Daniel Bunce

This is the grave of the man behind Geelong’s Botanic Gardens, Daniel Bunce.

Daniel had been born in London and apprenticed as a botanist and seed collector at Kew Gardens – the Royal Botanic Gardens in London. He decided there would be an opening for his skills in the colonies, so he brought his collection of seeds from British and European trees, and migrated here in his early 20s, collecting more seeds wherever his ship stopped to take on supplies, notably in South America and South Africa.

His intention was to essentially begin a tree nursery in the colony, but found that he was at least a century ahead of his time. He tried to set up stores in Hobart, Sydney and Melbourne, but took a job as a mine manager in Bendigo while applying for jobs as curator at the new Melbourne and Adelaide Botanic Gardens. He failed in both applications. 

Meanwhile, Geelong’s council, newly rich from the gold rushes, had reserved a spit of sandy land for its own Botanic Gardens, but its first two curators had failed to grow much because the land was poor and infested by goats.

Daniel applied to be the third curator at Geelong, and made a deal with Council that he would use his collection of tree seedlings if Council would fence the area to keep the goats out.

Geelong today has one of the most significant Botanical Gardens in the world, much thanks to Daniel Bunce’s original tree collection. However his private life was both muddled and tragic.

In the 1830s in Tasmania, he married, aged 21 or 22, to either a Mary Westbrook or a Sarah Macrow. The records are incomplete. What happened to that lady is unknown, but we do know that he married Pelonamenia Batman, youngest daughter of John and Eliza Batman, on 24 March 1851. 

Pelonamenia had two children die in infancy, then she, too, died. Daniel buried her further up the hill in the Church of England section of Eastern Cemetery, close to her mother, who, we remembered we had already met – she having been murdered in Geelong West.

After Pelonamenia’s death, Daniel married Julia O’Connor in 1860. They had four children while living in a house inside the Botanic Gardens. But in August 1889, all four of their children died within three days in a diphtheria epidemic.

Julia and Daniel had one other child before he died on 4th July 1872 and Julia lived until the age of 72 and died in 1914. They’re buried together with the four children.

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