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Frazer, Charles (1788–1831)

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

Charles Frazer (1788?-1831), gardener and colonial botanist, was born at Blair-Atholl, Perthshire, Scotland. He enlisted in the 56th Regiment in 1815 and, on 8 April 1816, in the convict transport Guildford arrived at Sydney where in November he was transferred to the 46th Regiment and next year to the 48th. However, he seems not to have performed military duty, for when the Botanic Garden was formally dedicated in June 1816 he was appointed superintendent, and three years later Governor Lachlan Macquarie referred to him as the colonial botanist, for which his salary was then 5s. a day. He accompanied John Oxley, who referred to him as 'the Colonial Collector', thus distinguishing him as a field botanist, on exploring expeditions in 1817, 1818 and 1819 to collect the 'seeds and specimens' which Earl Bathurst had asked for; on the second alone, he added 'near 700 new specimens to the already extended Catalogue of Australian plants', of which specimens were sent to the emperor of Austria as well as to the secretary of state. He visited the interior again with John Thomas Bigge, Van Diemen's Land twice, New Zealand and Norfolk Island. In 1827 he accompanied (Sir) James Stirling to the Swan River, when he supported his recommendation that it was a suitable place for settlement. Next year he accompanied Allan Cunningham to Moreton Bay, where he explored the interior and laid down the 'New Garden' at Brisbane; but although they collected many local native plants for it, the commandant, Patrick Logan, was little interested in this project except as a source of vegetables, to which it quickly deteriorated.

Meanwhile in Sydney, on 1 January 1821, Macquarie formally appointed him colonial botanist, and in September Frazer persuaded the governor to form a 'Botanical Garden' of fifteen acres (6 ha) at Double Bay in addition to the older 'government garden' at Farm Cove; though Brisbane abandoned the former he added five acres (2 ha) to the latter, and in 1825 reported that 'nearly 3000 varieties of Grapes, Trees, Fruits and other valuable productions of the Vegetable Kingdom have been introduced and cultivated with success'. Frazer, he thought, was 'qualified to do justice to his appointment' and he had raised the botanist's salary to 7s. a day, which Darling further increased to £150 a year in 1828 and £200 in October 1829.

On 22 December 1831 Frazer died at Parramatta, apparently of apoplexy, leaving no relatives in the colony. Although a Presbyterian who had signed the petition for government aid in the building of a Scots church in 1824, his funeral service was conducted by Samuel Marsden, and he was buried in St John's cemetery, Parramatta, where his gravestone, now broken and neglected, bears yet another version of his surname. All who had dealings with him, governors, explorers, botanists, even the contemporary press, united in their praise of his scientific work, his personal charm and his 'universal benevolence'. His reports on the Swan and the Brisbane Rivers were published in Hooker's Botanical Miscellany, 1, 1830, and in the Australian Almanack for 1831 appeared his 'Memoranda of Australian Fruits and Vegetables'. He had experimented with the distillation of eucalyptus oil and the growing of cotton, for which the Agricultural and Horticultural Society awarded him a gold medal. Thirty-one species of native plants have been named in his honour.

Select Bibliography

  • J. H. Maiden, ‘Records of Australian Botanists: Fraser (sic), Charles’, Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, vol 42, 1908, pp 103-4
  • J. H. Maiden, ‘History of the Sydney Botanic Gardens’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 14, part 1, 1928, pp 1-42, and vol 17, part 3, 1931, pp 126-44
  • W. W. Froggatt, ‘The Curators and Botanists of the Botanic Gardens, Sydney’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 18, part 3, 1932, pp 101-33)
  • Sydney Gazette, 25 May 1830.

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Citation details

'Frazer, Charles (1788–1831)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/frazer-charles-2068/text2579, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 18 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

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