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Burgess, Francis (1793–1864)

by G. M. O'Brien

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

Francis Burgess (1793-1864), by unknown artist (photographed by J. W. Beattie)

Francis Burgess (1793-1864), by unknown artist (photographed by J. W. Beattie)

Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001125647313

Francis Burgess (1793-1864), police magistrate, was a son of Francis Burgess of St Martin's parish, Leicester, England, and nephew of Thomas Scott (1747-1821), commentator on the Bible. After receiving a lieutenant's commission in the 54th Regiment, he served in 1813-14 in Holland and Brabant, and next year in the Waterloo campaign. Placed on half-pay, he first intended emigrating to Canada, but instead enrolled at the Middle Temple, London, was called to the Bar in May 1835, and joined the Midland Circuit. In September 1839, after two years as senior judge of the summer circuit and lucrative engagements as law reporter, he was appointed chief commissioner of police for Birmingham. Three years later, with testimonials to his active, intelligent and judicious service, he was strongly recommended by Sir Robert Peel and Sir James Graham, the Home Secretary, to succeed Captain Matthew Forster as chief police magistrate at Hobart Town. Sailing in the Asiatic 'after abandoning all his professional prospects in London, selling his property at a sacrifice, and sinking a large sum in outfitting himself', he arrived in the colony in September 1843.

Burgess found his new office both important and exacting. He was responsible for superintending the constabulary and magistrates in charge of police districts, compiling extensive statistical returns, collecting licence fees and generally enforcing the law, and had extra duties and correspondence arising from the large convict population. Under Burgess's able and energetic administration, his department achieved a high degree of efficiency. In June 1846 his abilities were honoured with his appointment as judge during the session of the Criminal Court at Norfolk Island, but ill health forced his return to Hobart in September. He was gazetted a member of the Executive Council in October 1843, and in July 1847 was appointed to the Legislative Council.

When transportation ended, the large police department was no longer necessary. A board that considered the duties of his department in June 1854 advised the appointment of an inspector to handle the lessened administrative duties and of twenty-one magistrates with more direct responsibility; a bill to abolish the office of chief police magistrate was also proposed. Burgess had been given the added responsibility of bench magistrate in 1855, and when threatened with retrenchment in 1857 he sought to be continued as magistrate to spare him degradation and pecuniary loss. Despite his excellent record his petition only secured him a pension of £170 in lieu of his previous annual earnings of £760. He was further embittered by rejection of his application for an army officer's land grant, and he refused appointment as serjeant-at-arms offered him in November 1857. He was elected in October 1856 to the Legislative Council, easily defeating his opponent, Dr John Coverdale, for Cambridge. In 1857, although he was then in receipt of a government pension, he was permitted to retain his seat, but resigned when appointed stipendiary magistrate at Richmond in 1859. At this time he bought Belmont, Richmond, and retired there in March 1862 on a pension of £300. He died on 24 February 1864. His wife Amelia survived him seventeen years, dying on 14 September 1881 at the age of 88.

Distinguished among his family, most of whom accompanied him to the colony, Ellen (1821?-1908) became locally known as an artist. Murray (1824?-1906) the second son, was appointed first clerk in the Medical Department on 17 May 1844, and in July 1855 secretary to the Board of Education, where his literary aptitude and qualifications brought him success. From January 1863 until his retirement in 1872 he was inspector of schools, and secretary to the Council of Education. A Shakespearean scholar, elocutionist and theatre critic, he was noted as a conversationalist. He married Emma, daughter of Dr James Ross, and had a family of three sons and nine daughters.

Another son, Gordon Walter Haines (1833?-1876) achieved renown as surveyor of the Tasmanian Lake district. He was appointed contract surveyor in 1850 and worked west of Lake St Clair before resigning in April 1854. He spent some time in Western Australia, but finding the climate unsuitable he returned to Tasmania, and in 1860 was surveyor to the expedition under Charles Gould, the government geologist, who found his obliging nature and expert assistance in cutting a track along the range invaluable. He accompanied Gould's gold-seeking expedition to the south-west in 1863, taking responsibility for cutting tracks along the Franklin and King's Rivers, in the course of which he rediscovered the track of the Franklin expedition in 1842. He spent much of his short surveying career working in the north-west, where he discovered and named the Tully and Henty Rivers. In 1864 he covered the country between Waratah, Sandy Cape and Cape Grim. He died on duty at Alma Pass in the Lake district on 24 January 1876.

Select Bibliography

  • C. I. Clark, The Parliament of Tasmania: An Historical Sketch (Hob, 1947)
  • Journals (House of Assembly, Tasmania), 1860 (5), 1863 (10)
  • Tasmanian News, 27 Sept 1856
  • Mercury (Hobart), 27 Jan 1876
  • correspondence file under Burgess (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • LSD 1 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

G. M. O'Brien, 'Burgess, Francis (1793–1864)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/burgess-francis-1853/text2151, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 11 December 2017.

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

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© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017

Francis Burgess (1793-1864), by unknown artist (photographed by J. W. Beattie)

Francis Burgess (1793-1864), by unknown artist (photographed by J. W. Beattie)

Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001125647313