Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

History Revisited - a celebrated life for Gardner

Oban cemetery, November 1973. Around 100 people gathered to see the unveiling of a headstone for William Gardner, the pioneer chronicler of Northern Tablelands’ life.

By then, many historians had drawn from Gardner’s manuscript chronicles. Recognising his importance, the Armidale and District Historical Society raised a fund to pay for the headstone on Gardner’s previously unmarked grave.

I suspect that we don’t sufficiently recognise the importance of the work done by the Society over the years since its formation. This is a simple example of its enduring legacy. I draw on its work all the time.  

Back at Oban, Lionel Gilbert gave a short talk on Gardner’s life and achievements. The headstone was then unveiled by Oban owner Mr J Bennett, after which the multitude adjourned for lunch.

But who, in all this, was William Gardner?

William Gardner (1802-1860) was born in Glasgow, Scotland. In April 1838 he sailed from Leith in Scotland arriving in Sydney five months later.

We know little of Gardner’s life in the thirty six years before he sailed for Sydney. He was clearly an educated man and may have spent some time in the US, for in 1848 he published a pamphlet on the possibility of growing of cotton in NSW.

Gardner was aware of conditions on the frontier. The copy of the Sydney Gazette that carried news of his arrival also carried editorial on the Myall Creek massacre. Despite this, he soon moved north.

After working in a store at Maitland, Gardner moved to the newly-opened New England plateau about 1842, becoming a tutor at the late Henry Dumaresq's Saumarez station near Armidale.

A keen horseman, Gardner travelled widely over the district, and compiled the first detailed map of the northern districts of New South Wales, published in September 1844 in Baker's Australian County Atlas. This reveals competent draughtsmanship and painstaking attention to such details as roads, tracks and station properties.

From 1853 Gardner was employed as tutor at Moredun (October 1853–September 1854), Rockvale (October 1854–September 1855), Mount Mitchell, and at Andrew Coventry's Oban station (1858-60).

Gardner did not marry. The reasons are unclear.

There were not many available single women at this period, and he seems to have enjoyed his single life. Instead, he devoted himself to wide and varied cultural interests. These included sketching and later photography as well as writing. A sound judge of horses, he advised Gideon Lang in 1857 on the selection of horses for the Indian army.
Gardner's later writings were not published, but were kept in large manuscript notebooks. I made them for my own amusement, he wrote. They are a treasure trove of information about the early years of New England, including sketches and drawings of old homesteads and natural features.

Gardner died on 10 September 1860 and was buried at Oban in a then unmarked grave.

We know from descriptions and reminiscences that he was highly respected and greatly missed, including by those he taught. Not a bad legacy, I think.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 16 September 2015. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015.

No comments: