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Charles Moore (1820–1905)

by C. J. King

This article was published:

Charles Moore (1820-1905), by unknown photographer

Charles Moore (1820-1905), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 03631

Charles Moore (1820-1905), botanist, was born on 10 May 1820 at Dundee, Scotland, son of Charles Muir and his wife Helen, née Rattray. He was educated in Dundee and Dublin where his brother David became director of the Glasnevin Botanic Garden in 1838; the family name was changed to Moore when they went to Ireland. Charles worked as a botanist on the Ordnance Survey of Ireland and trained at Kew and Regent's Park. On the recommendation of Professors Lindley and Henslow he was appointed 'government botanist and director of the Botanic Gardens in Sydney' by the Colonial Office.

Moore reached Sydney in the Medway on 14 January 1848. He roused local resentment by displacing J. C. Bidwill, a colonial appointment, and was obstructed by some members of the Committee of Management. Moore found the gardens badly neglected and was instructed to restore their scientific character, without destroying their value for recreation. He labelled plants 'showing the Natural Order, Scientific Name and Authority, English name and Native Country of each Plant', a system still followed. He avidly collected for the gardens and corresponded widely for exchanges of seeds and plants. In 1850 he gathered specimens from the New Hebrides, Solomon Islands and New Caledonia.

Moore established a medicinal plant garden and herbarium. To increase attention to economic botany he started a library and added a room where he lectured to university students until 1882. Governor Sir Charles FitzRoy had abolished the Committee of Management in 1851 but amateur scientists and disgruntled nurserymen secured a select committee on the management of the Botanic Gardens. Chaired by G. R. Nichols it included Moore's old antagonists. He was subjected to a searching examination, his qualifications were challenged and 'no effort was spared to embarrass him and condemn his administration'. The committee reported that although Moore had acted with ability and industry much had been left undone, but Governor Denison ignored their plea that the director should henceforth be merely the curator.

In 1857 Moore visited the Blue Mountains and in 1861 the Richmond and Clarence Rivers to collect timber specimens for the London Exhibition of 1862 and published A Catalogue of Northern Timbers, which he later revised several times. He continued to improve the gardens, reclaimed land in Farm Cove and secured a water supply. In 1864 he advised the Colonial Office that none of the valuable timber trees of New South Wales were hardy enough to cultivate in Britain but would grow in Cape Colony. Appointed commissioner for the Paris Exhibition in 1867, he was relieved of his duties for arriving too late with his exhibits by visiting the gardens of the governor's residence at Kandy. He also toured France and Spain on behalf of the citrus industry. In 1869 he visited Lord Howe Island and in 1874 attended the Botanical Congress and the International Horticultural Exhibition in Florence.

Moore landscaped and planted the grounds of the Garden Palace built in 1879 for Sydney's International Exhibition. In 1882 he was involved in the dismissal of Captain R. R. Armstrong and next year had J. C. Dunlop and his wife removed because they displayed 'uxorious affection' in the gardens. Dunlop successfully sued Moore in the Water Police Court but in June the magistrate's decision was reversed by the colonial secretary, Alexander Stuart.

Moore was a commissioner for the Philadelphia and Melbourne Exhibitions of 1876. A member of the Hyde Park Improvement Committee, he became a trustee for Hyde, Phillip and Cook Parks in 1878, a founding trustee of the National Park and elective trustee of the Australian Museum in 1879 and chairman of the Vine Diseases Board and planner of Centennial Park in 1887. He was a fellow of the Linnean and Royal Horticultural Societies and an associate of the Royal Botanic Society in London. From 1856 he had served on the council of the Philosophical Society (Royal Society of New South Wales after 1866), was president in 1880 and published four papers in its Proceedings. In New South Wales he was a councillor of the (Royal) Zoological, Agricultural and Acclimatisation societies. Moore published A Census of the Plants of New South Wales (Sydney, 1884) but his major work was Handbook of the Flora of New South Wales (1893) in which he was helped by Betche. He retired as director on 5 May 1896 and visited Europe.

Moore's successor at the Botanic Gardens, J. H. Maiden, regretted that Moore 'did not commit to paper the horticultural and botanical reminiscences of his long official career … His dislike of writing extended even to letter writing'. Predeceased on 10 October 1891 by his wife Elizabeth Bennett, née Edwards, Moore died childless on 30 April 1905 in Paddington and was buried beside his wife in the Anglican section of Rookwood cemetery. His estate was valued for probate at over £5300. Nineteen species were named after him by F. Mueller.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 1852, 1, 1175, 1855, 1, 1155, 1176
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales) 1866, 5, 745, 1867-68, 1, 93, 3, 153, 4, 1073, 1870, 1, 640, 1873-74, 1, 365, 1883, 1, 566, 1883-84, 1, 287, 2, 749
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 28 June 1883
  • L. A. Gilbert, Botanical Investigation of New South Wales 1811-1880 (Ph.D. thesis, University of New England, 1971)
  • CO 201/530.

Citation details

C. J. King, 'Moore, Charles (1820–1905)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 21 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Charles Moore (1820-1905), by unknown photographer

Charles Moore (1820-1905), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 03631

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Muir, Charles

10 May, 1820
Dundee, Forfarshire, Scotland


30 April, 1905 (aged 84)
Paddington, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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