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Denny, Charles Keith (1888–1975)

by R. A. Ferrall

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Charles Keith Denny (1888-1975), lavender farmer, was born on 23 February 1888 at Kingston, Surrey, England, only son of Charles Denny, corn merchant, and his wife Ada Ellen, née Lampard. Educated at Charterhouse, young Charles was admitted to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales on 2 August 1911. At the parish church, Bridestowe, Devon, on 8 April 1913 he married Blanche Ellen Francis. During World War I he was seconded to munitions production.

From 1919 Denny was manager of F. S. Cleaver & Sons Ltd, Twickenham, a soap and perfumery business half-owned by his family. When the firm was sold to Lever Brothers Pty Ltd in 1921, he decided to emigrate. He planned to establish a farm in a climate suitable for growing 'true lavender' (Lavandula augustifolia), an unhybridized shrub then found only in the higher altitudes of a small region of the southern French Alps. Its oil was used as a base for the finest scent and for medicine.

Arriving in Tasmania in November 1921, Denny settled with his family at North Lilydale, near Launceston, in April 1922. To honour Blanche's birthplace, he named their farm Bridestowe Estate. He sowed the 'true lavender' seeds which he had brought from France on a quarter-acre (0.1 ha) plot, and was confident that the strain would remain pure. Picked by hand in 1924, his first harvest yielded 11 lb. (5 kg) of flower-heads from which a minute amount of oil was extracted. In England the oil was analysed as having promise, but, like new wine, its final quality could not be assessed until it had matured.

With limited planting stock and no appropriate machinery, Denny sowed 5 acres (2 ha) of the same lavender in 1927 and 1928. He designed and built a distillery on his property in 1930 and exported his first batch of oil five years later. By 1939 he had 50 acres (20 ha) under cultivation and began to recoup his outlay. The cessation of lavender-oil imports during World War II advantaged Denny, Australia's only significant lavender-grower. His two sons returned from the war and rejoined their father's business. The Dennys bought a second farm near Nabowla, planted it in 1948 and began prolonged testing. Next year they adapted an old harvester by equipping it with a special header, but lost out to foreign competitors when the French franc was devalued. In 1950 they sought tariff protection to avoid ruin.

Charles handed over management of his properties to his sons in 1956; it took them until 1974 to perfect their stock. Patriotic, somewhat eccentric and a man of dogged perseverance, Denny remained an active gardener. He died on 2 June 1975 at St Luke's Hospital, Launceston, and was buried in Lilydale cemetery; his sons survived him. By 1981 the estate produced 15 per cent of the world's supply of lavender oil. Tourists visited the property to see 100 acres (40 ha) of beautifully contoured crops in bloom. The family retained the business until 1990 when it was acquired by Natural Extracts International Pty Ltd.

Select Bibliography

  • Bridestowe Estate, Jubilee Season 1921-22 to 1981-82 (np, Launc, 1981)
  • J. McLeod, Lavender, Sweet Lavender (priv pub, Syd, 1989)
  • Trans Australian Airlines, Transair, Oct 1981
  • Australian Country Style, Dec-Jan, 1990-91, p 46
  • Mercury (Hobart), 8 June 1950
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Citation details

R. A. Ferrall, 'Denny, Charles Keith (1888–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/denny-charles-keith-9952/text17631, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 18 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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