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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bathurst, Henry (1762–1834)

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

Henry Bathurst (1762-1834), by Henry Meyer (after T. Phillips), 1810?

Henry Bathurst (1762-1834), by Henry Meyer (after T. Phillips), 1810?

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an9288625

Henry Bathurst, third Earl Bathurst (1762-1834), politician, was born on 22 May 1762, the son of the second Earl Bathurst (1714-1794), who was lord chancellor from 1771 to 1778. Bathurst was a member of the House of Commons from 1783 to 1794 when he succeeded to the earldom. He was lord of the admiralty 1783-89, lord of the treasury 1789-91, commissioner of the board of control 1793-1802, and was a member of the cabinet as president of the board of trade 1807-12, and briefly foreign secretary in 1807. In Lord Liverpool's ministry he was secretary of state for the colonies from 1812 to 1827. In 1828-30 he was lord president of the council in Wellington's ministry. He died on 27 July 1834.

Bathurst was a capable minister and a Tory of moderate opinions. He opposed parliamentary reform, was a strong supporter of the Church of England in the colonies, was sympathetic to William Wilberforce and the Evangelicals, and strove to ameliorate the conditions of slaves in British possessions, though he did not favour immediate abolition of slavery.

With Henry Goulburn, under-secretary in 1812-21, Bathurst reorganized the Colonial Office, introduced Blue Books and established routines. He was a conscientious and clear-headed administrator, though his habitual jocularity and self-effacing manner tended to conceal these qualities from casual observers. Wilmot Horton, who succeeded Goulburn as under-secretary, praised his 'first-rate practical good sense' and 'rapid yet discreet view of intricate subjects' and affirmed that 'for a daily sedulous discharge of the peculiar duties of his office as Colonial Secretary, no public man who has ever filled that situation has been more remarkable' (Exposition and Defence of Earl Bathurst's Administration … London, 1838). Bathurst delegated much responsibility to his under-secretaries, yet his crabbed writing appears on countless dispatches. By 1817 he was worried that 'transportation to New South Wales was becoming neither an object of Apprehension … nor the means of Reformation', and that the colony was becoming too expensive. He therefore decided to send out a commission of inquiry. The three reports by John Thomas Bigge persuaded him that transportation should be continued, but he ordered changes in the administration and in the land policy of the colony.

Governor Lachlan Macquarie named the site of the first inland European settlement across the Blue Mountains in New South Wales in honour of the colonial secretary in May 1815. Bathurst became Australia’s first major gold mining centre in the 1850s, and was the birthplace of Joseph Benedict Chifley (1885-1951), prime minister from 1945 to 1949.

Citation details

'Bathurst, Henry (1762–1834)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

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

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Henry Bathurst (1762-1834), by Henry Meyer (after T. Phillips), 1810?

Henry Bathurst (1762-1834), by Henry Meyer (after T. Phillips), 1810?

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an9288625

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • third Earl Bathurst
  • Bathurst, third Earl

22 May 1762


27 July 1834

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence