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Davenport, Sir Samuel (1818–1906)

by Beverley A. Nicks

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

Samuel Davenport (1818-1906), by Hammer & Co.

Samuel Davenport (1818-1906), by Hammer & Co.

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 7507

Sir Samuel Davenport (1818-1906), landowner and parliamentarian, was born on 5 March 1818 at Shirburn, Oxfordshire, England, the fourth son of George Davenport, banker, and his wife Jane Devereux, née Davies. His father, descendant of an old Cheshire family, became an agent of the South Australian Co. and a director of the South Australian Banking Co.; in 1839 with two partners he paid £4416 for a special survey of 4000 acres (1619 ha) and a town reserve and sent his son Francis to South Australia to select the site. Francis arrived at Adelaide in February 1840 and applied for the land near Port Lincoln; in June he cancelled that claim and selected the survey on the upper branches of the River Angas. There the new township was named Macclesfield, but before surveys were completed he visited England.

Samuel and his brother Robert arrived at Adelaide in February 1843. With Samuel was his wife Margaret Fraser, only daughter of William Lennox Cleland, barrister, of Calcutta; they had married on 1 June 1842. The brothers soon moved to Macclesfield where they managed the survey after Francis died on 8 April 1843. Samuel and his wife lived in a stone cottage on sixty acres (24 ha) at the township of Macclesfield while Robert bought nearby Watergate. With an annual allowance from his father, Samuel was able to 'gain colonial experience . . . without . . . being crowded with fears for a year or two of the extent of success'. His first ventures were mainly in mixed farming and he experimented with almonds and vines which had first interested him while in the south of France as a youth. He later bought a run at Rivoli Bay where he ran some 6000 sheep, but disease killed half of them in full wool. In 1860 he bought Talowie near Port Augusta and turned to horses and cattle; his success upheld his contention that large-stock holdings were the chief source of profits in South Australia. From 1849 he lived mostly at his home in Beaumont where he later gave land for a common. At Macclesfield Davenport was genuinely concerned with the welfare of his tenants and made his rental terms attractive to prospective settlers in the area. From the outset he maintained the traditional values of the liberal squire; for instance, in December 1843 he wrote of the Christmas fare which he and Robert as proprietors had provided for their tenants at Macclesfield; one of the first cricket matches in the colony was included in the festivities. Without the leisure and comforts of many English country gentlemen, Davenport continued his interest in reading and he ordered many publications from England both for his private and a community library. He was also interested in geology and mineralogy and in technological developments.

In 1846-48 Davenport was a nominee in the Legislative Council where he opposed state aid to religion. He contested Hindmarsh without success in a by-election in 1854 but in 1855 was nominated to the part-elective Legislative Council. He was elected to the first Legislative Council under responsible government in 1857 and with (Sir) James Fisher administered the oath of allegiance to the councillors on 22 April. He served as commissioner of public works from March to August in the Finniss ministry and in September under Torrens. In May 1861 he was asked by Governor Sir Richard MacDonnell to form a ministry but failed; in 1866 he resigned from the council.

Davenport was an ardent promoter of agriculture and new industries in South Australia. In 1864-72 he published several pamphlets, three of them dealing with the cultivation of olives and manufacture of olive oil, silk and tobacco in the colony. For his great interest in these subjects he was elected president of the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society and later of the South Australian branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia. He was also a trustee of the Savings Bank, a director of several companies and for twenty years president of the Chamber of Manufactures. In 1849-52 he served as a city commissioner. In 1860 as a trustee of the Poonindie institution he gave evidence to the select committee on Aboriginals. In 1851 he represented the colony as executive commissioner at the Great Exhibition in London, and at exhibitions in Philadelphia in 1876, Sydney in 1879 and Melbourne in 1880, at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in 1886 and the International Exhibition at Melbourne in 1888.

He was knighted in 1884 and in 1886 appointed K.C.M.G. and given an honorary doctorate by the University of Cambridge. A patrician figure, he died at Beaumont on 3 September 1906. His wife had predeceased him on 6 February 1902; they had no children. He left an estate worth £6400 mainly to his nephew. Obituarists praised his 'honourable record both in public and private life' and both Houses of parliament adjourned for his funeral.

Select Bibliography

  • B. S. Baldwin (ed), 'Letters of Samuel Davenport, Chiefly to His Father, George Davenport 1842-1849: Part 1: 1842-43', South Australiana, vol 6, no 1, Mar 1967, pp 17-56, 'Part 2
  • February-September 1844', vol 6, no 2, Sept 1967, pp 70-116, 'Part 3: October-November 1844', vol 7, no 2, Sept 1968, pp 59-83
  • B. A. Cocker, Special Surveys and the Wakefield Theory (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Adelaide, 1967)
  • V. T. Sumfield, Memorial Notices of Sir Samuel Davenport (State Records of South Australia)
  • Davenport letters (State Records of South Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Beverley A. Nicks, 'Davenport, Sir Samuel (1818–1906)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/davenport-sir-samuel-3371/text5095, published in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 1 November 2014.

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

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