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Brunning, George (1830–1893)

by R. F. Ericksen

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

George Brunning (1830-1893), by John Bishop-Osborne, c1890

George Brunning (1830-1893), by John Bishop-Osborne, c1890

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H17166

George Brunning (1830-1893), nurseryman, was born at Lowestoft, Suffolk, England, son of John Brunning, gardener, and his wife Eliza, née Cobby. He was already qualified in gardening by training received at Somerleyton Hall in Suffolk when, accompanied by his brother Charles, he reached Hobson's Bay on 23 June 1853. After several weeks spent in designing gardens in Melbourne and six unsuccessful months on the Bendigo goldfields he became manager of John Rule's nursery at Richmond early in 1854. In the next two years his main interest shifted from design to the propagation and sale of plants and he decided to establish his own nursery.

In 1856 Brunning returned to England to bring out his wife Harriet, née Ashby, and young son; they arrived in Melbourne later that year. Though he still designed and planted gardens for three years he was chiefly preoccupied with establishing a nursery business. By 1860 he had enough stock, customers and confidence to give full time to that trade, moved to Argyle Street, St Kilda, and later acquired additional property in Brighton Road and Inkerman Street. By 1885 more than ten acres (4 ha) of land were in intensive use and Brunning's nurseries, St Kilda, were pre-eminent in their field in Victoria and had a large export trade to other Australian colonies.

Although the nurseries at St Kilda specialized in garden flowers and shrubs, the family business which Brunning founded was active in every branch of the nursery trade. Two sons, George Edward and Herbert John, were successively admitted to partnership and after 1893 ran the firm until the nurseries closed in 1926. In 1874 another son, Frederick Hamilton, acquired William Adamson's seed store in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne. The Brunning family retained the wholesale side of the business even after the retail shop was transferred to two former employees, Gill and Searle, names as familiar to Melbourne gardeners as Brunning's. A brother, William (d.1890), who emigrated in 1866 and worked for ten years in the St Kilda nurseries, established a large fruit nursery at Somerville from which the firm drew its stock of fruit trees.

The style of the business appears to have been set firmly by its founder. Amongst his contemporaries Brunning had a reputation for energy, fair dealing and thoroughness: only the most sceptical would question the thoroughness of a man who made his sons attend a handwriting academy to ensure that customers could read the plant labels. His nurseries became noted for quality-control, large stocks, early supply of new varieties either imported from England or developed at St Kilda, publication of a detailed catalogue and the high standards they set for the trade. Amongst other pioneering achievements, Brunning introduced the Waltham Cross grape and the South American pepper tree to Victoria and made what threatened to be an ineradicable mark on Melbourne's suburbs by developing Lambert's cypress, a favourite of hedge-lovers for more than half a century.

George Brunning died at his home in St Kilda on 5 July 1893, aged 62. He secured a remarkably effective memorial in Brunning's Australian Gardener (successor to the Australian Gardener, first published by William Adamson in 1858) of which the 34th edition was issued in 1958 and which has been primer and reference book for several generations of home gardeners.

Select Bibliography

  • T. W. H. Leavitt and W. D. Lilburn (eds), The Jubilee History of Victoria and Melbourne (Melb, 1888)
  • J. B. Cooper, The History of St. Kilda: From its First Settlement to a City and After, 1840 to 1930, vol 2 (Melb, 1931)
  • E. E. Pescott, ‘The Pioneers of Horticulture in Victoria’, Victorian Historical Magazine, vol 18, no 1, Feb 1940, pp 1-32
  • E. E. Pescott notebook (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

R. F. Ericksen, 'Brunning, George (1830–1893)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/brunning-george-3096/text4587, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 25 August 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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