Walter Hill (garden curator)

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Walter Hill

Walter Hill (1820–1904) was the first curator of the Brisbane Botanic Gardens at Gardens Point in Brisbane, Australia.

Personal life[edit]

Walter Hill was born at Scotsdyke, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, on 31 December 1819, the son of David Hill and Elizabeth Beattie.[1][2] Scotsdyke is virtually on the border of England and Scotland and is presumably a reference to the moat about 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) south of the village of Canobie (now spelled Canonbie).

Hill married Jane Smith, the daughter of John Smith and Jane Brunton, on 16 September 1849 at Holy Trinity Brompton Church, Middlesex, England. They had a daughter Ann (born 25 April 1850 in England, died 1 November 1871 in Brisbane).[3]

The family immigrated to Sydney, Australia in 1852 on the "Maitland", where Hill initially tried his luck on the goldfields. In 1855, Hill undertook an expedition (as a botanist) to North Queensland in which most of the party were murdered by Aborigines.[4] After this, Water accepted the position of curator of the Brisbane Botanic Gardens.

The death of their only daughter, Ann, in 1871 was tragic for Hill and Jane. She was buried in Toowong Cemetery, despite it not being opened for burials. However, Governor Samuel Blackall had already been buried there prior to its opening and Ann's burial was the 2nd of six burials that preceded the official openings. Hill planted a hoop pine near Ann's grave and did a number of other plantings in the cemetery, despite having no apparent official role in connection with it.[5] It appears he was simply motivated to make her burial ground a beautiful place.

Until Hill's retirement in 1881, the family lived in the Curator's Cottage at the Brisbane Botanic Gardens. This cottage was washed away in the 1890s in a flood and was replaced by the Curator's Cottage which exists today as the City Gardens Cafe, a venue well-patronised by tourists and staff of the adjacent Queensland University of Technology's Gardens Point campus.[6]

After retiring, Hill established a new home "Canobie Lea" at Eight Mile Plains, Queensland, which was (perhaps unsurprisingly) well known for its landscaping. Canobie is a village in Dumfriesshire close to Hill's birthplace of Scotsdyke.

He died at his home "Canobie Lea" on 4 February 1904.[7] He is buried in Toowong Cemetery together with his wife Jane (died 1888) in the same grave as their daughter Ann (died 1871).[8]

As his wife and only child pre-deceased him, Hill's niece, Mrs Mary Hamilton (daughter of Hill's brother David Hall) appears to have inherited "Canobie Lea". The Hamiltons restored the house, replacing the shingle roof with a tin roof. Mary died in 1921 and in 1931, the property was sold.[9]

Professional life in horticulture[edit]

Early career[edit]

Hill started out as an apprentice to his brother, David, then head gardener at Balloch Castle, Dumbartonshire, Scotland. Later he worked at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and then in 1843 moved to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.[10]

Brisbane Botanic Gardens[edit]

Hill was the first Superintendent of the Brisbane Botanic Gardens located at Gardens Point from 1855 to 1881. After his appointment, he made rapid progress in establishing the gardens, which he organised into 34 separate areas, each with a specific purpose. In the spring of 1856, the newspaper Moreton Bay Courier urged the local citizens to come and enjoy the gardens and walkways, giving praise to Hill for achieving so much so quickly.[11]

In late 1859, Hill worked very diligently to prepare the gardens for the arrival of Sir George Bowen, Queensland's first governor, as the gardens had been chosen as the landing stage for the ship which conveyed the governor and his family and also as focus for many of the associated ceremonies and festivities.[12]

In 1861, he worked with the Governor's wife, Lady Diamantina Bowen, to organise Christmas festivities in the gardens, personally decorating the Christmas trees.[13]

Although his interests primarily lay in economic plants, he also took an interest in more decorative plants. In 1857, he exhibited a native water lily at the Australian Horticultural and Agricultural Show held in Sydney.[14]

He introduced the flowering trees, the jacaranda and poinciana, which are still popular garden plants in Queensland. Indeed, it is claimed that all jacaranda trees in Australia are descended from the original jacaranda tree that grew from a seed imported by Hill in 1864. The tree is believed to the subject of the 1903 painting Under the Jacaranda by Richard Godfrey Rivers (Queensland Art Gallery); sadly the tree died in 1980 when it was blown over in a storm.[15][16]

Colonial botanist[edit]

When Queensland was separated from New South Wales in 1859, Hill was appointed the first Colonial Botanist of Queensland in 1859, a role he held until his retirement in 1881.

In this role, he conducted a number of expeditions to northern Queensland to collect native plants, including trips to Cape York Peninsula in 1862 and the north-east coast to Mossman and the Daintree River in 1873, climbing Mount Bellenden Ker.

He sent many of the specimens he gathered to herbariums around the world (including the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London). Although Hill wanted to establish a herbarium in Queensland, he was unable to do so due to lack of a suitable building and the other demands on his time. However, on his retirement in 1881, Hill gave his books to the Queensland Museum, which later became the nucleus of the present Queensland Herbarium library.

Hill also had a significant role in acclimatisation of exotic plant species into Queensland. He was also responsible for the introduction of mango, pawpaw, ginger, tamarind, arrowroot, cotton[17][18] and mahogany. In particular, he introduced sugarcane[19] and established through experiments that the juice of the Queensland-grown sugarcane could be successfully granulated, opening up a major new farming crop for Queensland.

Conversely, he also cultivated an Australian native nut, the Queensland nut, which went on to become known as the macadamia.

In 1862, Hill was appointed as one of Queensland's Commissioners to arrange for produce and other articles to be exhibited in the Exhibition of Industry as part of the 1862 International Exhibition held in London.[20]


Hill frequently clashed with his superiors[21] and,following a disagreement regarding his upkeep of the gardens, Hill was forced to retire in 1881. However, he continued to experiment with fruit trees in his retirement.


Hill is memorialised in a number of ways, including the Walter Hill Fountain. The Walter Hill Fountain is located in the Brisbane Botanic Gardens and was built as a drinking fountain in 1867 when mains water was introduced to Brisbane. In 1972, the fountain was renamed to commemorate Hill's achievements.

Botanical citation information[edit]


  • Hill, Walter — Brisbane City Council Grave Location Search
  1. ^ Biography of Walter Hill, Australian National Botanic Gardens
  2. ^ Photo of Walter Hill, Picture Queensland
  3. ^ Monumental Inscriptions, Toowong Cemetery
  4. ^ The Murder of Mr Strange and Others, Moreton Bay Courier, Saturday 14 April 1855
  5. ^ Toowong Cemetery
  6. ^ Brisbane City Botanic Gardens: FAQ
  7. ^ Biography of Walter Hill, Australian National Botanic Gardens
  8. ^ Hill, Walter — Brisbane City Council Grave Location Search
  9. ^ Hamilton's residence 'Canobie Lea' at Eight Mile Plains, Brisbane, Queensland, ca. 1910
  10. ^ Biography of Walter Hill, Australian Dictionary of Biography
  11. ^ Brisbane Botanic Garden, Moreton Bay Courier, 23 August 1856
  12. ^ The Arrival & Reception of His Excellency Sir G.F. Bowen, First Governor of Queensland, Moreton Bay Courier, Tuesday 13 December 1859, page 2
  13. ^ Moreton Bay Courier, Saturday 5 January 1861
  14. ^ Australian Horticultural and Agricultural Show, Moreton Bay Courier, Saturday 7 March 1857
  15. ^ Brisbane Courier Mail, 17 October 2007
  16. ^ R. Godfrey Rivers - Queensland Art Gallery
  17. ^ Moreton Bay Courier, Saturday 26 November 1859
  18. ^ "Cotton From the Botanic Gardens", Moreton Bay Courier, Thursday 22 December 1859
  19. ^ Sorghum Saccharatum -- The New Chinese Sugar-Cane, Moreton Bay Courier, Saturday 15 May 1858
  20. ^ Great Exhibition of 1862, Moreton Bay Courier, Tuesday 16 October 1860
  21. ^ Moreton Bay Courier, Thursday 15 March 1860
  22. ^ IPNI.  W.Hill.

External links[edit]