Lady Denman: Surrogate tree-planting feminist who loved the outdoors and a good time

So who was Lady Denman? I first encountered her, legacy, on a weekend earlier this year. She planted some trees because previously visiting Royals forgot to, didn't have time to or where not asked to. We have more than 100 commemorative trees in Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria but none, that I can recall, are planted by someone in lieu of someone else.

My favourite of the Lady Denman plantings at the Watts River picnic ground near Fernshaw, about an hour and a half north-east of Melbourne, is an oak tree (see above) planted near to where true Royalty stood, grown from a seed collected on the property of said Royals in England.

I have since learned that Lady Denman, and her husband, Lord Denman, arrived in Australia before the outbreak of World War One and spent only three or so years in Australia. This 'Edwardian power couple' arrived in Canberra in 1911. He, Thomas, fought in the Boar War and was appointed Governor-General of Australia, our first 'non-Tory'. She, Gertrude (Trudie), was an 'outdoor-loving feminist who supported women's suffrage'.

While Governor-General, Lord Denman, and Lady Denman, were present at the foundation of the Australia's capital city in 1913. Indeed, Lady Denman announced to the gathered crowd the new name for the city, Canberra.

While this was not surprisingly a rather formal occasion, the Denmans were better known for their 'informality'. Unusually for any woman of the time, and particularly one of her standing, Lady Denman drove herself around in a car.

Lord Denman and Sir Winston Churchill were rivals, being the same age and both schooled at Sandhurst, with Denman being more supportive of Australia's stance during the war. The couple returned to England in 1914 due to Lord Denman's ill health and/or as the result of a 'passionate' affair between Lady Deman and one of Lord Denman's aides.

In Canberra, a road (Lady Denman Drive) is named after Lady Denman, and a suburb, Denman Prospect, named after the Lady and the Lord. In Melbourne there are a few streets and byways carrying this surname, such as Denman Avenue in Glen Iris, which may or may not be named after one or both of them.

But back to Fernshaw, and the sign at the base of this tree, inside the fence. It reads: "This oak was planted by Her Excellency Lady Denman on the 12th April, 1913 to commemorate the visit to Fernshaw on the 15th May, 1901 of her Majesty Queen Mary, then Duchess of York, Consort of his Most Gracious Majesty King George The Fifth. Her Majesty lunched close to this spot. The acorn from which this oak was grown was sent to Melbourne from the Royal Gardens Windsor Castle."

So let's unpick that. The Duchess of York, later Queen Mary (spouse of King George V), ate lunch near to this spot when she passed through in 1901. Later, or perhaps earlier, an acorn of English Oak, Quercus robur, was sent from the UK to Australia, apparently sourced form the gardens of Windsor Castle.

The resulting oak sapling was planted by the Lady Denman (I was going to write spouse of the Governor-General, but Trudie truly seems much more than that) 12 years after the visit of the Duchess who was by then Queen.

As to whether the Duchess simply forgot to plant a tree or wasn't asked, we are not advised.

Not far away is a Cork Oak, Quercus suber, also planted by Lady Denman in lieu of the then Duchess of York. Same planting date, same story. Another centenarian, and another oak. This one a little better adapted to our drying climate around Melbourne and with that gorgeous and useful bark.

Both are lovely trees though and a fitting memorial to an outdoor-loving, and apparently free-loving, feminist. As well as, a forgetful, or ill-advised, Duchess who ate her lunch nearby.

Images: Watts River picnic area off the Maroondah Highway near Fernshaw in January 2018, plus the Oak Tree lined view through Windsor Park looking towards the castle taken on Boxing Day, 2011.

Postscript: Botanical comrade, Neville Walsh, tells me that Denman, a town in New South Wales, is named after the couple. The town is of interest to Neville because it is home to Pomaderris reperta, and familiar to others due to its military barracks.


Daisy Debs said…
That Cork Tree is beautiful ! Always an interesting read here ! :)
Anonymous said…
Most interesting Loved the pictures of trees and the story.
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