Type in what your trying to find.


Photo mystery: who are these women?

Sandi Pullman

Sandi Pullman

May 25, 2015

Do you recognise any of these women in the picture with William Guilfoyle, the Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne (1873-1909)?

Guilfoyle and mystery women

Guilfoyle and mystery women (Photo courtesy Melbourne RBG Library)

You know how you used to doddle with pen and paper, letting thoughts or pictures express themselves, well I did the equivalent by playing around on Google and seeing what came up on Burnley Gardens.

Ina Higgins in garden, Killena 1919. National Library of Australia

Ina Higgins in garden, Killena 1919. National Library of Australia

And bingo – something new did come up; an obituary on this amazing woman Ina Higgins who I knew was one of the very first women to study at the Burnley School of Horticulture (1899-1900). She is one of the first women we know of in Australia who went out to work as a qualified horticulturist/landscape gardener*. Women of her class did not go out and work for strangers and receive payment. It was quite scandalous! But she also hated sitting around at afternoon tea parties gossiping. It seems that wasn’t her thing.

Guilfoyle 'in about 1880' (Pescott, in 'W R Guilfoyle' p. 14)

Guilfoyle ‘in about 1880’ (Pescott, in ‘W R Guilfoyle’ page 14)

After doing some digging I found several references that she had studied with William Guilfoyle who was the Director of the Royal Botanic Garden, Melbourne (1873-1909).


And so naturally I contacted the RBG library and they had never heard of Guilfoyle running classes; all they had was this picture and that it was in R.T.M. Pescott (1974) book on W.R. Guilfoyle, 1840–1912: The Master of Landscaping. From the women’s clothes the photograph taken is c.1900 but the RBG library has no idea who took the photo or where it is. None of the women look like Ina but my gut feeling is that they are women students from Burnley. I also can’t prove they are Burnley students as the Burnley Archive has very few records of the early students thanks to our first principal Charles Bogue Luffman burning his papers in 1908, so putting names to faces is almost impossible.

I also dived into the resources at the State Library of Victoria which holds the Journal of the Department of Agriculture of Victoria, which in one of the articles written by Luffman mentions in 1903 that William Guilfoyle did hold lectures at Burnley.

So if anyone recognises any of these women, I would love to hear from you.

POSTSCRIPT 24 September 2015 – the mystery is solved! After months of sleuthing, I found it. 

Trove is a wonderful resource. Got a hint from the Clarence and Richmond Examiner NSW 25-8-1903, looked up The New Idea: a women’s home journal for Australasia August 1903 and…there is the picture of Guilfoyle with the ladies.

3 page article called Practical Gardening for Women An Open-air Lecture pages 147 – 149, microfilm LtM104 1 Aug 102-6 Jan 1904. No by-line. The group of women were from The Prahran Frances Willard Club having an afternoon lesson in the flora of the Domain. The founder was a Mrs. Hobbs.

There are 3 pictures and the one above titled “Mr. Guilfoyle makes a Joke” (Kodaked by W.A.S.)
Trove also has more about the Club. I don’t think Ina Higgins was a member although she started something similar in Richmond in 1896.

Very exciting to find!

Ina Higgins in 'John Higgins the Rebel Judge' by John Rickard, 1984.

Ina Higgins in ‘John Higgins the Rebel Judge’ by John Rickard, 1984.

A Little about Frances Georgina Watts Higgins, known as Ina Higgins
Ina was an amazing woman. She believed strongly in education especially for girls; that women should be able to vote, they should receive the same pay as man (100 years on and that issue is still going on today) and the ability to earn enough money to support their family. She advocated horticulture wherever and whenever she could. There are many articles on Trove about her and how suitable for women it is.

Born in Ireland September 1860 Fermoy Cork, Ina and her family Immigrated to Australia in 1870, as one brother had died of consumption and Henry apparently had weak lungs. Her mother Anne was the strength of the family and her father was Reverend John Higgins, a Methodist Clergyman who became missionary in Australia. Her siblings were Henry Bourne Higgins who was president of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration and later a justice of the High Court of Australia, George (an engineer), Samuel (a doctor) and John junior (an accountant) whose daughter was Janet Gertrude Palmer (nee Higgins) writer and critic. Ina’s only sister was Anna.

Ina was one of the first girls to go to Presbyterian Ladies College (PLC) when it opened in 1874. She sat her matriculation exams in 1879 at Melbourne University and 3 of her brothers studied there, as did Anna who was one of the first women to study at Melbourne Uni. Ina wanted to become an artist after meeting Arthur Streeton but decided on Horticulture instead.

Ina was a suffragist and a social feminist which means those who are concerned with challenging capitalism and male supremacy or patriarchy. With Mrs. Laura Luffman’s (a suffragist) help, she convinced Charles Luffman to allow women to come to lectures.

Australian suffragist Vida Goldstein

Australian suffragist Vida Goldstein

Through her own contacts and possibly Henry and George, Ina knew or met the most amazing people, such as suffragist Vida Goldstein (PLC), Dame Nellie Melba (PLC), Marion Mahony Griffin, Lady Talbot, Adela Pankhurst and Henry Hyde Champion (socialist) who married Vida Goldstein’s sister Elise and published Charles Bogue Luffman (socialist?) The Principles of Gardening for Australia, 1903.

Projects that we know she was involved with were:
• Royal Talbot Epileptic Colony (now Monash University site, Clayton)
• Was invited by the NSW Government (Mr. Wade) to help with the planting plans of Leeton and Griffith in NSW which were being designed by Walter Burley Griffin
• In 1914 was involved in establishing a farm in Mordialloc to teach women how to grow their produce to sell for extra money called The Women’s Rural Industries Co. Ltd and had the backing of the Mr. E.E. Pescott (1909-1916) and John McLennan (1917-1921), principals of Burnley
• Henry Higgins own ‘Heronswood’ in Dromana and Ina was involved in the garden
• Designed the garden at Heatherset in Burwood (now the site of PLC)
• Ina established and Patron of the Women’s Horticulturist Association of Victoria

Ina never married and lived in the family home Killenna in Malvern. She died in 1948.

[* There were other women working in other states but The Burnley School of Horticulture was the first education institution in Australia and she was one of the first graduates who worked.
One of her last projects was the ‘Centenary Gift Book’ to celebrate the part the pioneer women played in settling in our state. Nettie her niece was one of the editors and invited Ina to contributed and article titled ‘Women and Horticulture’.]
0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Anne Vale
9 years ago

well done on finding all that Sandi hope you get a good response there certainly is a gap of knowledge between Ina and Olive Mellor at Burnley

Greg Johnson
Greg Johnson
8 years ago
Reply to  Anne Vale

Hello Sandi

I have a copy of students at Burnley (first Annual Rept of Bogue Luffman and can send scan

Sandra Pullman
8 years ago
Reply to  Greg Johnson

Hi Greg
Sorry to take so long to reply. Would love a scan. Will you send it to Catherine and who could forward it to me? Or do you want my email address?
Cheers Sandi

Catherine Stewart
8 years ago
Reply to  Sandra Pullman

Hi Greg, What a marvellous thing to have discovered! You can send it to info.com