Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Christie, William Harvie (1808–1873)

by David Haworth

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

William Harvie Christie (1808-1873), by unknown photographer

William Harvie Christie (1808-1873), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 06407

William Harvie Christie (1808-1873), military officer and public servant, was born at Ceylon, the eldest of six sons of Thomas Christie, medical inspector-general of Ceylon and sometime of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England, and his wife Mary, née Tolfrey. He was educated at Rugby and the Military Academy, Woolwich, where he qualified for the artillery. At Sandhurst he received a first-class certificate of the senior department. He joined the 80th Regiment as an ensign and became lieutenant on 6 March 1827 and captain on 24 May 1833. In 1835 he arrived at Sydney with his regiment and soon afterwards was appointed assistant engineer and superintendent of iron-gangs at Liverpool; he was promoted major on 9 November 1838. While at Liverpool he superintended two public works of colonial importance: the dam over the Georges River near Liverpool and the reservoir at Campbelltown. Both works were successful. When he left the people of Liverpool made a presentation, regretted the loss of his society, complimented him for his cordial co-operation and expressed their appreciation for the 'great improvements which under your direction have been made in the approaches to this town, in the draining of its streets, but more especially … in the completion of that noble work, the Liverpool Dam'.

In 1839 when quartered with his regiment at Windsor, Christie suddenly took ill and on medical advice sold his commission and left the army. He visited England and on his return applied for a post in the civil service. In 1840 he was appointed assistant police magistrate of Hyde Park Barracks and superintendent of the House of Correction on a salary of £182 10s. and quarters. Later he also became visiting magistrate of the new gaol at Woolloomooloo. He held his three offices until 10 June 1842 when Governor Sir George Gipps appointed him agent of the Church and School Estates, a post for which he had to provide a security of £1000. Christie held this job until 1 May 1852 at a salary of £150 with 5 per cent of his collections amounting to about another £250 a year.

In 1841 Christie had published A Love Story, anonymously signed by 'A Bushman'; it included some original verse and was dedicated to Lady Gipps, but according to Sir John Ferguson, Bibliography of Australia, vol. 3, 'possesses little merit and has the most meagre Australian reference'. However, it gives expression to Christie's religious ideas for he was a devout churchman and had strong beliefs. In 1842 he supported an association for introducing coolies and other Indian labourers into the colony, but the proposal was rejected by the Colonial Office. He became a member of the Immigration Board and in 1841-42 was secretary-treasurer of the Australian Club. From 1 January 1848 to 24 May 1852 he was also secretary of the Denominational School Board with a salary of £150. From 1 January 1847 to 1 May 1852 he was serjeant-at-arms in the Legislative Council, with another £100 a year. On 1 May 1852 he was appointed postmaster-general at a salary of £1000. In this office he was instrumental in withdrawing the 'exclusive privileges' of bankers, lawyers and merchants and establishing uniform postal rates regulated according to distance, the lowest charge being 3d. a ½ oz.

Christie was a nominee in the Legislative Council from 14 May 1852 to 29 February 1856. In 1858 in evidence to a select committee of the Legislative Assembly on retrenchment in the public expenditure, Christie defended the retention of his staff, argued that his department's efficiency could be improved only by the building of a more suitable general post office and claimed that business was increasing by 15 per cent each year. The committee proposed the introduction of a money order service to prevent money going astray in the mail; this department was established in 1862. When Christie retired on 1 October 1865 the position of postmaster-general became a political appointment and later was elevated to ministerial rank. Aged 65 Christie died of a heart disease at his home, Craigstone, in Point Street, Pyrmont, on 19 March 1873. He was predeceased by his wife Ellen, née Harrison, whom he had married at Manchester about 1839, and was survived by two sons and two daughters. His estate was valued at £6000.

According to an obituarist in the Sydney Morning Herald Christie was 'a conscientious, painstaking officer, attentive to the details of his business, and courteous to all in the discharge of his duties. Although somewhat quiet and reserved with strangers, the “Major” was frank and kindly with all who knew him well, and was not without decided powers of conversation'.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 22-26
  • Town and Country Journal, 29 Mar 1873
  • manuscript catalogue under William Harvie Christie (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

David Haworth, 'Christie, William Harvie (1808–1873)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/christie-william-harvie-3206/text4821, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 22 November 2017.

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, 2006-2017

William Harvie Christie (1808-1873), by unknown photographer

William Harvie Christie (1808-1873), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 06407