With an Ashes cricket series in progress, this tale of two cricketers, one an Australian and the other an Englishman, is topical, albeit that only the Australian was an international player of renown while his English counterpart, born 96 years earlier, was but an enthusiastic village cricketer.
The Englishman, Joseph Hardwick Pemberton, was born into a well-to-do family in 1852, and lived his entire life of 73 years in his ancestral family home in the village of Havering-atte-Bower, Essex. His happy childhood days were reportedly made even happier by playing in the large garden with informal winding paths overgrown with shrubs and punctuated by numerous old roses grown by his grandmother. It was there that young Joseph’s love of roses germinated, and even as a small child he insisted on wearing a rose bloom in his buttonhole when he attended church with his family.
As a young man Pemberton studied theology, became a curate and was eventually the inaugural priest of the Church of Ascension at nearby Romford. In his spare time, he followed a variety of interests in addition to cricket. He was a breeder of horses, but it was his love of roses that led to his lifelong hobby of exhibiting and eventually breeding the loveliest of all garden plants.
At the age of 22, Reverend Pemberton began exhibiting roses from the long established garden at the family home, which by that time was occupied only by himself and his sister Florence, five years his junior. Neither Joseph nor Florence ever married and they lived together there until Joseph’s death in 1926. Florence soon became as immersed in exhibiting roses as was her brother and they were inseparable joint exhibitors at rose shows for many years.
It was almost inevitable that Pemberton would eventually dabble in breeding roses. When he emerged onto the scene as a breeder, however, it wasn’t with the aim of producing exhibition blooms. His aim was to establish robust varieties which would bloom for long periods while retaining the charm of the old roses in the Pemberton garden. As the foundation stock for his breeding line, Joseph chose a shrubby rose ‘Trier’ from a German breeder, Herr Peter Lambert. By introducing carefully selected elements from roses in his late grandmother’s collection, Rev Pemberton gave birth to a unique grouping of roses which were later classified by leading rosarians of the day as Hybrid Musk roses. Pemberton, who became a nurseryman on his retirement from the clergy at age 60, himself adopted the term ‘Hybrid Musk’ soon after.
Following Joseph’s death in 1926, the nursery continued under the management of Florence Pemberton and in total, the Pemberton nursery introduced close to fifty new varieties, two of their early successes being Hybrid Musk roses ‘Pax’ and ‘Moonlight’. Another popular creation was ‘Pemberton’s White Rambler’. ‘Robin Hood’, introduced the year following Joseph’s death, became a parent of numerous Kordes roses, including ‘Iceberg’.
And so to the Australian cricketer, Max Walker. Following Walker’s retirement from an illustrious test cricketing career, he became a popular author and a pioneer of the after-dinner speaking circuit. He was (and still is) a larger-than-life character and a wonderful storyteller. When asked how one person could possibly have witnessed so many outrageously hilarious incidents in a relatively short period as an international sportsman, Walker replied “I never let the truth stand in the way of a good story”.
An English rose nursery’s website advertises three of Rev Pemberton’s roses as “The Vicar’s Daughters Collection”, claiming ‘Penelope’, ‘Cornelia’ and ‘Felicia’ were named after Joseph Pemberton’s daughters. Did the nursery’s marketing guru follow Max Walker’s example, or could it be that the bachelor vicar had a dark secret?