Australian Dictionary of Biography

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de la Condamine, Thomas (1797–1873)

by G. D. Richardson

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

Thomas de la Condamine (1797-1873), by unknown photographer

Thomas de la Condamine (1797-1873), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 18696

Thomas de la Condamine (1797-1873), soldier, was born in Guernsey, the third son of Jean de la Condamine and his wife Elizabeth, née Coutart. He was educated at the Royal Military College, commissioned as an ensign in June 1814 and appointed to the Royal Staff Corps in November 1815. Promoted lieutenant in March 1825 he was transferred to the 57th Regiment and in December he arrived with Governor (Sir) Ralph Darling in Sydney as aide-de-camp. For the next five years he served as one of the small and trusted band of staff officers who were prominent in executing the governor's administrative and other reforms. On arrival in New South Wales he was appointed military secretary without pay, and in April 1827 was recommended by Darling for appointment as collector of internal revenue. Thereupon he conditionally resigned his commission, but the secretary of state, William Huskisson, declined to confirm the appointment. From November 1827 Condamine acted for two years as private secretary at £300 a year and from September 1827 to December 1828 as clerk of the Legislative and Executive Councils with a further £800 a year.

These pluralities and the apparent favouritism that led to them were criticized by the Monitor and other papers, although Edward Hall commended him for investing his wealth in bank stock instead of lending it at usurious rates to distressed settlers. He bought eighteen acres (7 ha) of St Philip's glebe lands in 1828, but lost more than £1200 in the financial collapse of 1843 as a shareholder in the Bank of Australia. His relative youth and supposed inexperience as a subaltern of an infantry regiment drew adverse comment, and at the same time he was unfairly criticized for not having done duty with his regiment. But his probity was unquestioned and his industry and increasing administrative ability gave him an influence and status far above his military rank. John Dunmore Lang later claimed that 'civil affairs of the Colony were as much at the disposal of Lieut. Condamine of the 57 Regt. as ever those of England depended on the power of a minister of State', and he implied that other civil officials found this galling. Such criticisms, however, were directed through Condamine at Governor Darling.

Condamine lived as one of Darling's household, enjoying his esteem, confidence and support, and the friendship of the governor's family. He accompanied the governor on his tours of inspection and became well acquainted with the topography of the colony as well as with its affairs. Allan Cunningham in June 1827 named Condamine's River (now the Condamine) as a compliment to him. He was also one of the chief agents of the governor in assisting educational and philanthropic activities, and for this he was well suited by temperament and disposition. He took an active and honorary part in the management of the Female Factory at Parramatta, and Darling credited him with suggesting the principal improvements made there. He laboured particularly at the Carters' Barracks in Sydney where at one time eighty boys were being educated, instructed in trades and, when necessary, corrected under his unwearied superintendence. The Sydney Dispensary, the Auxiliary Bible Society, the Female School of Industry, St James's Sunday School and the Benevolent Society all found him a ready supporter. Condamine's most enduring work, however, lay in the establishment of the Australian Subscription Library which, despite its inherent weakness of exclusiveness, survived to become the Public Library of New South Wales. As secretary from its inception in February 1826 until he left the colony, he organized it, bore the brunt of managing its affairs and guided it through the initial troubles arising from the delays in getting books, the high cost of premises and the low literary taste of many of its members.

He left New South Wales in February 1831 and returned to England. In July he gave evidence before the select committee on secondary punishments, with some emphasis on the exceedingly bad moral state of the colony. Next June he was promoted captain and transferred to the unattached list. He became a justice of the peace and died at Barfield, Ryde, Isle of Wight, on 24 June 1873. He left an estate of less than £4000 to his widow, Janet Mary, née Agnew, who died at Ryde on 21 June 1874, at the age of 73. He had at least two daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • biographical file on Thomas de la Condamine (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

G. D. Richardson, 'de la Condamine, Thomas (1797–1873)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/de-la-condamine-thomas-1974/text2389, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 19 December 2018.

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, 2006-2018

Thomas de la Condamine (1797-1873), by unknown photographer

Thomas de la Condamine (1797-1873), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 18696

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Condamine, Thomas
Birth

1797
Channel Islands

Death

24 June 1873
Ryde, Isle of Wight, England

Cultural Heritage
Occupation