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Dutton, Charles Boydell (1834–1904)

by Beverley Kingston

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

Charles Boydell Dutton (1834-1904), pastoralist and politician, was born on 16 August 1834 at Patrick Plains, New South Wales, son of Henry Peterin Dutton, a Hunter River squatter, and his wife Sophia Hume, née Bell, whose family also had pastoral interests. By 1857 Charles was aware that the Hunter with its floods and spreading farms was no place for aspiring squatters. His cousins, Robert and William Bell, had already gone as far as Keepit on the Namoi; with them and his brother Archibald, Charles set out to look for suitable land in the north. They settled at Bauhinia Downs on a tributary of the Dawson and from this base the family extended their operations even farther into Queensland. The Bells and the Duttons were among the first applicants for land on the Nive River when the Mitchell district was opened for settlement and their leases included the site of Tambo township. After the initial rush subsided, pressure to stock and work all the runs became more insistent and many leases were allowed to lapse. The Duttons retained Bauhinia Downs which Charles managed, and Goomally where his brother Harry had charge. Later a house in Toowong, Brisbane, and an estate at Cooredulla near Armidale were also acquired.

In 1865 Dutton contested the new pastoral electorate of Mitchell in the Queensland Legislative Assembly but the only two votes cast for him were by his Bell cousins; John Gore Jones also had two votes and was awarded the seat by the returning officer. In 1871 Dutton nominated B. D. Morehead for Mitchell but did not stand himself again until 1883 when he was elected for Leichhardt. (Sir) Samuel Griffith immediately appointed him minister for lands and in 1887 he also acted as minister for works and mines while his friend William Miles was ill. When Miles died in August Dutton relinquished the lands ministry and took control of mines and works. In December when Griffith reformed his government, Dutton became minister for railways but lost his seat in the 1888 election and made no attempt to re-enter politics.

Dutton had a significant share in the idealistic review of legislation initiated by Griffith. He was given responsibility for a comprehensive consolidating land bill which introduced some long-sought reforms and has since been known as the 1884 Dutton Act. It went far towards relieving squatters of their exclusive use of land. The old practice of resuming half of every run, thought to be fairest for all but clearly far from efficient, was again invoked to provide cheap additional areas of agricultural land. The Act also provided for a land administration board with precise legal status, thus clearing away tangles and uncertainties that had bedevilled the operation of earlier land legislation. Although the Act was perhaps the best technical legislation of its kind which Queensland ever had, its weakness was that it miscalculated the relation of the colony's economy with land use and ownership. A land tax was rejected, and the gradual collapse of Queensland's economy over the next decade enforced amendments which eroded the ideals of 1884.

Dutton was mild with no great enthusiasms, a thoughtful spokesman for his department, more interested in facts than in theories. An efficient administrator, he brought with him the practical qualities which had made him a successful squatter. He won repute as a liberal, a humanitarian and one of the earliest squatters to gain the confidence of the Aboriginals whose land had been appropriated. His sense of justice, likeable modesty and freedom from political taint made him ideal for Griffith's assignment. The squatters in the Legislative Council were hostile but Dutton saw the bill through with determination. His legacy to Queensland was a Lands Department protected from undue interference by politicians, and a Department of Agriculture that provided experimental and educational facilities for farmers.

On 1 July 1865 at Brisbane Dutton married Martha Ann Alice, 17-year-old daughter of Captain Richard Coley; Bauhinia Downs was well known for its comfort and hospitality, and his wife's talents as doctor, nurse and midwife were widely recognized. He died on 5 February 1904 at Cooredulla and was buried privately by an Anglican clergyman. He left an estate worth over £13,000 and was survived by his wife, two sons and six of their eight daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • O. de Satgé, Pages From the Journal of a Queensland Squatter (Lond, 1901)
  • J. Wright, The Generations of Men (Melb, 1959)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1883-88
  • Weekly Herald (Brisbane), 28 Jan 1865
  • Week, 4, 18, 25 Aug, 15 Sept, 19 Nov 1883, 29 Nov, 6, 27 Dec 1884
  • Brisbane Courier, 12 Nov 1883, 6 Mar, 18-20 Apr, 7 May 1888
  • Queenslander, 23 July 1887, 13 Feb 1904.

Citation details

Beverley Kingston, 'Dutton, Charles Boydell (1834–1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dutton-charles-boydell-3459/text5285, published in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 24 October 2014.

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

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