melbourne Library.
The gardens were officially opened to the public in 1860.
The Williamstown Botanic Gardens, listed on the Victorian Heritage Register and managed by Hobsons Bay City Council, are historically important as one of Victoria’s most intact and original botanic gardens complete with authentic formal Victorian and Edwardian design features including, shrubberies, a pinetum, marble statuary, an intricate path system, an ornamental lake, a palm walk and rare and significant trees.
Photo courtesy of Williamstown Botanic Gardens archive.
Historically Samuel Thake’s period of curatorship from 1899 to 1912 is considered the high point in the development of the site. His initiatives included installation of the cast iron gates in 1907 and construction of the ornamental lake, all which contribute to the strong Edwardian flavour of the gardens today. Since its inception the gardens have been blessed with the careful stewardship of dedicated curators and gardeners who have passed along Victorian and Edwardian gardening methods to the present day. The authenticity of the gardens you see today are the result of an unbroken line of horticultural knowledge and tradition.
Gardener Mr Harry Stitt on the left with Williamstown Botanic Gardens Curator Mr Bill Crowe c1912. William (Bill) Crowe worked in the Gardens from 1900 and was appointed Curator in 1912, a position he held until his death n 1938. photo courtesy of Eileen Schelleman and Carl Tracey
The Williamstown Botanic Gardens have always played an important role in the social and cultural lives of the people of Hobsons Bay and visitors from much further afield. In the past grand fetes, garden parties, charity functions and children’s picnics hosted by the Mayor and other dignitaries were some of the municipality’s most popular social occasions. Day trippers took trains from all over Melbourne to spend the day at nearby Williamstown beach before retreating to the shade of the Pinetum and Gardens to enjoy the lawns and floral displays.
Mayoral Garden Party – Williamstown Botanic Gardens – Mayor JJ Liston. Photo courtesy State Library of Victoria
Postcards from the Gardens
“Between 1900 and 1920, picture postcards in Australia became an incredibly popular phenomenon. People could cheaply and easily send messages, without the formality of a letter, and they provided a cheap form of souvenir. Eventually, every event of significance was commemorated in some way with a postcard, and this led to the development of a ‘picture on one side and a message/stamp on the other’ postcard we are familiar with today. They were also a popular form of advertising.” Australia Post
Billions of postcards were mailed worldwide and postcards continued to be hugely popular as a method of communication and collectable items well into the what is considered to be the golden age of the postcard from around 1907 to 1915.
The Williamstown Botanic Gardens postcards are evidence of the interest the gardens held as a subject for postcard publishers and the text and images provide a snapshot into fashions, social interests and concerns of the time.
The professionally produced images provide us with a pictorial history of Gardens including changing planting styles, various built structures and features of the Gardens, for example the aviary, cannons, the fountain, the second Curator’s Lodge and gates.
The images offer an opportunity to compare garden vistas with the present day and help those who manage these heritage listed gardens to restore and protect the gardens for future generations.
In recent years the gardens have become the scene for much loved events and activities such as Shakespeare in the Gardens, garden parties, Storytime under the Elm, Reading Corner, school activities, the Paint the Gardens art event, tree and heritage walks. The gardens are also a very popular location for wedding ceremonies and photographs (permit required).
The gardens are home to bats, possums, a wide range of birds and more than 150 species of insects. Visitors can enjoy the restored ornamental lake as well seasonal flowering delights provided by the botanical collection all in a charming seaside location.
For more images of the gardens please visit the Williamstown Botanic Gardens Flickr page