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de Salis, Leopold Fabius (1816–1898)

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

Leopold Fabius Dietegan Fane de Salis (1816-1898), pastoralist and politician, was born on 26 April 1816 in Florence, Italy, the second son of Jerome Fane, fourth Count de Salis, and his third wife Henrietta, née Foster. Educated at Eton, he studied sheep farming near Jedburgh, Scotland. He reached Sydney on 18 November 1840 in the Royal George. With a partner he acquired Darbalara on the Murrumbidgee, where they built a public house and charged excessive prices at the station store. De Salis wrote 'Thro' very despair I determined to settle and content myself', and in 1844 he married Charlotte, daughter of George Macdonald. Next year the partners took up Junee station and by 1854 had added two other runs. In 1855 he sold out, planning to go to England; instead he bought Cuppacumbalong where he made improvements and planted Lombardy poplars along the river at Tharwa. He also introduced irrigation, pioneered the use of dams and made a lifelong study of meteorology.

A magistrate since 1844, de Salis was active on the bench: in 1866 he asked the colonial secretary for a detective to inquire into the shooting of cattle by a fellow magistrate. In December 1864 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Queanbeyan. A loyal supporter, he told his friend, Henry Parkes, in November 1868 that it was 'in our best interests to educate the Catholics'; he also recommended the introduction of an income tax, to which labourers should contribute 'as an insurance against misfortune or improvidence'. His knowledge of local land conditions enabled de Salis to see both sides of the squatter-selector disputes: known as 'the selectors' friend', he opposed large estates but wanted more certain tenure for the squatter. Later he recognized that 'the chief burden of our Government is the inheritance from a Crown Colony of universal municipal responsibility'. In 1869 he was defeated by William Forster, but in the 1872 election engineered his son's victory over 'the borough-mongering influences of the Rutledges … & the personal exertion of the priest'. De Salis urged Parkes to join Edward Butler and woo the Irish.

In July 1874 de Salis was appointed to the Legislative Council, pledged to its reconstruction on an elective basis. Reluctant to invest in Parkes's coal mine at Jervis Bay, he 'cheerfully' promised £100 a year to assist Parkes to continue as leader of the Opposition. An active member, de Salis introduced three unsuccessful bills. Characteristically he opposed the dispatch of the Sudan contingent, but as a devout Anglican was implacably against Sir Alfred Stephen's divorce reform bills. Cultured, independent and with much common sense, de Salis was a moderating influence in parliament, but increasingly left the management of his stations to his sons. In the Upper Murrumbidgee area he acquired Naas and Coolamon. In the 1870s de Salis Bros took up extensive land in Queensland, where their principal station was Strathmore, near Bowen, but lost all their holdings to the Union Bank by 1895. In 1893 de Salis had visited England to transfer entailed estates to his younger brother. On his return he lived with his daughter Nina, wife of William Farrer, at Lambrigg, Tharwa. With debts of over £100,000 he became insolvent in 1898; his benevolence and hospitality had contributed to his reverses. He died at Lambrigg on 20 November and was buried in the family cemetery at Cuppacumbalong, survived by three sons and his only daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • E. J. Lea-Scarlett, Queanbeyan: District and People (Queanbeyan, 1968)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 1880-98
  • A. W. Martin, ‘Electoral Contests in Yass and Queanbeyan in the 'Seventies and 'Eighties’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 43, part 3, 1957, pp 121-37
  • W. A. F. de Salis, ‘Some Family History’, in P. A. Selth (ed), Canberra Collection (1960), pp 77-95
  • Queanbeyan Observer, 22 Nov 1898
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • manuscript catalogue under de Salis (State Library of New South Wales)
  • de Salis insolvency file (State Records New South Wales).

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Citation details

'de Salis, Leopold Fabius (1816–1898)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/de-salis-leopold-fabius-3402/text5163, published in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 26 October 2014.

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

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