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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Eliott, Gilbert (1796–1871)

by A. A. Morrison

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

Gilbert Eliott (1796-1871), public servant and politician, was born at Stobs, Roxburghshire, Scotland, the third son of Sir William Eliott, sixth baronet, and his wife Mary, née Russell. He entered the army and as a captain in the Royal Artillery served with the occupation forces in France in 1815 and later elsewhere. At Bedrule, Roxburghshire, on 21 April 1830 he married Isabella Lucy, daughter of Robert Elliot, vicar of Askham, Yorkshire.

With his wife and three children he arrived in the Mary at Sydney in November 1839. He became a justice of the peace. On the recommendation of the Earl of Auckland, a near relation, he was appointed police magistrate at Parramatta by Governor Sir George Gipps in June 1842. As visiting justice at the Female Factory he uncovered gross fraud and embezzlement; counter-charges by the superintendent led to an inquiry which found Eliott 'an excellent Public Officer, and a man of unimpeachable integrity'. In 1846 he sought office as comptroller-general of convicts in Van Diemen's Land, but was unsuccessful despite strong support from Gipps and Sir Charles FitzRoy. In January 1854 he became chief of the three commissioners of the city of Sydney. Although this appointment was for six years, a select committee criticized the commissioners' administration and they were replaced in 1857.

Eliott acquired pastoral leases in the Wide Bay area and represented the Burnett district in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly from July to December 1859. His opposition to the separation of Queensland aroused some hostility but in May 1860 he easily won the seat of Wide Bay, a squatter electorate, in the first Queensland Legislative Assembly. Even the Gympie gold rush from 1867 did not shake his hold on the seat. The new assembly had few members with parliamentary experience and so Eliott was speedily chosen as the first Speaker, a post which he retained until his retirement in 1870 without missing a single day's sitting. Always benign and courteous, although firm, he was very popular; one member even started a private subscription for a full-length portrait of Eliott to be presented to him; it is still in Parliament House, though cut down in size. Eliott was approached to accept a knighthood but refused, partly because he was already in line of descent of an old Scottish barony, partly because he felt his means were not adequate to support such a distinction. In 1870 he was given a retirement allowance of £400 a year, and appointed to the Legislative Council. He was appointed C.M.G. in 1871.

Eliott had remained aloof from political controversy except once when, reporting to his constituents after the session of 1862, he spoke very strongly against the way government business was conducted in the assembly. His speech caused a short stir but was soon forgotten. On his property he lived with a quiet dignity and endeared himself to all his neighbours. His retirement was brief. While visiting his son, Gilbert William, a magistrate at Toowoomba, he died suddenly of angina pectoris on 30 June 1871. He was survived by his wife, son and a daughter Frances Willoughby.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 22, 24-25
  • O. de Satgé, Pages from the Journal of a Queensland Squatter (Lond, 1901)
  • Queensland Guardian, 18 Oct 1862
  • Brisbane Courier, 16, 19 Jan 1863, 1 July 1871
  • Governor's dispatches (Queensland State Archives).

Citation details

A. A. Morrison, 'Eliott, Gilbert (1796–1871)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 13 August 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 4

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