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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Brabyn, John (1759–1835)

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

John Brabyn (1759?-1835), military officer and settler, entered the army in 1778 and seems to have become a recruiting sergeant before he was appointed an ensign in the New South Wales Corps on 6 May 1795. He sailed with his Spanish wife Mary (d.1796), son and daughter from Ireland next year in command of the military guard in the Marquis Cornwallis. On the voyage he dealt severely with an attempt by Irish convicts, aided by their guards, to take the ship. After he arrived at Port Jackson he was posted to Norfolk Island, where he was granted a lease of nineteen acres (7.7 ha) in October 1796 and performed useful service as a trader, though not in rum. He was promoted lieutenant on 15 August 1800 and soon afterwards returned to Sydney. In September 1801 he was one of the four officers who examined John Macarthur's pistols before his duel with William Paterson; they discovered defects which were thought to justify Macarthur's extraordinary action in loading them himself when the duel took place. Despite Brabyn's part in this affair, next month he was granted 200 acres (81 ha) by Governor Philip Gidley King. On 14 October 1802 he married Sarah Denison née Howard, the widow of a free settler. Next year he was stationed at Parramatta, where he bought more land, and in March 1804 he won praise from King for helping to quell the Irish convict rising.

After his return to Sydney, Brabyn played an important part in events leading to the deposition of Governor William Bligh in January 1808, for he was a member of the court whose actions at the trial of John Macarthur precipitated the governor's 'arrest' by the military. By continuing to side with Macarthur after the 'rebellion', he incurred the wrath of Major George Johnston, but in November 1808 when an officer was needed at Port Dalrymple, Brabyn, whose promotion to captain had been gazetted in February, was sent to take charge there. Although Paterson thought his discipline too severe, Brabyn carefully obeyed his instructions, pressed on with government buildings, and proved to be one of the best of a poor lot of commandants at Port Dalrymple. He was replaced by Major Gordon in January 1810 and returned to England with the 102nd Regiment.

In January 1812 he returned to Sydney in the Guildford with William Lawson and Archibald Bell, to join the newly formed New South Wales Veteran Company. In March 1816 he expressed the wish to become a settler and Lachlan Macquarie granted Mrs Brabyn 500 acres (202 ha) at Evan. Brabyn himself went to England. The War Office would not allow him to sell his commission, but as a perquisite the commander-in-chief promised to recommend him for a grant. He returned in the Larkins in command of the guard, with permission to receive the usual indulgences as a settler. In 1819 he took up a grant of 1200 acres (485 ha) at Prospect and became an industrious farmer. Not until 1824 was he allowed to retire from the Veterans, but then did so on full pay. He had been appointed to the bench at Windsor in January 1818 and in 1824 reported favourably on the working of trial by jury in courts of sessions. He was one of the founders and keen supporters of the Hawkesbury Benevolent Society, a trustee of the Windsor Charitable Institution, vice-president of the Windsor Bible Association and on the committee of the Agricultural Society. He resigned from the magistracy in 1829 and died at his home, York Lodge, in Windsor on 1 August 1835.

In 1845 his widow complained to Governor Sir George Gipps that her pension of £50 had been stopped in order to satisfy a claim for six cows lent by the government to her husband in 1811; in a generous moment the Colonial Office ordered that her pension be fully paid. One of Brabyn's daughters married the son of Samuel Marsden; another, by a former marriage, married Peter Mills at Launceston.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of New South Wales, vols 3-7
  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 1-13, 24, series 3, vol 1 and series 4, vol 1.

Citation details

'Brabyn, John (1759–1835)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 31 October 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 1

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