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Pescott, Edward Edgar (1872–1954)

by Ian F. McLaren

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Edward Edgar Pescott (1872-1954), horticulturalist, naturalist and author, was born on 11 December 1872 at Geelong, Victoria, youngest of ten children of Thomas Trewick Pescott, carpenter, and his wife Mary Ann, née Dean, both from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England. Thomas became a successful builder at Geelong; his great love of Nature was transmitted to his family. Edward was educated at Chilwell State School until November 1888, when he was appointed a junior teacher, and taught successively at Watta Wella, Willenabrina East, Cannum West, Chilwell, Brit Brit and Tahara Bridge, all in western Victoria. He was licensed to teach music in June 1893 and took a science in agriculture course in 1899. He received medals from the Geelong Field Naturalists' Club for work on grasses and ferns. While head teacher at Jarrahmond, near Orbost, he explored the Snowy River 'jungle', and the collected flora is now in the National Herbarium, Melbourne.

In 1901 Pescott was encouraged by Charles Hamilton French to join the Victorian Department of Agriculture as an inspector of the orchard branch. At Shepparton he met Violet Jane, daughter of John Furphy; they were married there on 24 May 1906. In 1938 Pescott co-operated with Kate Baker to produce The Life Story of Joseph Furphy, his wife's uncle.

Appointed principal of the School of Horticulture, Burnley, in 1909, Pescott introduced several innovations; he resigned in 1916, but continued to lecture in botany until 1939. In 1917 he became government pomologist and seed tester, and was closely associated with the Pomological Committee of Australia. He contributed regularly to the Journal of the Department of Agriculture, Stock and Land and other journals and newspapers.

An authority on native orchids, Pescott made weekly radio broadcasts on native flora from the early 1920s and directed the Wildflower and Wild Nature shows in Melbourne during this time. He was elected fellow of the Linnean Society of London as a result of a study published as Census of the Genus Acacia in Australia (1914). He retired from the Department of Agriculture on 11 December 1937.

Pescott was associated with many natural history organizations. In the Australian Wattle Day League, he was secretary of the Victorian (1910-20) and Australian (1913-22) movements, which had wattle blossom accepted as the Australian national floral emblem. He was president of the Victorian Horticultural Society (1912-17) and was elected a fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society. He compiled the list of biographies of horticulturalists at the State Library of Victoria.

Secretary of the Field Naturalists' Club of Victoria from 1920 and president in 1926-28, Pescott was made a life member in 1947. During his presidency the Victorian parliament passed the Wildflower and Native Plant Protection Act. Between 1915 and 1946 he made thirty-two contributions to the Victorian Naturalist; The Orchids of Victoria, which first appeared therein, was published as a book in 1928. Report of the Victorian Field Naturalists' Expedition Through the Western District of Victoria (October, 1927) was produced as a separate supplement that year.

In addition to his many writings for scientific journals, Pescott wrote Native Flowers of Victoria (1914), The Dahlia in Australia (1920), Bulb Growing in Australia (1926), Gardening in Australia (1926), Rose Growing in Australia (1928), Wild Flowers of Australia (1929) and New Way Gardening (1933). First issued in a special number of the Victorian Historical Magazine, his study, Pioneers of Horticulture in Victoria, was published in 1940.

An interest in natural history led to a wider interest in Australian history and the collection of an extensive private library of natural history works and Australiana. Pescott produced James Bonwick in 1939, with a bibliography based on his own holdings, and wrote an introduction in 1942 to Bonwick's Notes of a Gold Digger. He contributed a chapter, 'Victoriana', on his collection in Charles Barrett's Across the Years (1948). He was an active member of the Bread and Cheese Club.

Pescott's collection of articles and desiderata on Sir Ferdinand Mueller, entitled 'Reliquae Muelleriana', is in the National Herbarium, Melbourne; he contributed 'Notes on Mueller's literary work' to the Victorian Naturalist of January 1922.

During and after the Depression Pescott was deputy chairman (1934-45) and chairman (1945-54) of the Victorian State Relief Committee. His last publication was the centenary history in 1949 of Noble Street Methodist Church, Chilwell, Geelong. His family had been active members of this church since their arrival in Australia. Pescott was a tall, energetic man, with a friendly yet direct manner; he lived at Camberwell for many years. He died there on 31 July 1954 and was cremated with Methodist forms. His wife, two sons and a daughter survived him; most of his library was divided among his family but many items were offered for sale by N. H. Seward in 1956.

A nephew, Richard Thomas Martin Pescott, was director of the National Museum of Victoria (1944-57) and of the Royal Botanic Gardens (1957-70).

Select Bibliography

  • H. W. Malloch, Fellows All (Melb, 1943)
  • I. F. McLaren, Edward Edgar Pescott 1872-1954 (Melb, 1965) and for bibliography
  • Victorian Naturalist, Mar 1955, p 166
  • E. E. Pescott papers (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

Ian F. McLaren, 'Pescott, Edward Edgar (1872–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pescott-edward-edgar-8026/text13991, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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