Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Fitz, Robert (1768–1834)

by Vivienne Parsons

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

Robert Fitz (1768?-1834), public servant and settler, arrived in New South Wales as a deputy-commissary in the Sinclair in August 1806 with his wife Ann and son William John. Fitz complained to the Colonial Office in October 1807 of Governor William Bligh's despotic measures and unpopularity. When Bligh was deposed in January 1808 Fitz supported the rebel government. Bligh accused him of framing the settlers' address to Major George Johnston and exacting signatures by coercion. After assuming command, Johnston ordered Fitz and other commissariat officers to make a deposition on the activities of Bligh and of Commissary John Palmer, for he was convinced there were 'shameful abuses' in that department. Fitz asserted that Bligh had been supplied with clothing for his servants free of charge, with wine and spirits from the bonded store which had been intended for the hospital, and with other articles for his private use at the Hawkesbury. Next month Fitz was appointed collector of the debts due to the government, being allowed to retain 2½ per cent; on 23 April he was appointed superintendent of the government livestock, in September a magistrate and captain-commandant in the Parramatta Volunteer Association and on 19 November acting commissary when James Williamson was court-martialled.

In 1808-09 Bligh and his supporters were as loud in criticism of Fitz's dishonest disposal of the government herds as Johnston and his supporters had been about the same sort of maladministration under Bligh, and Palmer declared that Fitz was one of the most active of those who had purchased grain from settlers with spirits and turned it into the store on their own accounts, thus preventing the settlers from paying off their government debts or receiving articles direct from the store. On 7 November 1809 Lieutenant-Governor William Paterson suspended Fitz from the position of acting commissary pending an investigation into charges of malversation.

In 1810 Governor Lachlan Macquarie sent Fitz's accounts to London. The commissioners of audit found that 'they have not on the face of them the appearance of being grossly defective', but sent queries for Fitz to answer. Reporting this investigation in April 1814, Macquarie declared that Fitz was 'in an actual State of Insolvency' and his family 'in great Poverty and Distress'. Like many others in this year of depression, Fitz was insolvent, though he had received from Paterson in 1809 some 1700 acres (688 ha) in three grants on the Upper Nelson, near Windsor and in the district of Cooke, which Bligh had been directed to make to him in 1807, and which were confirmed by Macquarie. In June 1816 Macquarie granted Fitz a further 1700 acres (688 ha), which he named Box Hill Farm and in September appointed him clerk to the bench at Windsor; but in 1819 Fitz was again in debt and had to sell the farm. In December 1827 he was registrar of the Court of Requests at Windsor at a salary of £100, and in March 1828 also became postmaster there with an additional 1s. a day.

Although hard hit by the economic difficulties of Macquarie's period and without great skill as a farmer, Fitz was an active citizen in the Windsor district. In 1817 he was secretary and treasurer of the fund for relief of the Hawkesbury settlers, and later of the Windsor Charitable Institution. He was also a member of the Windsor circuit of the Wesleyan Auxiliary Missionary Society. When he died at Windsor on 10 October 1834 he was credited with 'the strictest honour and integrity' by the Sydney Gazette and, though perhaps not always highly efficient, he appears to have been more honest and able than many of the officials sent out to New South Wales. His son William John became sheriff's officer at Windsor and married Eunice, daughter of Henry Kable. Another son, Henry Bates (b.1817), settled at Pikedale on the Darling Downs; three daughters also survived childhood.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of New South Wales, vols 5-7
  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 6- 7
  • manuscript catalogue under Robert Fitz (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Vivienne Parsons, 'Fitz, Robert (1768–1834)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fitz-robert-2046/text2533, published in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 21 April 2014.

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

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