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Douglas, Sholto (1795–1838)

by J. F. McMahon

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Sholto Douglas (1795-1838), army officer, was born on 14 December 1795, at Dinsworth, Chichester Supra, West Sussex, England, son of Major James Sholto Douglas and his wife Sarah, née Dawes. Lieutenant General (Sir) James Douglas was Sholto's brother and their sister Sarah married a family connexion, the 7th Marquess of Queensberry. In September 1811 Sholto was commissioned, by purchase, ensign in the 50th Regiment of Foot. He served in Portugal, Spain and France in 1812-14, purchasing promotion to lieutenant in July 1813. From December 1814 he was thrice on half-pay. In 1819 representations by his brother succeeded in cancelling Douglas's appointment to a regiment in the unhealthy West Indies. Paying £166 1s., in 1820 he returned to full-time duty with the 63rd Regiment. By 1827 he had purchased his majority and in 1826-28 he served in Portugal.

Departing from England in June 1828 for Van Diemen's Land, he administered command of the 63rd until superseded in March 1830. Apart from guarding convicts, the regiment engaged in anti-guerilla operations in the 'Black War' against Tasmanian Aborigines. In October-November 1830 Douglas led over 1000 soldiers and armed civilians in the 'Black Line' sweep of the colony from north to south, to drive warlike tribes into Tasman Peninsula. The operation was planned and commanded by the lieutenant-governor George Arthur and not, as some historians have claimed, by Douglas.

Douglas was also chairman of magistrates for Oatlands and Campbell Town. On 25 March 1830 at St David's Church of England, Hobart, he married Henrietta Patricia, second daughter of the colonial secretary John Burnett, and granddaughter of Sir Henry Browne Hayes. Returning to England with his family in November 1831, Douglas retired from the army the following November. Although he disliked Van Diemen's Land, by next year the family was back in Hobart Town. Arthur offered him a minor post, which he declined in expectation of the appointment of sheriff. This did not materialize and in January 1835 he settled on a developed property of 160 acres (64.75 ha) at New Norfolk. In April he sold up and in November returned to England with his son, but was back in the colony by early 1837 and appointed ordnance storekeeper. Now in ill health, he soon again returned to England, where his wife joined him in December 1838.

His voluminous correspondence with Arthur revealed Douglas as not particularly efficient, feeling his honour was at stake whenever criticized. He demanded an inquiry 'before a competent tribunal' when Arthur pointed out an uneven distribution of troops and a lack of vigilance in one of Douglas's sub-units. He also had deficiencies in handling subordinates and lacked attention to his soldiers' wellbeing. According to Arthur, prior to departing for England in November 1831, Douglas had 'taken to his bottles and behaved exceeding ill'. On his return, Arthur noted: 'Unfortunately he soon lapsed into gross intemperance, associating with the lowest Company, by whom he was made a complete Tool'. Douglas, in turn, complained to Arthur of his 'oppression' and 'persecution of power' in his treatment of those who fell from favour. He was shamed and infuriated when the local press reported in 1837 that his application to be placed on the jury list was refused by the lieutenant-governor Sir John Franklin, because his employment as ordnance storekeeper was only of warrant officer status. As the proud young officer and gentleman with ready access to patronage faded, it seems that Douglas failed.

He died on 24 December 1838 on the Isle of Man and was buried in Fifeshire, possibly on a property of his sister, the Marchioness of Queensberry. His wife, who remarried in 1844, survived him, as did his only son Edward Sholto (1831-1853), who served in the Royal Navy.

Select Bibliography

  • P. L. Brown (ed), Clyde Company Papers (Lond, 1941)
  • P. Chapman (ed), The Diaries and Letters of G. T. W. B. Boyes, vol 1 (Melb, 1985)
  • Papers and Proceedings (Tasmanian Historical Research Association), 48, no 1, Mar 2001, p 65
  • J. F. McMahon, The British Army and the Counter-insurgency Campaign in Van Diemen’s Land with Particular Reference to the Black Line (M.Humanities thesis, University of Tasmania, 1995)
  • AJCP microfilm, PRO 6808, WO25/797, p 167, WO31/377, WO31/494, WO31/515 and WO31/607 (National Archives of the United Kingdom)
  • GO 33/21, p 785, CSO 19/1, pp 352-3, CSO 1/324/7578 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

J. F. McMahon, 'Douglas, Sholto (1795–1838)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/douglas-sholto-12892/text23291, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 20 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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