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Carron, William (1821–1876)

by L. A. Gilbert

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

William Carron (1821-1876), by Barcroft Capel Boake, 1870s

William Carron (1821-1876), by Barcroft Capel Boake, 1870s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24170767

William Carron (1821-1876), botanist and explorer, was born on 18 December 1821 at Pulham, Norfolk, England, son of Charles Carron and his wife Mary, née Noble. He followed his father's profession as a gardener. On 25 February 1844 he married Eliza Ellis at Westhall, Suffolk; they went to Cork to join the Royal Saxon which sailed for New South Wales on 18 March.

Carron appears to have arrived in Sydney in charge of plants for Alexander McLeay's garden at Elizabeth Bay, but was soon working at Thomas Shepherd's Darling nursery at the Glebe. Early in 1848 the new director of the Botanic Gardens, Charles Moore, suggested that Carron should accompany Edmund Kennedy's expedition as botanist. Accordingly Carron left Sydney on 29 April in the Tam o' Shanter with the party of thirteen bound for Rockingham Bay, Queensland. Only three survived the exploration of Cape York Peninsula: Carron, the convict William Goddard and the Aboriginal Jackey Jackey.

In March 1849 Carron gave evidence at the inquiry into the deaths of Kennedy and the nine others, and later in the year he published A Narrative of an Expedition, Undertaken Under the Direction of the Late Mr. Assistant Surveyor E. B. Kennedy, for the Exploration of the Country Lying Between Rockingham Bay and Cape York (Sydney, 1849), the only full account of the expedition. By June he was back at the Darling nursery, but was appointed clerk in the department of the superintendent of convicts in October at a salary of £100. On 1 July 1853 Carron joined the Customs Department as a locker. After a visit to England in 1854-55 he was appointed locker-in-charge of Lamb's warehouse, Sydney. Finally on 1 November 1866 he was appointed collector for the Sydney Botanic Gardens and able to pursue his chief interest. In the 1860s he lectured in botany to a few members of the Survey Department, including Robert Fitzgerald and Walter Scott Campbell. In May 1869 Moore, Carron and Fitzgerald visited Lord Howe Island; with Fitzgerald Carron returned to the island two years later for more observations and specimens.

In 1872 Carron's reports on twenty forest reserves in northern New South Wales were published as parliamentary papers. He condemned the practice of wastefully barking trees for building purposes and warned that the supply of red cedar would soon be exhausted if current cutting procedures were continued. At the end of 1875 Carron resigned from the Botanic Gardens to become inspector of forests and forestry ranger in the Clarence district. He went to Grafton early in February 1876 but, while he was making arrangements for his family to join him, his health failed rapidly. He died on 25 February 1876 and was buried in the Church of England cemetery, Grafton.

Carron's first wife Eliza had died without issue on 4 March 1861 and was buried in St Stephen's cemetery, Camperdown. On 19 September 1867 he married Jessie Pearson in Sydney; they had two daughters; Emily Noble (1870-1964) and Annie Mabel (1875-1966). Between 1871 and 1876 the family lived in the Domain Lodge behind St Mary's Cathedral. Jessie Carron died on 19 May 1910 soon after resigning as postmistress of Old Guildford, and was buried in St John's cemetery, Camden.

Perhaps Carron's chief memorial is his narrative of the Kennedy expedition. As Stuart Russell said, 'his simple precis of the suffering around him and within him is a monument on which his name may endure'. Carron discovered Australia's only true beech, which Moore named Fagus carronii (Nothofagus moorei F. Muell.). Mueller named Bauhinia carronii and other plants in his honour. His name is also commemorated on monuments in St James's Church, Sydney, and at Mission Beach, near Tully, Queensland.

Select Bibliography

  • J. H. Maiden, ‘Records of Australian Botanists’, Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, vol 42, 1908, pp 60-132
  • L. A. Gilbert, ‘William Carron, Botanist and Explorer, 1821-1876’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 47, part 5, 1961, pp 292-311.

Citation details

L. A. Gilbert, 'Carron, William (1821–1876)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/carron-william-3171/text4747, published in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 1 November 2014.

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

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