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2001 Paul Barlow


History of Thomas W. Pockett

The father of chrysanthemums in Australia.
Information provided by Ray Webb, Chrysanthemum Society of Victoria, Australia,
and David Pockett, great grandson of Thomas W. Pockett.

Born at Cheltenham, England in the year 1857
T.W. Pockett was born at Cheltenham, England in the year 1857 and leaving school at the early age of 10 or 11, his first job was in the employ of a nursery farm. At the age of 18 he was appointed plantsman to Lord Falmouth, and shortly afterwards became foreman gardener to Mr J.A.Elwes of Colesbourne Park, at the age of 20. He won his first prize for Chrysanthemums at Cheltenham 19. At the age of 21, he married Louisa Baylis and came to Australia, mainly I understand at the request of an uncle who had previously emigrated, and had spoken of the wonderful opportunities this new land offered. After 6 months at wood chopping on the River Murray and wasted opportunity and losing all the precious money he and his young wife had saved in England, they certainly could not return to England had the finances permitted, but from now on it was to be a hard struggle for some years.

1878 it was in this year he arrived in Victoria,and Chrysanthemums were out of the question until the year 1882. About this time becoming head gardener to a T.K. Scott of Toorak Victoria, and this gentleman gave him every encouragement with his plant growing. It was here he gained a first class award for the best kept gentleman's garden within 5 miles of the Melbourne G.P.O.

 

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Success in 1884, tragedy in 1885

1884 it was in this year at the V.H.improvement Society hall in Melbourne, that he was able to display his skill in the art of growing Chrysanthemums, not only of individual blooms, but specimen plants in 10 & 12 inch pots, from the records their was evidently a great amount of work and patience displayed in the cultivation of these plants and the competition was very keen ( In later years he remarked it took 3 furniture vans to convey his plants alone to the shows).

In The Leader  of May 10th, 1884 it published: As regards the flowers individually no improvement can be desired on some of those shown, and we question if finer flowers than those staged by Mr Pockett can be seen anywhere  . In 1885 he was smitten down with typhoid fever and very nearly succumbed to this illness. As it was, a son aged 2 years contracted this epidemic and unfortunately died. 

About 1886 he purchased 2 blocks of land in Malvern Victoria, and in 1888 he was busily engaged with his own home in Malvern Road and was able to errect  a small greenhouse in this he was able to settle down and concentrate on the work of raising seedling chrysanthemums. This was to later be the scene for many thousands of seedling Chrysanthemums. Interest in the growing of Chrysanthemums was on the upgrade, and a prize of 3 pound sterling was given by the RHV for the best essay on the subject - Chrysanthemums Pot Grown . In gaining this award, one of the Melbourne daily papers had this to say  "It will be observed that Mr Pockett has written specially from an Australian view point. His is no way a compilation from books or papers, but the lessons of his own matured experience and therefore all the more valuable".

1888 - Malvern Public Gardens

In 1888 he relinquished his position as head gardener at Toorak and was approached by members of the Malvern Shire Council to prepare a plan of sandy barren waste with the view of converting it in to a municipal garden at Malvern Gardens. This he did and was appointed curator of the Shire of Malvern and all of it's attendant gardens. He workd with Malvern Shire for 30 years, retiring in 1918. To this day there is a plaque attached to the main entrance gates on Ascot Street acknowledging his design.

The City of Stonnington (formerly City of Malvern) also recently further acknowledged T. W. Pockett as part of their "Federation Markers" Project. This is a project which acknowledges the major contributors to the history, character and culture of the City and who lived in Malvern at the time of Australian Federation (1901). T.W. Pockett was on the first list of 25 notable citizens who also included a former Australian Prime Minister and other very well known Australians. The project is to be formally concluded by the placement of plaques in various places noting the contribution of the person along with various interpretative signage. It is anticipated that another plaque will therefore be placed soon in the Malvern Gardens.

After retirement from Malvern Shire he then moved to Heallesville and embarked on another life's work - running "Pocketts Chrysanthemums" with his son John who distributed them at Cowley Nursries, Healesville.

From 1892 onwards ......

From 1892 onwards the interest in Chrysanthemum culture became widespread and the raising of new cultivars became widespread, and in the raising of new varieties there had become a struggle for supremacy.

From records dated 1896,  the first chrysanthemum show at Malvern and on reading the report of this first show for pots plants open to all, Master W. Pockett secured first  for the three  and one Japenese and one Chinese variety respectively,  William is the eldest of the family and has in his own right has been one of the most constant and successful exhibitors of Chrysanthemums at all leading shows for very many years.

Back on the breeding front there was a time when America looked like contesting the claims of French and British growers, but it was a curious fact that the keenest opposition came from an Australian grower Mr Thomas. W. Pockett who commenced to distribute his novelties in 1897 and since then by his annual distribution of new varieties world-wide acquired a reputation for the production of flowers of the highest quality. To produce the distribution of cultivars he had to send them to a Mr C.H. Totty who lived in America. He did this by sending his stools packed in hessian packages to Mr Totty, who in turn reproduced the cuttings in America and was able to distribute them to Britain and to Europe this being the shortest distance. The UK part of this arrangement was handled by Mr. Wm. Wells - they were known as "the big three".

In later years a relationship was formed with Woolmans in the UK and many fine varieties were released to UK growers, e.g. Duke of Kent and Shirley Primrose.

1945 - O.B.E. award

He received the OBE in 1945.  It was at the time the first OBE ever awarded for services to Horticulture in Australia.

A lifetime in horticulture

During his lifetime he had many interests other than with Chrysanthemums including with roses, water lilies, dahlias etc. and was at various times made life member of a wide range of Horticultural Societies and organisations including the National Rose Society. He also designed many of the major public parks and gardens in the inner eastern area of Melbourne including Central Park Malvern, Malvern Gardens, Caulfield Park Caulfield, Central Gardens in Hawthorn, Barkley Gardens in Richmond and Hopetoun Gardens in Elsternwick.

1952 - the end of an era

T.W. Pockett passed away on 1st November 1952, aged 95 years. As far as can be established from old records, the chrysanthemums grown by the late Thomas Pockett, the father of chrysanthemums in Australia, were first shown in 1884.

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Mr and Mrs TW Pockett
on the occassion of their 50th Wedding anniversary 13th May 1928
Mrs Pockett is holding a bloom of her namesake 'Louisa Pockett'.

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The late Thomas W Pockett OBE
A lifetime amongst chrysanthemums
1857-1952

Repoduction of text and pictures from "A biography of the life and work of the late Thomas W Pockett. OBE", written by John B Pockett in 1958, with kind permission of David Pockett, great grandson of Thomas W Pockett. (June 2000).

Footnote:
There is a separate page listing many of  Thomas Pockett's chrysanthemum cultivars, some of which were released in the U.K. and are still grown and exhibited today.

Link to Pockett's varieties page for variety descriptions and some pictures.


If you would like further information or wish to comment on this publication please send your e-mail to: paul.barlow@chrysanthemums.info

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Last updated on 27 December, 2001