Launceston Up Close

  Stories, tall and small about Launceston, Tasmania

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Ronald Campbell Gunn - A Colonial Administratve Acheiver

Posted on 19 November, 2017 at 0:50

Ronald Campbell Gunn, born in 1808 and died in 1881, was rated as Tasmania’s most eminent botanist even though his prime positions were of a public nature. He held many roles in public life including, but not limited to, being a member in both houses of the Tasmanian Parliament.

Gunn, whose family were not related to the family of Launceston builders of the same name, was born in Cape Town, South Africa, the son of a British Army officer. As a child he followed his father’s postings to Mauritius and the West Indies until of an age where he was educated in Scotland.

In 1829, at age 21, he arrived in Van Dieman’s Land where he was positioned as superintendent of convicts in Hobart Town. He obviously impressed the right people, or maybe he didn’t, because the next year he was superintendent of convicts for the whole of northern Tasmania at age 22!

He was also encouraged to indulge in his love of botany which gave his many and varied excursions around the state a double purpose.

Gunn was instrumental in establishing the Launceston Horticultural Society in 1838 and turning what was a field of thistles into today’s City Park – a peaceful haven walking distance from the city centre. A bronze statue of Ronald Gunn is there located, celebrating his contribution to Launceston and Tasmania.

He also initiated the formation of the Hobart Horticultural Society which was established in 1839, just after Launceston!

As his skills in public office became more apparent, he was endowed with the offices of Police Magistrate (of Circular head), then assistant Police Magistrate of Hobart, and in 1839 he became private secretary to Governor Sir John, and Lady Franklin. He was also clerks of the executive and legislative councils, and would have no doubt contributed to the creation of the rules, regulations and laws of the early days of Tasmanian self rule.

In 1855 he was elected to the Launceston seat for the Legislative Council which he gave away to win the seat of Selby in the House of Assembly. Gunn retired from parliament in 1860 and became a commissioner for crown lands amongst other government jobs.

All the time in any role, he spent time discovering and cataloguing and preserving samples of Tasmanian flora and fauna. He collected mammals, birds, reptiles and shellfish which were sent to the British Museum. He even collected algae! And in 1854 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society.

As if he did not have enough diversions, he also studied geology part time and was employed by the government to report on mining and potential mining across the colony.

His opinion was highly valued, and in 1864 Gunn was one of three Australian commissioners seconded by the Govt of New Zealand to choose a new capital for NZ. They followed his recommendation of Wellington rather than Auckland.

His first love was always botany and he continued to collect and catalogue samples. Despite his intimate knowledge of Tasmanian wildlife and plants, trees and so on, he did not author any major tomes off his own bat, though he did contribute to a number of papers and was editor of the Tasmanian Journal of Natural Science. He also contributed to the London Journal of Botany, and wrote the section on zoology in Rev John West’s ‘The History of Tasmania’.

Amazingly, Ronald Gunn also had time for a family! His first wife died at the birth of their sixth child, and with his second he had nine more children.

Ronald Gunn semi retired back to Launceston where he became Recorder of Titles and lived just out of town in an area called Newstead. In 1876, he retired due to ill health and finally passed away in March of 1881.

Ronald Campbell Gunn, 1808 – 1871, was a colonial mover and his contribution to the development and statehood of Van Dieman’s Land/Tasmania is probably overlooked in the whole scheme of things, but we know, don’t we! A cheer for Mr Gunn, and his work to build this town, and this state!

Path through Launceston's immaculate City Park, once called 'The People's Park'.  A feature on our Morning Heritage Walking Tour.

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