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Atkinson, James (1795–1834)

by T. M. Perry

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

James Atkinson (1795-1834), settler and author, was born in 'middle-Kent', England, probably at Oldbury, near Ightham. He arrived in Sydney in the Saracen in May 1820 and in July succeeded Michael Massey Robinson as principal clerk in the colonial secretary's office at a salary of £60. He obtained two grants of land totalling 1500 acres (607 ha), and located them in the newly settled Bong Bong district, naming them Oldbury after his father's estate and Mereworth after a Kentish town. Both grants were issued in 1822, but Oldbury was occupied during 1821 and he resided there after he resigned his government post in July 1822.

In 1825 he returned to England where he wrote An Account of the State of Agriculture & Grazing in New South Wales … (London, 1826). In 1826 he visited Saxony with Charles Macarthur to buy sheep, and published 'Remarks on the Saxon Sheep Farming …' in the Australian Quarterly Journal in 1828. He returned to Sydney in the Cumberland (1826) and became engaged to Charlotte Waring (1796-1867), who was coming to the colony to become governess to the Hannibal Macarthurs. He was married at St Paul's, Cobbity, on 29 September 1827. In June he had been made a justice of the peace and, both before and after his visit to England, he took an active interest in the work of the Agricultural and Horticultural Society and its Stock Club, the Benevolent Society and the Sydney Institution. His great interest was in farming and its improvement. While his book aroused much criticism because of his remarks about the inefficient methods of the 'poorer sort' of farmers, the Agricultural and Horticultural Society regarded it as a 'judicious and ably written treatise' and awarded him a gold medal. It was an important work, for not only did it describe the methods practised in the colony at the time, but it emphasized the problems that all the colonists, knowingly or unknowingly, were facing: the problems of adapting European plants, animals and farming methods to a strange environment. With experience in Kentish farming and an active interest in the innovations of the 'agrarian revolution', Atkinson was one of the progressive farmers who in writing and practice tried to raise the efficiency of farming in New South Wales: ploughing competitions, stock-breeding, cheese-making and dingo eradication all claimed his attention. In 1829 he published in Sydney, On the Expediency and Necessity of Encouraging Distilling and Brewing from Grain in New South Wales.

He died at Oldbury on 30 April 1834 after a painful and lingering illness: 'a gentleman of considerable literary attainments, and, as a practical agriculturalist … second to none in the Colony', according to the Sydney Gazette on 3 May. 'His frugality and economy on his farm operated as a most useful example to the generally extravagant and even profligate habits of all ranks in this Colony', commented the Sydney Monitor on the same day. He left property valued at more than £4000. He was survived by his wife who in 1836 married George Bruce Barton, by a son James John Oldbury (1832-1885) and a daughter Caroline Louisa Waring (1834-1872), novelist and naturalist. His first child Charlotte Elizabeth (b.1828) lived to a ripe old age at Orange.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 10-12
  • C. T. Burfitt, History of the Founding of the Wool Industry of Australia (Syd, 1907), p 60-63
  • J. Jervis, ‘The Wingecarribee and Southern Highlands District: Its Discovery and Settlement’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 23, part 4, 1937, pp 247-300
  • manuscript catalogue under James Atkinson (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

T. M. Perry, 'Atkinson, James (1795–1834)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/atkinson-james-1726/text1893, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 15 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

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