William Robert Guilfoyle Print Page Print this page

William Robert Guilfoyle : 12-September-2011
William Robert Guilfoyle : 12-September-2011

Photographs supplied by Graeme Saunders

Monument commemorates William Robert Guilfoyle (1840-1912), landscape gardener and botanist.  His father migrated to Sydney with his family in 1849 aboard the Steadfast and set up a nursery at Redfern; another at Double Bay was more successful. After private teaching by his uncle, Louis Delafosse, William attended Lyndhurst College, Glebe, and was encouraged in botanical study by William Sharp Macleay and John MacGillivray.

He made several tours in northern New South Wales and Queensland collecting specimens, some of which he sent to Ferdinand von Mueller in Melbourne to be identified. In 1868 he joined the scientific staff of H.M.S. Challenger in its scientific expedition through the South Sea islands, and then grew sugar and tobacco on his father's land near the Tweed River.
On 21 July 1873 Guilfoyle was appointed curator of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, at a salary of £500.

His predecessors, Dallachy and von Mueller, had been more interested in developing the gardens for scientific than aesthetic and recreational purposes. Guilfoyle, inspired by the tropical landscapes he had seen, extended and remodelled the gardens. When he designed an extension he made a coloured sketch of his conception and then by a process of improvement brought it to the planting stage. Sweeping lawns, cunningly planned foliage and informal vistas filled the area which was expanded to over one hundred acres (40 ha).

When the south bank of the Yarra was straightened to prevent floods Guilfoyle secured the adjoining section and transformed a billabong into a series of lakes. He created a fern gully in a hollow and on a hill overlooking the Yarra built a Temple of the Winds as a memorial to Charles La Trobe, founder of the gardens. The temple was designed in the classical tradition but instead of the usual acanthus motif Guilfoyle used the native staghorn fern. He also designed several summer houses or kiosks.

Guilfoyle also managed the 62 cultivated acres (25 ha) of the Government House land and 156 acres (63 ha) in the outer Domain. He also designed private gardens; probably the best known is at Coombe Cottage, Dame Nellie Melba's home at Coldstream, near Lilydale.

Melbourne's Botanic Gardens had gained world-wide repute before Guilfoyle retired in September 1909. He then lived at Jolimont and is credited with the attractive treatment of the creek which runs through Fitzroy Gardens. In 1890-91 and 1896 he visited England and Europe.

Guilfoyle did not neglect botanical studies in order to indulge his genius for landscape gardening. He started the medicinal ground in the gardens and also grew plants of economic value. His publications included First Book of Australian Botany (1874), revised and reissued asAustralian Botany Especially Designed for the Use of Schools (1878); The A.B.C. of Botany(1880); Australian Plants (1911?) and many pamphlets.


Address:Birdwood Avenue, Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, 3000
GPS Coordinates:Lat: -37.830616
Long: 144.977196
Note: GPS Coordinates are approximate.
View Google Map


Monument Type:Monument
Monument Theme:People


Front Inscription

William Robert Guilfoyle 1840 - 1912

Director of the Melbourne Botanic Gardens 1873 - 1909

"when nature has work to be done she creates a genius to do it".  Emerson

Source: MA
Monument details supplied by Monument Australia - www.monumentaustralia.org.au
Proudly sponsored by UBC Web Design