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Cole, Thomas Cornelius (1810–1889)

by Richard Aitken

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Thomas Cornelius Cole (1810-1889), horticulturist and nursery proprietor, was born in 1810 at Sudbury, Middlesex, England, son of Guy Cole, market gardener, and his wife Elizabeth, née Nutt. In 1837 at nearby Harrow Thomas married Elizabeth Whitmore. Accompanied by her, their three children and his brother George (1822-1868), Cole reached Melbourne in February 1842—a son had died on the voyage. Thomas, George and a cousin John Cole (1816-1894), who had preceded them in 1839, established nurseries, orchards and market gardens on the Merri Creek.

In 1847 Thomas purchased land with a Yarra River frontage at Burnley where he established an orchard and nursery. According to E. E. Pescott, Cole issued his first catalogue from the Richmond Nursery in 1850, making it one of the earliest produced in Victoria. He took a keen interest in the horticultural progress of the colony and was a prime mover behind the establishment of the Horticultural Society of Victoria's experimental garden at Burnley.

Cole purchased 38 acres (15 ha) of land with a frontage to Tooronga Road, Upper Hawthorn, in 1853. By 1860 he had established another orchard and nursery and erected a large, brick house on this estate, named Twyford. He drew on his long horticultural experience—then unparalleled among fellow colonists—in his book Cole's Gardening in Victoria (1860). Besides monthly notes on the kitchen, fruit and flower garden, Cole included authoritative remarks 'On Selecting Fruit Trees', and much of interest regarding garden design. He recognized the futility of large expanses of lawn in oppressive Australian summers but was generally little concerned with questions of garden styles. He was careful and cautious, even conservative, in outlook and in the pages of the Yeoman and Australian Acclimatiser he clashed during 1863 with the progressive agriculturist Josiah Mitchell over the question of exhaustion of soils.

In 1862 Cole leased the Richmond Nursery to his son John Charles (1838-1891), who specialized in fruit trees and vines and supplemented the rapidly urbanized site in the mid-1880s with a generous land selection at Fern Tree Gully (Belgrave), which he named Glen Harrow. Another of Thomas's sons, Rev. Thomas Cornelius junior (1836-1879), was also active in Melbourne horticultural circles. In 1864 Thomas senior purchased a further 37 acres (15 ha), adjoining the Twyford estate, and leased it to his son Henry Ungerford (1843–1904), who established the Shorland orchard and nursery. Like his father and brother, with whom he worked closely, Henry was noted for his work as a pomological hybridist and as a judge of fruit at horticultural shows

Thomas Cole's wife died in 1879. On 5 July 1881 at Christ Church, Hawthorn, he married with Anglican rites Catherine Mary Josephine Mathers. He died on 31 July 1889 at Twyford and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery, survived by his wife, and by two sons and three daughters of his first marriage. His estate was valued at £85,100. Henry Cole's Shorland Nursery carried on in the early decades of the twentieth century; by the 1930s Twyford had been demolished and subdivided for residential purposes. Thomas Cole was a pioneer of Victorian horticulture and his outstanding work in the raising of seedling fruits and vegetables produced varieties for Australian conditions vastly superior to their predecessors.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Aitken and M. Looker (eds), The Oxford Companion to Australian Gardens (South Melb, 2002)
  • V. Cole, A Fruitful Tree: The Cole Family, Horticultural Pioneers in the Port Phillip District of New South Wales (manuscript, 1994, privately held).

Citation details

Richard Aitken, 'Cole, Thomas Cornelius (1810–1889)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cole-thomas-cornelius-12850/text23201, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 19 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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