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Gardner, William (1802–1860)

by E. W. Dunlop

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

William Gardner (1802-1860), pioneer and historian, was born in Glasgow, Scotland. His later appointments as tutor and his reputation as a man of learning suggest that he had a college education. He sailed from Leith in the Countess of Durham in April 1838 and arrived at Sydney in September. After working in a store at Maitland he moved to the newly-opened New England plateau about 1842 and soon became tutor at the late Henry Dumaresq's Saumarez station near Armidale. A keen horseman, Gardner travelled widely over the district, and compiled the first detailed map of the northern districts of New South Wales, published in September 1844 in Baker's Australian County Atlas. This reveals competent draughtsmanship and painstaking attention to such details as roads, tracks and station properties. In 1846 Gardner left Saumarez because the depression affected his employer, and he may have returned to Scotland for a time. At some stage he visited Georgia, United States, and his experience there led to the publication of his pamphlet The Cultivation of the Cotton Plant in New South Wales (Maitland, 1848; 2nd enlarged ed 1850). From 1853 he was employed as tutor at Moredun (October 1853–September 1854), Rockvale (October 1854–September 1855), Mount Mitchell, and at Andrew Coventry's Oban station (1858-60). He died on 10 September 1860 and was buried at Oban in an unmarked grave.

Gardner did not marry but devoted himself to wide and varied cultural interests. These included sketching and photography as well as writing. A sound judge of horses, he advised Gideon Lang in 1857 on the selection of horses for the Indian army. Apart from An Enquiry into the Effect Produced by the Deluge Upon Alluvial Deposits of Gold in Australia (Maitland, 1856), Gardner's later works were not published, but were kept in large manuscript notebooks, made 'merely for [his] own amusement'. They contain invaluable information about the early years of New England, include a wide range of descriptive and statistical details, and were written by a keen observer who arrived only ten years after the first settlers, most of whom he knew personally. His sketches and drawings of old homesteads and natural features are particularly valuable.

Select Bibliography

  • E. C. Sommerlad, The Land of ‘the Beardies’ (Newcastle, 1922)
  • E. W. Dunlop, ‘William Gardner: Pioneer Historian of New England’, Journal and Proceedings (Armidale and District Historical Society), vol 1, no 1, Feb 1961, pp 21-30
  • William Gardner notebooks (copy, State Library of New South Wales).

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Citation details

E. W. Dunlop, 'Gardner, William (1802–1860)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 8 April 2020.

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

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