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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Freeling, Sir Arthur Henry (1820–1885)

by Gordon Buxton

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

Arthur Henry Freeling (1820-1885), by unknown photographer

Arthur Henry Freeling (1820-1885), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 2420

Sir Arthur Henry Freeling (1820-1885), engineer and surveyor-general, was born on 26 July 1820 in London, the eldest son of John Clayton Freeling and his wife Mary, née Coxe. His grandfather, Sir Francis Freeling, baronet, was secretary to the general post office for thirty years. Arthur was educated at Harrow and at 17 joined the Royal Engineers as a second lieutenant. On 18 November 1848 in Hampshire he married Charlotte Augusta, daughter of Sir Henry Rivers. Soon afterwards with the rank of captain, he sailed for South Australia to succeed Edward Frome as surveyor-general and colonial engineer, and arrived in January 1849.

In Canada Freeling had examined roadworks but most of his engineering experience had been in supervising the building of large barracks in England. In addition to his duties in South Australia as surveyor-general and head of the Crown Lands Department he was one of the five commissioners appointed to manage the affairs of the City of Adelaide from September 1849 to June 1852 and was annually elected as chairman of the Central Board of Main Roads in 1850-61. At times he was also an inspector and commissioner of railways and acting colonial architect. In 1855-56 he was a nominated member of the Legislative and Executive Councils. After responsible government he was elected to the new Legislative Council in March 1857 and served as commissioner of public works in the Finniss ministry for four weeks. In August 1859 he resigned from the council because his 'numerous avocations' prevented him from satisfactorily fulfilling his parliamentary duties. He was then a major and honorary lieutenant-colonel in the Royal Engineers, a captain in the 1st Adelaide rifles and a member and Sunday school teacher in St Andrew's Church of England, Walkerville. His only exploring expedition was to Lake Torrens where in 1857 he examined its navigable possibilities. In 1860 he visited the Kiandra goldfield, reporting that the best access for South Australians was by way of Twofold Bay and the Snowy River. In 1861 he resigned as surveyor-general in favour of George Goyder. Soon afterwards he returned to England. Numerous presentations and addresses testified both to the 'urbanity and impartiality' with which he had maintained the confidence of the public and made many personal friends.

On the death of his cousin in 1871 he succeeded as fifth baronet to the family estates in Sussex. In 1877 he retired from the army as lieutenant-colonel with the honorary rank of major-general, 'a good practical man and a trustworthy authority on military matters'. He preferred to live quietly and was never 'prominently before the public, either at home or in the colonies', though he maintained interest in Australia as a resident fellow of the Royal Colonial Institute and through his contacts with visiting colonials. He died at his home in Chelsea on 26 March 1885, survived by his wife, a son Harry who succeeded to the baronetcy and a daughter. He left an estate valued at £9000.  The town of Freeling, in the Barossa Valley, is named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1855-56 (158) evidence, 1857-58 (174)
  • Observer (Adelaide), 24 Mar, 10, 24 Nov, 15, 22 Dec 1860, 4 Apr 1885
  • Adelaide Examiner, 26 May 1860.

Citation details

Gordon Buxton, 'Freeling, Sir Arthur Henry (1820–1885)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 24 October 2020.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

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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