Pioneer Horticulturist of Moreton Bay

Jocelyn McLaren writes…

My Great Grandfather, William Soutter, was born at Eiht in County Aberdeen in 1850 where all his family appear to have been farmers.  He went to Hull in England as a young man where he married and where their three children were born.  They migrated to Australia in 1882.  He acted as schoolmaster on the voyage until an epidemic of measles closed the school, when he and his wife assisted the medical superintendent in caring for the sick.  He went to work at Garsbrook station for the McConnell’s as a gardener on his arrival in the colony and in 1885 he was appointed overseer at the Queensland Acclimatisation Society’s gardens opposite the General (Royal Brisbane) Hospital. 

(From its inception in 1862 at the instigation of the Governor of Queensland, Sir George Bowen, the Queensland Acclimatisation Society focussed on contributing to the development of Queensland’s fledgling agricultural industry. It imported plants that had commercial potential and conducted experiments to determine if they could be adapted to Queensland’s tropical and sub-tropical climate. Plants researched included sugar cane, bananas, cotton, apples, pineapples, pasture grasses, maize, olives, mangoes, pecan nuts and macadamia nuts. Many of these became important agricultural crops in Queensland.)

Aviary and Acclimatisation Gardens at Bowen Park, Brisbane, ca.1889 (Photo State Library of Queensland)

William Soutter was associated with this Society – later as Secretary-manager, in some form or another until their closure at that site.  There was quite a big court case over the lease before they were forced to surrender it.  I have followed his movements over the years through the Post Office directories of Queensland.  He was State Inspector of Farms for a number of years – a job he left to become overseer at Peel Island.  

This farm was situated on Peel’s Bluff and was run by the inmates of the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum in 1905/6. References  in the state archives refer to his time there:

  1. On 2nd February 1906 W.Soutter of Peel Island had written complaining that quantities of corn requisitioned for had not yet been forwarded.

3017    On 5th March he had written again complaining of a delay in forwarding seed requisitioned for 16th February.

  • on 14th Feb Mr Soutter had reported on improvements at Peel Island and had indicated that he was willing to rent the farm from the Department under certain conditions.

5084 – 4979 – 5573 re his services being dispensed with.

5709 – 4993 – 6054 1st May. Offering for sale pigs, poultry etc for use at the Benevolent Asylum

6057 – 5709 – 6201 further re sale of pigs etc to Dunwich

The Bluff, Peel Island

William Soutter was associated with the Queensland Ambulance Transport Brigade.  He was editor of an agricultural journal for several years.  He was a well-known Horticultural Judge for the RNA (before it had the ‘Royal’ added to its name).  My mother has a copy of an Illuminated Address awarded to him for his work in this field.  

His family always expected him to receive a knighthood but after he left the Society, one of his farming ventures at his property at Sunnybank resulted in him being declared bankrupt, I think it may have been to do with him growing tobacco at Sunnybank.  A couple of years ago all the family gathered at Sunnybank celebrate the naming of a park there after his property “Coolibah”.

We know he sent aboriginal artefacts back to the Aberdeen University but although I went to the University Museum when I was in Aberdeen in 1993, their records of donors to the museum don’t start til the early 1900s.

Excerpt from ‘Moreton Bay Letters’ by Peter Ludlow (now out of print)

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