Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Elliston, William Gore (1798–1872)

by J. N. D. Harrison

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

William Gore Elliston (1798-1872), schoolmaster and editor, was born on 17 October 1798 at Bath, England, the eldest son of Robert William Elliston, actor and theatre manager. After education at Martley, Worcestershire, he was admitted a pensioner at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1824. He then managed the reading room at Lymington and, for a time, the Royal Theatre, Drury Lane, London.

As his father's fortunes declined, Elliston and his youngest brother, Edmund, decided to emigrate and arrived in Hobart Town in the Chatham in January 1830, bringing recommendations from the Colonial Office. They did not take up land, but instead opened a store and spirit warehouse at Bagdad, later transferring the business to Hobart. On Edmund's return to England next year, Elliston took out a licence as an auctioneer in Hobart, where he married Margaret (b.1807) youngest daughter of Daniel de Vaux of London on 25 February 1832.

At the beginning of 1833 he took over Rev. Richard B. Claiborne's Grammar School at Longford, renaming it the Longford Hall Academy, and built additions as the school gained repute. Many prominent colonists sent him their sons. He continued as schoolmaster until 1837 when he bought from Dr James Ross the Hobart Town Courier's printing, book-binding and stationery business, and his situation as government printer. This purchase at £12,000, and that of his two properties near Hobart, Windermere and Chigwell, threw him heavily into debt, reputedly to Lieutenant-Governor Sir George Arthur. His independence as an editor was therefore limited; although a supporter of the Sir John Franklin administration, he was unable to offend his banker, Charles Swanston, by openly opposing the Van Diemen's Land Chronicle and other papers controlled by Swanston and the Arthurite faction which abused both Sir John and Lady Jane Franklin. He had already experienced Arthurite reprisal when the remunerative office of government printer was removed in 1839 and a separate department constituted, allegedly as a result of his censure of John Montagu's and Henry Arthur's seconding at a duel.

In 1837 and 1838 he published the Hobart Town Almanack and Van Diemen's Land Annual, but next year attempted to sell the printery and the Courier, which then had the widest distribution in the colony, asking only £3000, equivalent to his debts. He also offered his house at Chigwell for sale, but was unable to dispose of it until 1846. He continued as editor of the Courier until 1848, speaking strongly against transportation and so incurring Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Eardley-Wilmot's displeasure during his administration. He finally sold the Courier to Henry and Charles Best who had earlier acquired the printing business, and in 1850 he resumed auctioneering in Hobart.

In 1846 Elliston was a commissioner of the city of Hobart and in 1855 its second mayor. He was appointed justice of the peace in November 1849 and nominated to the Legislative Council in 1855. He took an active part in raising volunteer corps during the Crimean war, was for a time secretary of the Royal Hobart Regatta and as a churchwarden of St David's Cathedral had often to act as peacemaker in Rev. William Bedford's disputes. He continued his interest in amateur theatricals, gave readings from Shakespeare and attended meetings of the Philharmonic Society.

In the late 1850s he retired to his property, Brighton Lodge, where in 1859 he was resident stipendiary magistrate and deputy-commissioner of the Court of Requests. In 1864 he visited England and after his return became usher of the Black Rod in July 1869. When he died in Hobart on 4 December 1872, he was manager of the Tasmanian Permanent Building and Investment Association. Nine of his ten children survived infancy.

Select Bibliography

  • P. L. Brown (ed), Clyde Company Papers, vol 2 (Lond, 1952)
  • Tasmanian, 28 May 1830
  • Hobart Town Courier, 3 Sept 1831, 25 Feb, 3 Mar 1833, 18 Oct 1839, 22 Apr 1846
  • Mercury (Hobart), 6 Dec 1872
  • GO 33/7/26, 33/82/509 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • Franklin correspondence (microfilm, Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • W. S. Elliston, diaries (privately held).

Citation details

J. N. D. Harrison, 'Elliston, William Gore (1798–1872)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/elliston-william-gore-2024/text2491, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 25 November 2014.

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

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