John Ednie Brown

Have you ever purchased a seedling in a tube? This world-wide practice owes its origins to an expatriate Scot, John Ednie Brown, South Australia’s first Conservator of Forests. After appointment, he sailed from Plymouth in the Garonne, and arrived in Adelaide on 15 Sep 1878.

John Ednie Brown was the son of James Brown, Deputy-Surveyor of Woods and Forests and an expert on European forestry, and his wife Jeannette, née Erskine. John was educated in Edinburgh and left school at 15 to take up his father's profession. After three years with his father, learning the practical management of nurseries and reporting on forest management in England and Scotland, John Brown was sent to a large estate in Aberdeenshire where he learnt the profession of forester. He subsequently spent time in England laying out forest plantations and managing estates.

In 1871–72 Brown visited the United States and Canada, gathering more useful information on trees and forests. While in Canada, Brown was offered the position in South Australia.

As part of his work he experimented in the Government Bundaleer Forest on appropriate plantation trees for the forestry industry. Established in 1876, the Bundaleer Forest was Australia's first commercial forest. Today’s forest features magnificent century old specimens of oaks, elms and other European species, the results of these experiments. Brown, his colleagues and successor, Walter Gill, selected Pinus radiata and of course that species is one of the main softwood timbers of today.

In concert with Adelaide-born Rosa Catherine Fiveash, a prominent botanical illustrator, and the lithographer, H Barrett, Brown published in parts over an eight year period, The Forest Flora of South Australia (1882-1890) which remains a fine example of colour lithography.

As part of his work Brown devised the concept of planting the tree seeds in short lengths of bamboo and over the years this has evolved into the black plastic tube small tree seedlings are found in today. The original bamboo tubes van still be inspected at Bundaleer.

In 1890 John Ednie Brown was poached by the New South Wales Government as Director-General of Forests. Ironically the work in NSW proved unchallenging and in 1895 he moved to Western Australia where he died at Cottesloe on 26 October 1899.

John Brown married Bertha Amelia, the daughter of James Doughty Willshire at North Adelaide Christ Church on 22 March 1883 and the couple had three sons.

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