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Packham, Charles Henry (1842–1909)

by Rosslyn Finn

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

Charles Henry Packham (1842-1909), orchardist and pear breeder, was born on 14 September 1842 at Toongabbie, New South Wales, second of nine children of English-born parents Henry Packham, milkman, and his second wife Ann, née Unicombe, the widow of William Eggins. In 1848 the family moved to Larras Lake, near Molong, leased 15 acres (6 ha), and grew wheat. Ten years later Henry selected 240 acres (97 ha) known as Quickbourne, nearer to Molong.

Charles married Mary Robards with Wesleyan forms on 23 November 1863 in the bride's home near Orange. The couple, who were to have nine children, first lived in a wattle and daub house, Little Quickbourne. Charles helped his father with a carrying business (from Forbes to Sydney and back) and worked as a shepherd on a neighbouring property, Garra. In 1874 he purchased a part of it, known as Cherry Hill. He was a petitioner for the establishment of a school at Garra in 1877. Next year he selected an additional two blocks, totalling 106 acres (43 ha), which he named Clifton, where he grazed sheep. Later he added an adjacent 55 acres (22 ha). A brick house was built on Clifton, where he had a general farm and an orchard. Here he started his interest in crossbreeding fruit to create a pear of a greater commercial value. He kept an apiary and used bees for pollination. In 1889 Packham won a prize for pears at the Sydney Royal Show; he later exhibited his skill as an orchardist with a pear tree about three feet (90 cm) high, bearing fruit, a triumph of grafting.

Packham achieved his great success in 1896 with the crossing of the Uvedale St Germain (Bell) with a Williams. Samples were sent to the Department of Agriculture, which reported favourably, and many orders were taken. W. J. Allen, the department's expert, named the fruit Packham's Triumph, claiming it to be the finest he had tasted. Light green in colour, well shaped with a short neck and a clear skin, the fruit stored well after picking in March, making it a healthy winter treat and suitable for trans-seasonal export. Soon Packham's Late was developed, with some small success. By 1909 there were 20,000 seedlings at Garra. Many requests came for trees, and these were propagated and distributed to government experiment farms as far away as Tasmania, and later marketed to nurserymen.

Active in the Methodist church, Garra, Packham was 'quiet and unassuming' and a lifetime teetotaller, wearing the temperance society's blue ribbon on his jacket to indicate this. He died of acute dysentery on 20 March 1909 at his home and was buried in the Methodist cemetery, Garra. His wife, four sons and four daughters survived him. The food authority Stephanie Alexander wrote in 1996 that the Packham's Triumph was 'still one of the principal cultivated pears grown in Australia and the best-selling variety in the world'. Packham's original Triumph tree was destroyed about 1915, and later all the seedlings were grubbed out because of the prevalence of pests. In 2004 there was no longer an orchard at Clifton, only some decorative fruit trees, but members of the Packham family still farmed near Molong.

Select Bibliography

  • B. L. Higginson, The Packham Family (1988)
  • S. Alexander, The Cook’s Companion (Melb, 1996)
  • private information.

Citation details

Rosslyn Finn, 'Packham, Charles Henry (1842–1909)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/packham-charles-henry-13142/text23787, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 8 December 2019.

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

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