On 17 January 1890, R.C.K. published ‘Mildura: there and back,’ in the Northern Argus (Clare, South Australia). The author begins by stating that on Monday 23 December 1889, ‘we arrived at the site of the future garden of Australia,’ where he met a man named Dearest and accompanied him to the office of the Mildura Cultivator. Dearest wished to pay his subscription, ‘and satisfy himself that the paper was printed at Mildura.’ This article is not only a fabulous depiction of the settlement in Mildura and its burgeoning fruit growing industry but offers an insight into the complexities and contrasts in William Clarson’s life.
‘(We) were introduced…to Mr. William Clarson, F.L.S. the horticultural editor… (and) a distinguished botanist, as the letters affixed to his name indicate. It is well-known what an exclusive society the Linnean is, and that a man must be a cut above the ordinary to be admitted. Mr. Clarson kindly told us how he became a member. He had been hon. director of the Horticultural Society’s Gardens at Cremorne, Melbourne; in fact the founder of them. When he gave up the charge to visit England, Baron Von Mueller sent for him, and loaded him with introductions to celebrated Continental and English botanists and scientists, amongst whom was Dr. Hooker of Kew Gardens London. To this gentleman Mr. Clarson took a collection of Australian plants, and introduced some of our botanical specimens there for the first time. This led to a friendship which grew closer, and eventuated in the doctor proposing Mr. Clarson as a fellow of the Linnean Society. He was seconded by the late Charles Darwin, and their influence and Mr. Clarson’s Australian reputation resulted in his election.’
The following morning R.C.K. and his companion visited Clarson’s experimental garden, known in Mildura as the Cultivator garden. ‘This garden is talked of as a marvel, and so it is, but its permanency has yet to be proved. It is new soil just broken up, and with plenty of water there is not much done that could not be done in almost any part of Australia. But whether this can produce year after year admits grave doubt.’ While R.C.K.’s summation of Mildura’s suitability for gardens lacked conviction in this instance, his reporting on his visit and subsequent meeting with Clarson, speaks of admiration.
On 26 July 1872 the Horticultural Society of Victoria published the proceedings of their annual general meeting that included a testimonial to Clarson. It was during this meeting that they tabled and accepted Clarson’s resignation as Director on the grounds that he was leaving for England. A presentation of an address was made to Clarson, thanking him, detailing his work, and awarding him a purse of thirty sovereigns. The Chairman stated that ‘The society is largely indebted to you for increasing the prosperity attending its efforts, and we bear our testimony to the zeal and untiring energy evinced by you in furthering by every possible means its interests. We know the work has been to you a labour of love, but we are convinced that it has been done at a very large sacrifice of valuable time and comfort to yourself.’