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John Dallachy (1808–1871)

by Alan Gross

This article was published:

John Dallachy (1808?-1871), botanist and curator, was born in Elginshire, Scotland, son of John Dallachy, soldier, and his wife, née Lumsdaine. He became a gardener at Haddo House, seat of the Earl of Aberdeen, who was interested in raising Australian plants from seed. Through the influence of Sir William Hooker, Dallachy spent some years on the staff of Kew Gardens; he returned later to Haddo House as head gardener. With an introduction from the Earl of Aberdeen, Dallachy went to Ceylon in 1847 to manage a coffee plantation but next year moved to Melbourne where he was first employed as gardener to Jonathan Were at Brighton. On 12 March 1849 Dallachy was appointed overseer of the Melbourne Botanic Gardens, established three years earlier. He was promoted superintendent in 1852 but in August 1857 his friend Ferdinand Mueller was appointed director of the gardens while Dallachy assumed the title of curator with his salary reduced from £400 to £300.

Dallachy's term in charge of the gardens was not marked by any lasting landscape development. His chief interest lay in collecting botanical specimens, many of them valuable for interchange with gardens in Britain and elsewhere. He made several expeditions: to the Baw Baws where he is reputed to have found the headwaters of the River Yarra; to Mount Macedon in August 1849; Mount Disappointment in January 1850; and the Pentland Hills in August 1850. In 1853 he joined Mueller in an expedition to the Ovens valley and Mount Buffalo. In 1858 he collected drought-resistant species along the River Murray near Wentworth and the Darling River as far north as Mount Murchison near Wilcannia. In 1860 he investigated the Wimmera River and Lake Hindmarsh. Next year he resigned as curator and set up a nursery at Prahran. When that venture failed he went to north Queensland where he continued to collect for the Victorian herbarium. In 1864 at Mueller's request he joined a party led by George Dalrymple to form a settlement at Rockingham Bay. The luxuriant flora fascinated him and he settled in the district with his family. A Presbyterian, he had married Ann Matheson in Scotland about 1839. He died on 4 June 1871 at Vale of Herbert, Herbert River, Cardwell, survived by three sons and two of his three daughters. He is best remembered as a botanist and meticulous collector of native species. Joseph Maiden in 1908 claimed Dallachy as perhaps the best Australian botanical collector 'to whom justice has not been done'.

Select Bibliography

  • P. C. Morrison (ed), Melbourne's Garden (Melb, 1946)
  • D. Jones, Cardwell Shire Story (Brisb, 1961)
  • J. H. Maiden, ‘Records of Victorian Botanists’, Victorian Naturalist, vol 25, no 7, Nov 1908, pp 101-17
  • C. Daley, ‘Baron Sir Ferdinand Von Mueller’, Victorian Historical Magazine, vol 10, no 1, May 1924, pp 23-32, and vol 10, no 2, Nov 1924, pp 34-75
  • information from Royal Botanic Gardens & National Herbarium, Melbourne.

Citation details

Alan Gross, 'Dallachy, John (1808–1871)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Elginshire, Scotland


4 June, 1871 (aged ~ 63)
Cardwell, Queensland, Australia

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