William Robert Guilfoyle
William Guilfoyle was the eldest son of Michael Guilfoyle who owned the Shepherd Nursery in Sydney. As a young man he became an experienced horticulturist by working in his father’s nursery. He also travelled in northern New South Wales and Queensland collecting botanical specimens. In 1868 he joined the scientific staff of H.M.S. Challenger on its expedition through the South Sea islands. This expedition gave him a great love of subtropical vegetation. On returning to Australia he spend several years managing his father’s property near the Tweed River (N.S.W.) growing sugar and tobacco.
William Robert Guilfoyle
In 1873 Ferdinand von Mueller was removed from the position of Director after a prolonged controversy about his management of Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens. He was succeeded by William Guilfoyle.
Guilfoyle immediately set about transforming the Gardens into a landscape in the ‘picturesque’ style. One of his first tasks was to transplant many of Mueller’s semi-mature conifers from where Mueller had planted them to elsewhere in the Gardens. The strategic placement of these and other trees, together with the planting of garden beds, allowed Guilfoyle to create the panoramic vistas that are characteristic of the Gardens. Sweeping lawns such as the Princes and Tennyson Lawns with their views of the lakes were central to Guilfoyle’s plans.
Other features of the Gardens’ landscape that Guilfoyle developed include the Fern Gully, the Australian Border and elaborate rockeries. In the south-east corner of the Gardens he built a reservoir. Known as Guilfoyle’s Volcano, this has been restored as an important part of the Gardens’ water management program.
Guilfoyle’s travels provided him with much inspiration for his work in the Gardens. He built a number of rustic shelters modelled on buildings he had seen overseas. The subtropical plants he saw in the south Pacific became a feature of his plantings. These included palms and other foliage plants. In addition he planted beds with the flora of specific regions such as New Zealand.
Guilfoyle’s transformation of the Gardens’ landscape culminated with the creation of the Ornamental Lake from the old lagoon. This happened in the late 1890s when the Yarra River was realigned. His success in designing the landscape of the Botanic Gardens earned him a reputation as a brilliant, original and practical landscaper. He was involved in the design of many public, institutional and private gardens. He has been called “the master of landscaping”. Guilfoyle retired as Director of the Botanic Gardens in 1909.
Fox, P. (2003). Clearings: six colonial gardeners and their landscapes. Miegunyah Press, Carlton (Vic.). (Chapter 4: William Guilfoyle, the colonial aesthete, pp. 99-143.)
Pescott, R. T. M. (1974). W. R. Guilfoyle, 1840-1912: the master of landscaping. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
Pescott, R. T. M. (1982). The Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne: a history from 1845 to 1970. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
Last updated 01 Nov 2010