Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Clark, Alister (1864–1949)

by H. E. Rundle

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Alister Clark (1864-1949), rosarian and sportsman, was born on 26 January 1864 at Brighton, Victoria, second son of Walter Clark and his second wife Annie, née Cooper. Walter Clark, born in Argyllshire, Scotland, in 1803, arrived in Sydney on 23 January 1838 in the Minerva, sponsored by Rev. J. D. Lang. He became a partner with Sir William Macleay in Kerarbury station on the Murrumbidgee River, and made money out of stock during the gold rush. He overlanded stock to Melbourne, took up land at Bulla and built Glenara in 1857.

After Walter Clark was killed at Glenara on 18 March 1873, Alister and his brother and sisters were cared for by a kinsman, John Kerr Clark. Alister was educated in Hobart, at Sydney Grammar School (1877-78) and later at Loretto School in Scotland under the care of relatives. In 1883 he entered Jesus College, Cambridge (B.A., 1886); he was called to the Bar at the Middle Temple on 6 November 1885. He acquired in these years a lifelong interest in plants and flowers.

Clark returned to Australia after graduating and in 1892 for £18,375 he bought Glenara, then 1030 acres (417 ha), from his father's estate. On the ship travelling back from England he had met Edith Mary, daughter of wealthy New Zealander Robert Heaton Rhodes, and they were married at St Mary's Church, Christchurch, New Zealand, on 9 July 1888. They had no children. They maintained a gracious way of life at Glenara where Clark divided his interests between sport and his garden, which he developed as a place of great charm and beauty and as a vast nursery for the propagation of roses and daffodils.

A fine horseman, Clark served as master of Oaklands Hunt Club in 1901-08. He was chairman of the Moonee Valley Racing Club from its foundation in 1917. Although never very wealthy, he raced a few steeplechasers until 1907, with modest success. The Alister Clark Stakes is his memorial at Moonee Valley. He played polo in Melbourne and New Zealand which for many years he visited annually with his wife. He was also a keen golfer, having been introduced to the game at Musselburgh, Scotland.

Clark was best known as a rosarian. He was a foundation member of the National Rose Society of Victoria in 1900 and served as its president. He put great effort and skill into developing new varieties, and his 'Lorraine Lee', 'Black Boy', 'Sunny South', 'Nancy Hayward' and many others were grown throughout Australia; they were highly regarded in the United States of America. He supplied his new varieties without charge to State rose societies for propagation and sale. He won many awards but his greatest triumph was the 1936 Dean Hole Memorial Medal of the National Rose Society (England). His rose garden survives at Glenara and a selection of his roses grows in a memorial garden in Blessington Street, St Kilda.

Clark contributed also to the development of new species of daffodils. In 1948 he received the Peter Barr Memorial Cup from the Royal Horticultural Society (England), of which he was a fellow, and vice-president in 1944-48. He believed his pink daffodil to be the world's first.

Clark was a Bulla shire-councillor for many years until 1910, and served as president several times. He was a trustee of Bulla Presbyterian Church. Very handsome, he won people with his great charm, and he had many friends. At the same time his failings were easily recognized. He was totally impractical. Money meant little to him and he never seriously applied himself to any productive business activity. But this allowed him to grace his long era in a way which would scarcely be possible in a later generation. Survived by his wife, he died at Glenara on 20 January 1949 and was buried in Bulla cemetery, leaving an estate valued for probate at £22,073.

Select Bibliography

  • Australia and New Zealand Rose Annual, 1949
  • Daffodil and Tulip Year Book (Lond), 1949
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 30 Oct 1930
  • Clark family papers (privately held).

Citation details

H. E. Rundle, 'Clark, Alister (1864–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/clark-alister-5659/text9553, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 31 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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