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Du Cane, Sir Charles (1825–1889)

by Gordon Rimmer

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

Charles Du Cane (1825-1889), by unknown photographer

Charles Du Cane (1825-1889), by unknown photographer

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H22611

Sir Charles Du Cane (1825-1889), governor, was born on 5 December 1825 at Ryde, Isle of Wight, England, the eldest son of Charles Du Cane (1789-1850), naval commander, of Braxted Park, Witham, Essex, and his wife Frances, née Prideaux-Brune. He was educated at Charterhouse and Exeter College, Oxford (B.A., 1847; M.A., 1864). His election in 1852 to the House of Commons as Conservative member for Maldon was declared void on grounds of bribery by his agents. He represented North Essex in 1857-68 and was a civil lord of the Admiralty in 1866-68. In the House he supported the extension of the franchise to the intelligent portion of the working classes, but opposed the malt tax and the use of local rates to finance compulsory education. In June 1863 he married Georgiana Susan Copley, daughter of Baron Lyndhurst.

Du Cane was appointed governor of Tasmania, sailed with his wife and two children by way of Melbourne and Launceston, and was sworn in on 15 January 1869 at Hobart Town. Settled ministries were then beginning to give stability in public administration after a long depression, although Du Cane later maintained that Tasmania's stagnation was due more to the shortcomings of her politicians and people than to the cessation of transportation and imperial expenditure. In Du Cane's term the arrangement was made whereby in the event of death, incapacity or absence of the governor, his office should be filled by the chief justice acting as administrator. Du Cane was faced with a minor constitutional crisis when the premier, (Sir) James Wilson, was defeated over an income tax proposal and no other politician was willing to form a government, but Wilson withdrew his resignation and a general election followed. Generally Du Cane was able to keep aloof from sect and party. An Act was passed in 1872 to reduce the salary of future governors to £3500 and another in 1873 provided for the furnishing and maintenance of Government House out of the colony's consolidated revenue.

Sincerely interested in the progress of the colony, Du Cane went to many country agricultural shows and societies; he visited mines, laid foundation stones, opened the Launceston-Deloraine railway and travelled on the mainline railway before it was finished. He lectured everywhere, dazzling audiences with his dignity and classical erudition. His speeches were published widely in the mainland press and he drew large crowds on his travels to other Australasian colonies. He was a keen cricketer. In his term Tasmania was joined by telegraph to Victoria in 1869 and to England in 1872, tin mines were discovered at Mount Bischoff and imperial garrisons were withdrawn. Each occasion gave him opportunity to advocate closer harmony between colony and mother country, more development of internal communication, extension of public education and, above all, freedom of commerce to overcome 'the suicidal folly' of protective barriers between the colonies.

In November 1874 Du Cane left Hobart after a heavy round of farewells; even Truganini went to his last levee. He was appointed K.C.M.G. next year. In 1878 he became chairman of the Board of Customs at a salary of £2000, and a member of the royal commission on Factory Acts. He continued to promote emigration and one of his lectures, Tasmania—Past and Present, delivered at Colchester Town Hall in January 1877, was published. He also published his English translation of Homer's Odyssey in 1880. In Essex he was a justice of the peace and deputy lieutenant of the county. He died at Braxted Park on 25 February 1889, survived by his wife, who died on 11 June 1924, and by two sons and three daughters. Both sons made their careers in the services; one specialized in the design of high speed craft, including Bluebird II.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Fenton, A History of Tasmania (Hob, 1884)
  • Australasian, 19 Dec 1868, 28 Nov 1874, 29 May 1875
  • Examiner (Launceston), 14 Jan 1869
  • 'Obituary', Times (London), 26 Feb 1889, p 10
  • 'News in Brief', Times (London), 6 Mar 1889, p 4
  • Mercury (Hobart), 28 Feb 1889
  • CSD 7/30/349, 7/34/484 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • GO 27/1 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Gordon Rimmer, 'Du Cane, Sir Charles (1825–1889)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/du-cane-sir-charles-3447/text5257, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 22 December 2014.

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

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