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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Blackall, Samuel Wensley (1809–1871)

by A. A. Morrison

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Samuel Wensley Blackall (1809-1871), by Arthur Levett Jackson

Samuel Wensley Blackall (1809-1871), by Arthur Levett Jackson

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, IMP09/11/68/165

Samuel Wensley Blackall (1809-1871), governor, was born on 1 May 1809 in Dublin, son of Major Robert Blackall of the East India Co. army, and his wife Catherine, née Lewis. A member of a prosperous Irish family, he was educated by a private tutor and at 15 went to Trinity College, Dublin, but did not graduate. He joined the 85th Regiment in June 1827 but in 1833 he sold his commission as lieutenant and entered the Royal Longford Militia, where he became a major. In 1833 he married Catherine Bowles in London and in 1848 Catherine Bond at Dublin; his second wife died in 1864 predeceased by their two children.

Blackall took an active part in Irish public life, becoming high sheriff of County Longford in 1833: in 1847-51 he represented Longford in the House of Commons, and in 1861 became high sheriff of Tyrone. Meanwhile he had been lieutenant-governor of Dominica in 1851-57. Through seeking to rule with a high hand he had to combat a petition for his recall. He was also in trouble with the Colonial Office for extending his leave because of family difficulties. In 1862 he re-entered the colonial service as governor of Sierra Leone, in 1865 became governor in chief at the West African Settlements and in 1868 was appointed governor of Queensland.

On arrival in Brisbane on 14 August Blackall was met by a tremendous popular welcome, but at once was plunged into a constitutional crisis, which had been temporarily held in check by the administrator, Sir Maurice O'Connell. After a deadlock in the Legislative Assembly the Liberals had been defeated in an election but were petitioning the governor to dissolve the assembly on the ground that it did not properly represent the colony. Perhaps because of his experience in Dominica or because his health had suffered in West Africa, Blackall pursued a strictly constitutional course and refused to intervene directly. The crisis did not end until the rule of his successor, the marquis of Normanby. Despite the bitterness of the constitutional battle Blackall made no personal enemies, though he had to face a few personal attacks. Kindly and soft-spoken, he had developed the gift of making friends and became very popular. Willing to assist any genuine public cause, he made frequent appearances on public platforms. He worked hard to improve agriculture and to link the Queensland grammar schools with the University of Sydney.

By 1870 Blackall's health was failing rapidly and he knew the end was near. In 1870 when the government decided to set aside a new cemetery reserve at Toowong he inspected the area and selected the highest spot for his grave. At the same time he requested that his funeral be such as could be attended by even the humblest. Three months later, on 2 January 1871, he died and his wishes were gratified. A fine memorial was erected over his grave, the first in the cemetery. His memory is also preserved by the town of Blackall, the Blackall Range, and the first Queensland government steamer, Governor Blackall, bought by Charles Lilley when premier of Queensland in 1870.

Select Bibliography

  • C. A. Bernays, Queensland—Our Seventh Political Decade, 1920-1930 (Syd, 1931)
  • Brisbane Courier, 1868-70, 3 Jan 1871
  • Queensland Express, 1868-71
  • Town and Country Journal, 7 Jan 1871
  • CO 71/116-120, 234/20-26, 267/281.

Citation details

A. A. Morrison, 'Blackall, Samuel Wensley (1809–1871)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 9 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Samuel Wensley Blackall (1809-1871), by Arthur Levett Jackson

Samuel Wensley Blackall (1809-1871), by Arthur Levett Jackson

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, IMP09/11/68/165