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Howard, Amos William (1848–1930)

by L. A. Gilbert

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Amos William Howard (1848-1930), by unknown photographer, c1920

Amos William Howard (1848-1930), by unknown photographer, c1920

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 45402

Amos William Howard (1848-1930), nurseryman and pasture improvement pioneer, was born on 31 May 1848 at Silk Mills, Watford, Hertfordshire, England, son of William Howard, gardener, and his wife Ann, née Hester. On 23 July 1871 at the Wesleyan Chapel, Tendring, Essex, he married Eliza Rowe. Arriving in South Australia in 1876, Howard established a nursery in the Adelaide hills between Nairne and Littlehampton. He became clerk of the local district council, but resigned to contest a council seat which he won and held for ten years. About 1880 he joined the Glen Osmond chapter of the Oddfellows' Lodge.

In 1889, intending to purchase a cow, Howard visited Michael Daley's property adjoining the Mount Barker Springs and Nairne roads. As Daley was away, Howard 'strolled along one of the valleys … to fill in time until the owner returned' and was attracted by the growth of a kind of clover. It was later identified as subterranean clover, Trifolium subterraneum Linn., a widely variable species probably inadvertently introduced to Australia from Britain or Europe fifty or sixty years earlier, and known in the Adelaide hills since about 1880. Sir Ferdinand Mueller recorded the plant as naturalized in Victoria by 1887, and it was reported from the Riverina as 'a vigorous grower' in 1896 when J. H. Maiden made his guarded comment: 'I know nothing against its character, except a certain aggressiveness … It is not an introduction which need render us uncomfortable'.

On 3 February 1906 Howard began his correspondence with the Adelaide Advertiser, enthusiastically extolling the virtues of the plant for improving pastures. Overcoming technical problems, he harvested the seed and offered samples to the South Australian Agriculture Bureau. By January 1907 he was able to sell 30 lb. (13.6 kg) to E. & W. Hackett, Adelaide nurserymen. Further experience with the clover prompted Howard to write to the press in 1907-09 vigorously promoting its use. By this time he and his sons were selling up to a ton (tonne) of seed annually.

State agriculture authorities made experimental sowings of the clover before 1920 and tentative recommendations concerning its use, but when superphosphate was advocated for pastures as well as for crops clover sowings responded remarkably, and the formula of 'sub and super' was widely followed. In 1923 the importation of a clover huller from the United States of America by Howard's son Cecil lifted annual seed production to over eight tons and in 1930 it was claimed that annual production of clover seed was responsible for about £50,000 coming into the Mount Barker district. By 1961 some 20 million acres (8.1 million ha) of southern Australia had been sown with subterranean clover, notwithstanding the discovery that some strains had oestrogenic properties injurious to sheep. The clover not only improved pastures but upgraded soil fertility through its nitrogen-fixing qualities.

Howard died at Beau Vale, Blakiston, on 2 March 1930, predeceased by his wife, a son and a daughter; he was buried in Blakiston cemetery, survived by three daughters and seven sons. A memorial to Howard's work on 'the most important pasture plant in Australia' was unveiled on 3 October 1963 on the Mount Barker road near the sites of his original observations and of his home. An appeal launched at the ceremony by the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science led to the establishment of the Howard memorial research fellowship in 1967. Two of the several cultivars of subterranean clover are named 'Howard' and 'Mt Barker'. A portrait is in the South Australian Archives.

Select Bibliography

  • D. E. Symon, A Bibliography of Subterranean Clover Together with a Descriptive Introduction (Berkshire, 1961)
  • R. M. Moore (ed), Australian Grasslands (Canb, 1970)
  • M. Williams, The Making of the South Australian Landscape (Lond, 1974)
  • Australian Institute of Agricultural Science, Journal, 30 (1964)
  • Journal of Agriculture (South Australia), Nov 1936, Jan 1964
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 6 Mar 1930.

Citation details

L. A. Gilbert, 'Howard, Amos William (1848–1930)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/howard-amos-william-6741/text11645, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 18 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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