Weston, Thomas Charles (1866–1935)

by Greg Murphy

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Thomas Charles George Weston (1866-1935), horticulturist, was born on 14 October 1866 at Poyle, Middlesex, England, son of Thomas Weston, journeyman tailor, and his wife Elizabeth, née Newell. Leaving school at 13, he learned horticulture at a number of places, serving a term as gardener at Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfriesshire, Scotland. In 1896 he migrated to New South Wales; two years later he was appointed gardener-in-charge at Admiralty House, North Sydney. On 20 April 1898 he married English-born Minimia Cockshott at St Andrew's Anglican Church, Summer Hill. In 1908 he went to Federal Government House, Sydney, as head gardener; four years later he became superintendent of the State Nursery, Campbelltown. In May 1913 he was made officer-in-charge of afforestation, Canberra.

At a remote rural location, infertile, windy and rabbit infested, Weston's task was to create an urban landscape consonant with the capital city to be built at Canberra. He was also expected to establish a local forestry industry. Weston set down on paper his four objectives: to establish a first-class nursery, to raise stocks of plants likely to prove suitable, to reserve all local hilltops and improve their tree cover, and to seek out and procure useful seeds. Fully aware of contemporary interest in the soil, he appreciated the opportunity—'which amounts almost to a duty'—of 'wresting a little more from nature's inexhaustible storehouse' to 'add materially to human comfort and enjoyment'.

He speedily established a small experimental nursery and then a large plant propagation nursery, and travelled widely in search of seed. There was little scientific knowledge about horticulture suitable to the area, although a few local established gardens featured exotic conifers and deciduous trees. From this very restricted base, Weston sought to expand the number of species that might grow in Canberra and carried out extensive, scientifically-planned trials. His correspondence with the botanist J. H. Maiden, director of the Botanic Gardens, Sydney, indicated how advanced Weston was in the experimental breeding of eucalypts. Responsible to W. B. Griffin, Weston had differences of opinion with his superior over what tree species should be grown; in at least one instance, at Griffin's insistence, Weston carried out an onerous planting which proved to be a failure: Weston's sensitivity to the native environment stood out in sharp contrast to Griffin's intransigence.

In November 1926 Weston retired to Sydney, but was retained in a consultative capacity until May 1927. In that month he was appointed M.B.E. He died of cancer on 1 December 1935 at Turramurra and his ashes were scattered in the park he had designed at Parliament House, Canberra. His wife and three daughters survived him. The Sydney Morning Herald paid tribute to Weston as 'a poet, an artist and a tree-planter in one'; his influence extends throughout the nation's capital and marks a significant development in Australian landscape architecture. A street and a park in Canberra are named after him. The Weston Memorial Trust Fund is administered by the Royal Australian Institute of Parks and Recreation (Australian Capital Territory Region).

Select Bibliography

  • Canberra Historical Journal, Sept 1979
  • Australian Parks and Recreation, Aug 1982, p 47
  • Canberra Times, 2 Dec 1935
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 Dec 1935
  • R88/2131 (State Records New South Wales)
  • CP/209/1 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Greg Murphy, 'Weston, Thomas Charles (1866–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/weston-thomas-charles-9054/text15955, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 25 June 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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