Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bacon, Anthony (1796–1864)

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

Anthony Bacon (1796-1864), soldier and colonial promoter, was the son of Anthony Bacon of Benham, near Newbury, Berkshire, said to be one of England's richest commoners. After five years at Eton he had a whirlwind career as a cavalry officer, serving in Spain, France, India and Gibraltar. In 1823 he married Lady Charlotte Mary Harley, daughter of the earl of Oxford and Ianthe of Byron's dedication to Childe Harold. Both were recklessly extravagant although Bacon's father, after high words, usually paid his son's debts. As major in the 17th Lancers Bacon introduced important new cavalry drill, but he was passed over in 1826 when the colonelcy was purchased by George Bingham. Bacon protested angrily to the Duke of Wellington and sent in his papers; when they were returned, he sold his commission. His father died in 1827 leaving a heavily encumbered estate, and Bacon fell on evil days.

In November 1829 he was committed for debts of more than £4000 to King's Bench Prison, where he and a fellow prisoner, Robert Gouger, were given much information by Captain Henry Dixon about the southern coast of Australia. On his release Bacon took his family to Dunkirk whence he wrote on 2 February 1831 to Sir Herbert Taylor of the Horse Guards seeking help for appointment as governor either in Van Diemen's Land or in a new colony which he asked permission to establish at Spencer Gulf. His letter was sent to the Colonial Office where a similar proposal for Gulf St Vincent had been lodged a few days earlier by Gouger. Although neither plan evoked any official warmth, Bacon returned to London to elaborate his scheme, claiming that after much correspondence he had rejected the Swan River settlement because of its poor harbour, and insisting that his proposed colony would support itself as he had the prospect of ample funds to take out 500 families with their equipment, livestock and provisions. By May he and Gouger had a joint plan for a colony to be founded by a land company at no cost to the mother country; on submitting it to the Colonial Office, they were asked for more evidence on soil and climate. Some scrappy evidence was hastily collected and a revised plan, written by Bacon, was printed, and on 25 August presented by a deputation to Goderich who asked for further amendments before a charter could be considered. Five days later Bacon tried to force the government's hand by advertising in the Spectator that approval had been granted. Although sharply reprimanded by the Colonial Office, he repeated his rash claim in a circular to 'monied friends in the City'. The deceit was soon exposed and Bacon had to resign temporarily from the promoters' committee. However, he still hoped to become governor, and in 1832 bought and completely refitted the Nereid for more than £3000, borrowing right and left and withholding payment of the dockyard workmen.

Proposals for the South Australian Land Co. were finally rejected in August 1832, James Stephen dryly commenting that 'their willingness to assume a lucrative employment, connected with great patronage, little labour and little work … scarcely entitles them to assume a very high tone in negotiating with the government'. Desperate to evade his creditors, Bacon offered to take a small expedition in the Nereid to survey the southern Australian coast. When this was refused, the gallant major bade adieu to his debts and colonial dreams and set forth to espouse the cause of Don Pedro in Portugal.

Within a month Bacon formed and trained the Queen's Lancers with mercenaries of many nations, and as its colonel helped to rout the Miguelists at Oporto. In the battle for Lisbon he was promoted general and awarded a knighthood of the order of the Tower and the Cross, but after Don Pedro's death in 1834 the war ended and Bacon lost his command for looting and selling horses. His next years were spent in England and Portugal vainly seeking redress, arrears of pay and reimbursement of his own money spent on the regiment. During the Crimean war he had an abusive public correspondence with George Bingham, then earl of Lucan, on the use of British cavalry at Balaclava. After a long illness he died on 2 July 1864 at Crondall, near Farnham, Surrey, according to Lord Anglesey 'the best cavalry officer he had ever known'. His widow and two children made their home in Adelaide. After long litigation over her father's estate, Lady Charlotte returned to England in 1877 as his heiress and died in 1880.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Tolmer, Reminiscences of an Adventurous and Chequered Career at Home and at the Antipodes (Lond, 1882)
  • A. J. Boger, The Story of General Bacon (Lond, 1903)
  • R. M. Hague, General Anthony Bacon (Adel, 1940)
  • D. Pike, Paradise of Dissent (Melb, 1957)
  • Register (Adelaide), 1, 18 Dec 1866, 5 Jan 1867
  • CO 13/1, 323/168.

Citation details

'Bacon, Anthony (1796–1864)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bacon-anthony-1729/text1901, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 18 December 2014.

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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Birth

1796
England

Death

2 July 1864
Crondall, Surrey, England

Cultural Heritage
Occupation