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Burges, William (1806–1876)

by M. Tamblyn

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

William Burges (1806-1876), settler and resident magistrate, was born at Fethard, County Tipperary, Ireland, the second son of Lockier Burges, medical practitioner, and his wife Isabella.

In October 1829, together with his two younger brothers, he sailed in the Warrior for the new colony in Western Australia, where in 1830 his property qualification entitled him to a grant of 8053 acres (3259 ha) of land. Settling first at the Upper Swan, the three brothers in 1837 moved to the York district, where with William as their leader they established Tipperary; it became one of the finest properties of the Avon valley and by 1840 carried more than a thousand sheep.

Although he visited Ireland in 1841-44, William Burges was consistently interested in community affairs. He was active in forming the York Agricultural Society which became mouthpiece of the Avon valley settlers; in 1847 he was its secretary when it drew up a petition for the transportation of convicts to Western Australia. He was appointed an officer of the Roads Trust for the York district and in 1846 a local magistrate.

In 1850, with his brother Lockier, he applied for land in the newly discovered Champion Bay district. Leaving Tipperary to his brother Samuel, he moved north 350 miles (563 km) to establish the Bowes station, where by 1857 he was grazing sheep on 93,000 acres (37,636 ha). As a big pastoralist he was intensely interested in stock-breeding, importing stud merino rams from England and thoroughbred horses from Ireland.

In 1851 Burges was appointed first resident magistrate of the Champion Bay district, a difficult position that he held until December 1859. White penetration of an Aboriginal area had produced conflicts which he strove continually to prevent. With the establishment of a convict depot at Port Gregory and with his further appointment as sub-collector of customs in 1853, his duties increased. Care of his large district required constant travel: in 1853 he rode 905 miles (1456 km) in five weeks, holding court at the various centres, inquiring into causes of shipwreck and mutiny, supervising the hiring of ticket-of-leave men and everywhere trying to control the illegal sale of liquor in a socially unstable community.

In 1860 Burges returned to Ireland, only visiting Western Australia again in 1868 and in 1875-76. On the second visit he was appointed a nominee member of the Legislative Council but held the position only two months, his main contribution being a vain bid to reform electoral abuses and to introduce voting by ballot. Unmarried, he died in Ireland on 16 October 1876 and was buried at Fethard.

Although his letters and reports do not reveal a man of great imagination or of powerful intellect, William Burges made valuable contribution to the development of early Western Australia. As a wealthy pastoralist he was open to attack by less successful settlers who resented the domination of the great landowners. Yet his vigour, initiative and tenacity were the qualities most needed in the foundation years and especially in the establishment of the pastoral industry. As a faithful public servant, his stability of character was clearly reflected in his tireless work in a remote district at a difficult period.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, Western Australia), 1875-76
  • G. J. Kelly, A History of the Champion Bay District (M.A. thesis, University of Western Australia, 1958)
  • Colonial Secretary's Office, inward letters from resident magistrate, Champion Bay, 1851-60 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • S. Burges diary, Nov 1840–Mar 1841 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • L. Burges diary, 19 Apr-Sept 1841 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • W. Burges diary, Apr 1845–July 1846 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • York Agricultural Society minute book, 1840-57 (State Library of Western Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

M. Tamblyn, 'Burges, William (1806–1876)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/burges-william-1852/text2149, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 22 November 2017.

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

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