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Dalrymple, George Augustus (1826–1876)

by C. G. Austin and Clem Lack

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

George Augustus Frederick Elphinstone Dalrymple (1826-1876), explorer, public servant and politician, was born on 6 May 1826, the tenth son of Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Dalrymple Horn Elphinstone of Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and his wife Graeme, née Hepburn. He was the younger brother of Ernest Dalrymple. He left Scotland in the 1840s and became a coffee planter in Ceylon. He arrived in Australia between 1856 and 1858 and went to the Darling Downs where he was unable to take up land as he had intended. The unoccupied north attracted him and in February 1859 he published in Brisbane Proposals for the Establishment of a New Pastoral Settlement in North Australia. His proposed syndicate soon attracted subscribers and he organized an expedition to explore the Burdekin River watershed (Kennedy district). His party, including Ernest Henry and Philip Sellheim, set out from near Rockhampton in August and reached the site of Bowen.

The Queensland government countermanded the decision to open the new district for settlement in January 1860 and the syndicate's plans to tender for runs were forestalled. In compensation Dalrymple was made commissioner for crown lands in the Kennedy district. In August he went with Lieutenant J. W. Smith in the Spitfire to explore the coast and examine Port Denison as a port of access for the Kennedy. As officer in charge of the proposed settlement of Bowen, Dalrymple then planned the expedition to establish the township and led the overland section. After he arrived Bowen was proclaimed on 11 April 1861. He was soon beset by official duties in a frontier town and by problems of administering the new Land Act, but neglected his mounting clerical tasks for more adventurous field-work. When Dalrymple went south on sick leave he fell out with his superior, Augustus Gregory. In 1862 when several land commissioners, including Dalrymple, were to be replaced by professional surveyors, he resigned rather than accept alternative posts offered him in Bowen.

Early next year with Walter Scott, his brother Arthur and (Sir) Robert Herbert as 'sleeping partner', Dalrymple formed Scott Bros Dalrymple & Co., took up on the Valley of Lagoons run on the Upper Burdekin River, and became its manager. He brought in his large collection of books and pictures but was often absent from the station. At Rockhampton he was drawn into a minor scandal involving a friend's wife; while vindicating his own and his friend's honour Dalrymple assaulted the police magistrate, John Jardine, and was fined £500. In 1864 Dalrymple and Arthur Scott established Cardwell on Rockingham Bay as a port for inland stations north of Bowen. The expedition, initiated by the company but with official backing, included James Morrill and John Dallachy. Dalrymple led a small party inland to the Valley of Lagoons and returned, hacking out a dray route to the coast.

Dalrymple sold his interests in the company to go into politics. In March 1865 he was elected the first member for Kennedy in the Legislative Assembly. He was colonial secretary in Herbert's ministry from July to August 1866 but held no other office, although as a supporter of the Northern Separation League and its president in 1866 he was favoured as premier for the proposed new colony. He did not contest Kennedy in 1867 but went to Britain to recover his health. He returned to Queensland in 1869 and with A. J. Bogle took up Oxford Downs on the Upper Burdekin. The venture failed, as did his imported traction engine which proved impracticable on northern roads. Insolvent, he was lucky to get a government post as assistant gold commissioner on the Gilbert diggings in October 1871. Next year he had charge of the diggings and was also sent to find a route for a telegraph over the Sea View Range near Cardwell. In September 1873 he led an official exploration of the coast north of Cardwell. They reached the Endeavour River in October, just before Cooktown sprang up as the port for the Palmer goldfields. They returned to Cardwell in December and Dalrymple, sick with fever, went to Brisbane. He hoped to explore the coast north of Cooktown but in 1874 was given charge of the government settlement at Somerset on Cape York. He sailed for Somerset in May but soon after he arrived was incapacitated by fever and a stroke. He was taken south by mail steamer and granted leave in September. After a summer in Scotland he went to St Leonards, Sussex, where he died, unmarried, on 22 January 1876.

Dalrymple had been elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in November 1867. He was a successful explorer, a dashing leader, restless, impatient of official parsimony and red tape. Through his policy of vigilance and restraint he seldom had trouble with the Aboriginals on his expeditions. Dalrymple's appreciation of natural beauty is amply expressed in his exploration reports. Many features of northern Queensland commemorate his name and many more were named by him.

Select Bibliography

  • G. C. Bolton, A Thousand Miles Away (Brisbane, 1963)
  • J. Farnfield, Frontiersman (Melbourne, 1968)
  • G. C. Bolton, ‘The Valley of Lagoons: A Study in Exile’, Business Archives and History, vol 4, no 2, Aug 1964, pp 99-116
  • CO 201/508/461
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

C. G. Austin and Clem Lack, 'Dalrymple, George Augustus (1826–1876)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dalrymple-george-augustus-3357/text5059, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 23 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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