Curator - Bill Crowe
There is much archival material about the Williamstown Botanic Gardens curator Bill Crowe on Trove, the National Library database. The following is the record of a talk on Bill Crowe given at our AGM in December, 2020.
Bill Crowe worked at the Williamstown Botanic Gardens from 1900 – 1938. He was appointed curator in 1912 and held the position till his death in 1938.
Newspaper articles describe a hard working curator who took pride in maintaining high standards of horticulture at the botanic gardens. He took all aspects of his job seriously.
Bill Crowe’s predecessor Samuel Thake (1899 – 1912) was highly regarded and some thought Mr Crowe would have his work cut out to match Mr Thakes’s prowess as curator. The doubters were proved incorrect. In March 1916 the Williamstown Advertiser reported that “Mr Crowe, it was thought, would have a heavy task in keeping the gardens up to the level they had attained under the direction of Mr Thake, but he has done it.” In a Williamstown Chronicle article of the same year, the reporter wrote, “the efforts of Mr Crowe and his assistants are deserving of high praise”.
A bit of botanic garden rivalry got a mention as well, when readers were told that they “do not need to go to Alexandra Avenue to see beauty in flowers and foliage”.
From the later years of the 19th century the WBG and the beach were a magnet for sightseers and there was always work for the garden staff clearing up after visitors on holiday weekends. On 5 January, 1929 the Williamstown Chronicle reported that over Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day there were 22,500 train bookings to Williamstown Beach Railway Station. Four hundred Chinese Nationalists arrived by a special train for a big picnic at the Gardens. The writer commented “Mr Crowe, who is an enthusiast in his work, had a busy time clearing up the holiday litter each day.”
Alongside his staff Mr Crowe was very involved in setting up the gardens for community events. An article in the Williamstown Chronicle, in March, 1926 reported on the function organised by the local Sailors and Soldiers Mothers’ Association for invalid WWI diggers. Mr Crowe and his assistants set up for the occasion and the diggers were refreshed by time spent in the gardens, and at the beach.
The newspaper articles tell us that Mr Crowe didn’t hold back in advocating on behalf of the gardens. Concentrates was a collection of local news snippets, published in the Williamstown Chronicle. In a short piece published in 1915 it was reported that Mr Crowe appealed to the council for help to stem the devastation wreaked by wandering cows. In a 1922 Concentrate, curator Crowe reported that the gardens toilets were closed because people were using them to change for the beach. He also asked that football clubs pay for any damages to the dressing room in the Gardens Reserve. In his view footballers and Williamstown High School students should not be allowed to practise within 50 yards of the pavilion, and access to the gardens should be barred to people dressed only in bathers.
Another of Mr Crowe’s responsibilities was to provide plants for council events. The Williamstown Chronicle reported on Saturday 16 June, 1934 that Mr Crowe provided shrubs, palms, golden privet and chrysanthemums for the town hall stage for the Hospital Ball and decorated the Supper Room with autumn foliage.
Mr Crowe was also responsible for street trees, and a 1914 article in the Williamstown Chronicle - with the headline Painting the Town Red - shows that, just like today, tree vandalism was a problem more than a century ago. The local police enlisted Mr Crowe to inspect two trees in Parker St, one four-years-old and one two-years-old. Two whisky-sozzled seamen had commandeered a handtruck, overturned tree guards, tore one tree up by the roots and attempted the same with the other. He pronounced that neither tree was likely to survive.
Mr Crowe’s horticultural expertise spread beyond Williamstown. Mention was made the Advertiser in October, 1916 that Mr Crowe had provided plants and advice to Footscray Park.
The Williamstown Chronicle reported in January, 1936 that Mr Crowe had spent the holidays in Williamstown Hospital for observation and X-ray treatment. He missed work over the Christmas and New Year period, the first time in 26 years he was not on duty at the Gardens. Bill Crowe died in the Curator’s Cottage on 9 January 1938 and his obituary, published in the Chronicle on 15 January, 1938 noted his courtesy to all.
There are several articles in the Trove archives that applaud Bill Crowe’s work. The following piece in the Herald, published on 14 December 1918 paints a vivid word picture of the Williamstown Botanic Gardens under Mr Crowe’s long curatorship. “For more than 16 years Mr W. J. Crowe...has been associated with all the schemes of plant adornment that have engaged attention. ...it is doubtful whether there is anything more attractive to be seen in the metropolitan area, from the cultural standpoint, than is presented all the year by Mr Crowe”. According to the writer the water lily lake was “as neat a piece of landscape designing as can be seen anywhere”, the fan palms were “particularly striking” and the intertwined bougainvilleas, roses and mandevillas created “a floral scene of exquisite beauty”.
Lavish praise for the Williamstown Botanic Gardens and its eminent and prodigiously hardworking curator, Bill Crowe.
You can read the source documents here.
(Photo and archive documents courtesy of Eileen Schelleman and Carl Tracey.)