Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Druitt, George (1775–1842)

by M. Austin

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

George Druitt (1775?-1842), military officer, public servant and settler, was born probably in Ireland, the son of Edward Druitt of Dublin and his wife Jane, née Cottingham. First commissioned as ensign in the 121st Regiment in October 1794, he was promoted lieutenant next month and transferred to the 134th. In the 58th Regiment he took part in the capture of Minorca in 1798, in campaigns in Egypt in 1801, in Italy and the Mediterranean between 1805 and 1812, and in the American war. Promoted captain in 1803 and major in April 1813, he transferred to the 48th Regiment in October 1816 and accompanied it to New South Wales. On the voyage Druitt was present at a wedding of doubtful legality performed by the ship's captain between Private Terence Burns and a stowaway, Margaret Lynch. After arrival in Sydney in August 1817 Margaret lived with Druitt, but although Burns left the colony in 1818 it was not until April 1825 that they were married.

In December 1817 Druitt assumed the duties of civil engineer from J. M. Gill. The public works he supervised included Fort Macquarie, the government stables, St James's Church, the convict barracks and many roads and bridges, including those to South Head and Parramatta. In addition he controlled the dockyard and had responsibilities connected with the artillery and the quartermaster-general's branch.

Apart from his association with Margaret Lynch, which must have offended some, Druitt's support for Macquarie made him many enemies. He alienated some military opinion by his support for William Redfern; as a member of the court which heard the 'Philo Free' libel case he incurred the enmity of Samuel Marsden; he clashed with James Bowman over repairs to the hospital and the attendance of surgeons at floggings, and with Francis Greenway on the use of convict labour and the latter's objections to his interference. He was criticized by Frederick Drennan for running the mill of the 48th Regiment allegedly for the private profit of himself and James Erskine, but was a member of the court martial on Drennan's own misconduct. In August 1821 Macquarie recommended to the Colonial Office that Druitt should be granted 2000 acres (809 ha) for his extra services; before the end of the year he resigned as engineer.

After Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane assumed office, Druitt was charged with peculation. Brisbane was firmly convinced that Druitt was guilty; since he did not consider that a general court martial would be impartial, he ordered an inquiry by Henry Grattan Douglass and William Wemyss. Despite Druitt's objections to both these men, Brisbane forwarded their report to London early in 1824, and recommended that Druitt be dispossessed of his proposed grants. In the meantime Druitt had sold his commission in July 1822 and had represented his case direct to Downing Street. He was supported by Commissioner John Thomas Bigge, who criticized the laxity of his administration but argued that if there had been any evidence of weight against Druitt he would have heard of it when he was in the colony. Further inquiries were ordered but do not seem to have been held, and in 1837 Druitt's grants were confirmed.

After his resignation Druitt applied himself to the development of his grants and joined in the invasion of Liverpool Plains which John Oxley's expedition of 1818 had opened up. He was a member of the Parramatta Grand Jury in 1826 and next year a petitioner for trial by jury and a legislative assembly; none the less he signed an address of support to Governor (Sir) Ralph Darling, who made him a justice of the peace. He was a member of the Agricultural Society, a foundation member of the Australian Racing Club and a shareholder in the Bank of New South Wales. He gave evidence before the committee on immigration in 1835 when he strongly supported transportation; but he still wanted trial by jury and next year joined the Australian Patriotic Association. He died on 8 June 1842 a few months after his wife. Of their four sons and four daughters, two daughters had predeceased him.

Apart from illustrating the rancour and intensity of party politics of his time, Druitt's main place in Australian history was his contribution to the improvement of the road communication system, and his immediate supervision of Greenway's many important historical buildings. He was blunt on occasions but in the main plausible and charming, with perhaps a touch of the confidence man. His support of Macquarie's emancipist policy was possibly at the root of the criticism levelled against him.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 10-12
  • J. W. Fortescue, History of the British Army, vol 4 (Lond, 1906)
  • M. Austin, ‘Druitt of the 48th’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 51 (1965).

Citation details

M. Austin, 'Druitt, George (1775–1842)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/druitt-george-1994/text2431, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 18 August 2017.

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

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017