Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Pelzer, August William (1862–1934)

by David S. Jones

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

August William Pelzer (c.1862-1934), landscape gardener, was born in the German free state of Bremen, son of John Henry Christian Pelzer. Trained in horticulture and landscape gardening at the Royal Horticultural College at Geisenheim, Nassau, young Pelzer gained an apprenticeship in I. C. Schmidt's nursery at Erfurt, Saxony, and served as a council landscape gardener in Borsig's Garden, Berlin, and Baur's Park, Hamburg. While employed in the nursery of F. Sanders & Co. at St Albans, Hertfordshire, England, he gained first-hand experience of London's gardens and parks. About 1886 he reached Adelaide, joining members of the extended Pelzer family who had arrived in the 1840s and 1850s.

Pelzer worked first on the garden of the (R. C.) Baker family at Morialta, before establishing a working relationship with the nursery of Charles Newman (Neumann) & Sons. Through Newman he designed and planted large suburban gardens for several prominent Adelaide families, including that of J. V. O'Loghlin. On 8 March 1899 Pelzer married with Presbyterian forms Lucie Bothe in the bride's residence, Walkerville. He was naturalized in February 1903 and the couple lived at Wayville from 1909.

In July 1899 Pelzer, characterized as possessing stern features and a distinguished moustache, had become Adelaide city-gardener (later curator of the parks and gardens). Upon appointment he stated that he had 'a good twenty years' work . . . to bring the 2000 acres (809 ha) of Parks under control up to the standard of sightliness which the most favoured spots possess at the present'. He created many fine avenues of trees and numerous parks and gardens, in formal and informal European and gardenesque styles, using both native and exotic species. He indirectly credited John Ednie Brown's 'master plan' in his Report on the System of Planting for the Adelaide Park Lands (1880). These areas included Creswell, Brougham, Kingston, Osmond, Prince Henry and Pennington gardens, Rundle and Elder parks, Victoria Square and the other city squares, and the establishment of the city's nursery to test-trial and acclimatize potential street-tree species—all actions proposed by Brown.

After World War I Pelzer advised on the design of the Soldiers' Memorial Gardens, Victor Harbor. He often served as a judge for gardening competitions, including those of the [Melbourne] Herald and the Adelaide Royal Show. In 1927, as the main speaker at a major conference on tree-planting at Ballarat, Victoria, he surveyed practices and successes in Adelaide, claiming that Oriental Planes (Platanus orientalis) and 'English' Ash (Fraxinus excelsior 'Aura') had proved the most reliable trees in Adelaide. He was correct about the former, wrong about the latter. The Herald described him as 'one of the leading authorities on arboriculture, floriculture and landscape gardening in Australia'. After retiring in 1932 he served as an official adviser to the council.

Pelzer died on 27 August 1934 at Wayville and was buried in North Road cemetery, Adelaide, leaving an estate sworn for probate at £3767. His wife, son and daughter survived him. An obituarist in the Advertiser wrote of Pelzer: 'Many of Adelaide's municipal gardens were laid out under his supervision, and will remain a lasting tribute to his skill and artistic sense'.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Morton, After Light (Adel, 1996)
  • Swanbury Penglase Architects, Adelaide Oval Conservation Study (Adel, 2001)
  • R. Aitken and M. Looker (eds), The Oxford Companion to Australian Gardens (Melb, 2002)
  • D. S. Jones, Adelaide Park Lands Cultural Landscape Assessment (Adel, 2004)
  • D. S. Jones, ‘Designing the Adelaide Parklands in the 1880s: The Proposals of John Ednie Brown’, Studies in the History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes, no 26, 1998, p 287
  • Herald (Adelaide), 30 Mar 1929, p 17
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 28 Aug 1934, p 9, 29 Aug 1934, p 17, 5 June 1999, 'Weekend', p 6
  • G. Ruckert, Descendants of Johann Heinrich Leopold Pelzer (manuscript, 1990, held privately).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

David S. Jones, 'Pelzer, August William (1862–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pelzer-august-william-13146/text23795, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 27 September 2017.

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

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