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Dorsey, William McTaggart (1813–1878)

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

William McTaggart Dorsey (1813-1878), medical practitioner, was born probably at Haunchwood House, Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England, son of Alexander Dorsey and his wife Elizabeth, née Donald. He appears to have followed his brilliant brother, Alexander James Donald (1812-1894) to the University of Glasgow and to have acquired some knowledge of medicine. In 1837 at Glasgow he married Margaret Douglas.

In 1839 Dorsey bought land orders from the New Zealand Co. and sailed with his wife and two infants in the Bengal Merchant. They arrived at Port Nicholson (Wellington) in February 1840, were landed on the beach in torrential rain and had to find lodgings as best they could in the 'woods'. These troubles, capped by survey delays and threats of native attack, soon induced Dorsey to cut his losses. He took his family to Sydney where he was certified by the Medical Board on 12 October and practised at Bathurst until late in 1842 when he moved to the Moreton Bay District. In 1843 he bought one of the first town allotments at Limestone (Ipswich) for £12 10s., built a house, took up Stonehenge, a pastoral lease of 30,000 acres (12,141 ha) on the Darling Downs and stocked it with sheep. His practice in Ipswich was small but expanded as rapidly as the town. When John Dunmore Lang visited it in December 1845 he found 'a few presbyterians in the place and other protestants not unwilling to attend divine service'. In 1846 Dorsey was appointed a justice of the peace and by 1850 had chaired meetings to plan the building of Baptist and Anglican churches and a National school; he was also active in squatters' meetings to establish a local bank and to petition for the resumption of transportation to the Moreton Bay District. A hater of humbug and pointless delays, Dorsey held positive opinions; his blunt expression of them often roused antagonism. Once while treating an injured rider in a race-course booth he was disturbed by a drunk and promptly ordered his arrest. Court proceedings followed with Dorsey defending himself at a cost of £100, for which he sought reimbursement by the government because he had acted 'in the proper discharge of his Public Duty'; he won his claim after three years of angry letters.

In addition to his medical practice Dorsey pursued his squatting interests; in 1853-55 he bought many small freeholds in the Moreton Bay area and took large leases in the Leichhardt district. With two partners he acquired Grantham, a pastoral lease of 30,000 acres (12,141 ha) near Ipswich, in 1856 and then went to Scotland for further studies at the Universities of Glasgow (M.D., 1857) and Edinburgh (M.R.C.S., 1874). He returned to Queensland to find his runs mismanaged. He disposed of Grantham but became insolvent in 1862. He applied for leases in the Port Curtis area but was forestalled and in 1865 was appointed government medical officer to serve the Ipswich immigration depot and the Police and Railway Departments at a salary of £70. In endless letters to the colonial secretary he appealed for adequate consulting rooms and for an allowance to supply medicine to his charges. In reply he was ordered to send vouchers for each item to the Treasury; by 1871 his salary had been reduced in stages to £50. After five years Dorsey ended the futile correspondence and concentrated on his private practice. Aged 64 he died of heart disease on 16 May 1878. His burial at Ipswich cemetery was largely attended and a contingent of the local volunteer artillery provided a band and fired three volleys over his grave. He was survived by his wife, three sons and three daughters, one of whom married J. P. Bell.

Select Bibliography

  • A. E. Mulgan, The City of the Strait (Wellington, 1939)
  • A. D. Gilchrist (ed), John Dunmore Lang, vol 2 (Melb, 1951)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 1854, 1855, vol 2, 369
  • Government Gazette (New South Wales), 1841, 1844, 1846, 1862
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23, 31 Jan 1850
  • Brisbane Courier, 18, 22 May 1878
  • Town and Country Journal, 7 June 1878
  • Dorsey papers (Queensland State Archives).

Citation details

'Dorsey, William McTaggart (1813–1878)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dorsey-william-mctaggart-3427/text5213, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 20 April 2018.

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

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