1845 - 1914

La Gerche Mr John - Creswick Historical SocietyIf there is an unsung hero in Creswick’s history, it must surely be John La Gerche, the man who saw what devastation had been wrought on the landscape by the ruinous clearing of forest by timber cutters supplying the deep lead gold mines with props.  He determined to do something about it.

Born on the Isle of Jersey, in the Channel Islands off the coast of France, on May 22nd, 1845, he migrated to Victoria.  He had been well educated and was excited by what life might offer in a larger setting.

In 1870 he owned a small timber mill in the Bullarook forest but it did not prosper and by 1875 the bank foreclosed on the business.

Settling in the Creswick district he met and married Elizabeth Nora Bendixon, also of the Isle of Jersey who had also been in Victoria for several years. Perhaps they had known each other in Jersey.   Their wedding took place in Geelong on 14th July, 1871.

John worked first for the Public Works Department as a timekeeper and then moved to the Agricultural Branch of the Department of Lands as Crown Lands Bailiff and Forester, the job which would become his ultimate career.  It involved supervising the Ballarat and Creswick State Forest, growing tree plantations for mine supports and taking proceedings against people illegally removing timber.  In the moonscape left by the first gold rush, he had found his niche. 

He set up a nursery in Clunes Road, but later moved it to Sawpit Gully and commenced growing trees from harvested seed, and experimenting with numerous varieties of conifers.  He found that Pinus Radiata flourished and grew quickly for harvest.

By night, when wood poachers were active, John patrolled the countryside trying to prevent what trees remained from being stolen.  This was a highly dangerous part of his job, as many wood cutters were loath to part with timber when confronted and threated with legal action.  Over all though, John tried to be fair in dealing with the public and knew when to be sympathetic to a lawbreaker and when to prosecute.

In spite of the problems he faced and the lack of direct support he received from the Department, John was recognised by the Forest Conservator, George Perrin, who said that “the Ballarat and Creswick State Forest was the most valuable and best managed forest land in Victoria”.  High praise from a man not given to complimenting subordinates.

There were difficulties when Government regulations limited the size of trees that could be felled, for it was an industry that supported many men, felling, splitting, sawing and carting timber, not only for mines, but in all areas of domestic and industrial usage.  Pressure was placed on the Government to repeal the laws and success saw the continued felling of the old forest giants and the regrowth that followed.  La Gerche’s work in collecting and replanting the seeds of the eucalypts was vital to the restoration of the indigenous forest.  He also experimented with exotic trees such as oaks and some can still be seen growing in Sawpit Gully.

John La Gerche continued his valuable work until his retirement as Forester in 1897 and he later accepted a position as Assistant Inspector of Forests for Victoria.  The Sawpit Gully nursery later became the State Forest Nursery.

The significant and crucial work undertaken by John La Gerche is still there for all to admire and is a beautiful legacy to his foresight and tenacity.  A forest walk at the old Forest Nursery site, named in his honour, is a fitting tribute to him and his work.  He now also takes his place in the Creswick Civic Honour Roll.

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