Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Gregory, John (1795–1853)

by R. L. Wettenhall

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

John Gregory (1795-1853), colonial treasurer, was born on 26 October 1795 in the Precincts, Canterbury, the fourth (and youngest) son of the Rev. William Gregory. He attended The King’s School, Canterbury, and the University of Edinburgh. In 1813 John Gregory joined the Paymaster-General's Department, serving two years in Lisbon, one in Malta, and then five in charge of that department at Gibraltar. In 1822 he became secretary to the Commission of Inquiry on the Eastern Colonies, thereby winning the patronage of John Thomas Bigge and gaining further wide experience of colonial administration during nine years spent in the Cape Colony, Mauritius and Ceylon. In private life he was closely associated with the family of Colonel (Sir) George Arthur's sister and with John Montagu, who married Arthur's niece. Though he had hoped for a colonial secretaryship, he was appointed colonial treasurer of Van Diemen's Land in 1833, and travelled out to join Arthur and Montagu in the government of the colony. Soon after arrival he married Harriet Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Philip Jean, paymaster of the 21st Regiment; in an elaborate ceremony on 6 May 1834 the bride was given away by the lieutenant-governor. They had five children.

Gregory's ability, integrity and experience assured him a leading part in managing the affairs of the colony, though his high personal ambitions were to contribute to his eventual fall from local official favour. As well as the Treasury and his seat on the Executive and Legislative Councils he was given extra responsibilities on numerous boards and committees: he chaired the Assignment and Caveat Boards and the controversial committee on distillation. For the remainder of Arthur's government he was one of the powerful 'Arthur faction', though his principles, which offset a cold personality, were sometimes offended by Arthur's methods. He was disappointed when his old friend Montagu was preferred as colonial secretary, and was already irritable when Franklin arrived. There were further frustrations in 1838-39. For example, Gregory lost his seat on the Executive Council after the accidental omission of his name from a new London warrant for its composition, and then Sir John Franklin would not publicly (though he did privately) acknowledge the value of his services on that council. Again, he was passed over when the acting colonial secretaryship was filled and the Board of Education constituted. There can be no doubt that Gregory gave his best energies, and they were very substantial, in serving the colony, yet he followed the dictates of his own conscience and tension inevitably grew. Gradually he came to associate with anti-government interests and eventually, in September 1839, he actively opposed Franklin on the feigned issues (distillation) bill in the Legislative Council. His dismissal followed in 1840. But even in his last year he showed great zeal in collecting outstanding debts owed to the government. A leading Church of England layman, he had taken a prominent part in a number of heated Anglican-Presbyterian controversies; yet when he left the colony with his family in October 1840, making no secret of his contempt for Franklin, his Presbyterian adversaries joined 250 leading citizens in a eulogistic memorial of respect to 'Honest John Gregory'.

That Gregory's reputation was not irreparably tarnished by unhappy experiences in Van Diemen's Land was shown by his return to colonial service in 1849 as governor of the Bahamas. He had in the meantime given evidence on the assignment system in Van Diemen's Land before a House of Lords committee in 1847. He died at Government House, Nassau, on 29 July 1853.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Fitzpatrick, Sir John Franklin in Tasmania 1837-1843 (Melb, 1949)
  • G. T. W. B. Boyes diary (Royal Society of Tasmania, Hobart)
  • correspondence file under John Gregory (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

R. L. Wettenhall, 'Gregory, John (1795–1853)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gregory-john-2123/text2687, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 15 October 2018.

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

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