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George William Francis - A Man of Many Talents

Frome Park / Nellie Raminyemmerin (Park 11)

photo-icon Portrait of George William Francis painted by his daughter Emily Anson and donated to the Board of Governors of the Adelaide Botanic Garden in 1887.
photo-icon Adelaide Botanic Garden, circa 1860. This shows the south entrance with hexagonal sentry boxes for attendants at either side of the original wooden gates. Photo courtesy of State Library of South Australia, B 2774.
photo-icon Adelaide Botanic Garden, circa 1860. The old Adelaide Asylum (demolished in 1938) can be seen in the background. Photo courtesy of State Library of South Australia B 2773.

George William Francis brought a range of artistic and scientific talents to Adelaide when he arrived with his family in September 1849.

“I speak and write French, teach drawing, am the author of no less than 18 books of a scientific character, and belong to the Linnean Society and other learned societies of London.” (1850 Application to the Collegiate School of St Peter)

Francis worked as the first valuator for the City of Adelaide, then as a landscaper designing the planting of Victoria Square, the other City Squares and the gardens of Government House. He was also employed as a part time land assessor for the new areas developing around the City.

In 1855 he was appointed to the role he most sought - that of Superintendent (later Director) of the new Adelaide Botanic Garden on North Terrace.

Francis faced many challenges in establishing the Garden on a site that was dry in summer and flooded in winter. But by October 1857 when the Botanic Garden formally opened, it featured a summer house, a rosarium, iron framed seats and flower beds along the Main Walk as well as sections dedicated to medicinal plants, textile plants, bulbs and grapes.

In 1859 Francis placed advertisements in the South Australian Register seeking donations of “waterfowl and other birds (except eagles and hawks)” and “interesting and harmless wild animals, native or imported”. Soon the Botanic Garden also featured aviaries of exotic birds, and kangaroos, possums, wombats and lizards, as well as deer and llamas, following the style of The Regent’s Park in London.

In 1864 he designed a highly detailed ornamental layout for the Garden. What became known as the ‘Francis Plan’ proved to be the pinnacle of his decade-long career as Director, establishing the foundations of the Botanic Garden as it is known today. He died the following year in 1865.

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