Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Grose, Francis (1758–1814)

by B. H. Fletcher

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

Francis Grose (1758-1814), by unknown engraver, 1790s

Francis Grose (1758-1814), by unknown engraver, 1790s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an9597965

Francis Grose (1758?-1814), soldier and lieutenant-governor, was born in England, the eldest of twelve children of Francis Grose and Catherine Jordan. His father was a well-known antiquary, and his grandfather a fashionable jeweller, among whose clients was George II. For neither of these pursuits did Francis display any bent. Instead he turned to the army, perhaps encouraged by his father, sometime adjutant and paymaster of the Hampshire Militia and later captain and adjutant in the Surrey Militia. Just as his immediate forbears won repute in their chosen fields so Francis too made a success of his career. In 1775 he was commissioned an ensign in the 52nd Regiment, and was promoted lieutenant the same year. He saw active service in the war of American independence and, when sent home in 1779 because of wounds received at the storming of Fort Montgomery and at Monmouth Court House, he was captain in the 85th. He then spent two years as a recruiting officer. This experience proved valuable. In 1789, the year of the birth of his son, after nearly six years on half-pay as a major in the 96th Regiment he was appointed lieutenant-governor of New South Wales and commandant of the New South Wales Corps which he helped to raise. The lure of being restored to full pay and the prospects of returning to full service induced him to serve in a distant penal settlement that was regarded with much disfavour by those then garrisoning it.

Grose reached Port Jackson in the Pitt in February 1792 and at first was mainly preoccupied with the routine of garrison duty. His presence must have been welcomed by Governor Arthur Philip whose patience had been sorely tried by the testy and unco-operative Major Robert Ross, commander of the detachment of marines which the New South Wales Corps replaced. Grose, unassertive, affable and easy-going, gave Phillip little cause for complaint and the two men enjoyed more amicable relations than those which had hitherto existed between the civil and military leaders. Their only recorded difference of opinion occurred in October 1792 when Grose sanctioned and Phillip disapproved the officers' chartering the Britannia.

In December 1792 the departure of the sick Phillip left Grose for two years in control of the settlement. Upon assuming command he replaced civil magistrates with military officers, gave the senior officer at Parramatta control over the convicts there when he himself was not present, and appointed Lieutenant John Macarthur inspector of public works. By this means he at once reduced his own burdens and associated certain of his aides more closely with the administration of the settlement. Some historians hold that henceforth the military officers deeply influenced his moves, and one has asserted that the energetic Macarthur became the real ruler of New South Wales. Although both claims are plausible, the evidence is generally insufficient for determining whether at any given moment the lieutenant-governor was following his own inclination or acting on the advice of others.

Grose showed a greater concern for the welfare of his troops than Phillip had displayed. He increased the weekly ration to give them more food than the convicts and he improved their housing conditions. Without specific instructions and apparently on his own initiative he issued land grants of about twenty-five acres (10 ha) apiece to serving members of the corps who requested them. In accordance with Home Office instructions he provided the officers with farms and, despite orders to the contrary, allowed each the use of ten convicts provisioned at government expense. The civil staff were treated to the same indulgences as the military hierarchy. Emancipists and the handful of migrants who arrived were encouraged to take up small holdings on terms previously laid down by the British government. The opening of the rich Hawkesbury River region, for which Grose must take some of the credit, induced large numbers to settle there.

Behind these moves lay the conviction that the community stood to benefit far more from the exertions of private individuals than from government enterprise. Public farming, which to date had failed to produce sufficient for the settlement's needs, was not abandoned, but it was reduced. Although unimpressed with the quality of smallholders, Grose placed great trust in the officer farmers whose exertions, he felt, promised quickly to render New South Wales self-sufficient in foodstuff. This belief, as well as the desire to promote their well-being, disposed him to facilitate their pursuits. Partly through their efforts, partly through a rapid expansion in the number of small settlers, the number of acres farmed and livestock grazed increased during his regime. By December 1794 New South Wales was still importing essential requirements, but the spectre of famine no longer hung over the settlement, which several independent observers reported as becoming more prosperous in appearance.

It is possible that in placing greater reliance on the officers and settlers than on the government's farming, Grose sought to decrease his administrative tasks. Still suffering periodically from the effects of his wounds and indolent by nature he displayed no desire to follow Phillip's practice of maintaining a close personal watch over every aspect of the settlement. The inhabitants were not slow to take advantage of his laxity. Some of the civil and military staff began to engage in trade, especially in liquor, at substantial profit to themselves. Although Grose derived no personal benefit from these practices, he was responsible for failing to curb them. Perhaps his advisers persuaded him to turn a blind eye to abuses which acted to their advantage; but, since spirits proved an excellent incentive payment for convict labourers, it was probably for this reason that he allowed the officers to acquire it.

The British government disliked the means by which Grose had helped the settlement's progress. The reduction of public farming forced him to draw on the Treasury to buy food which the convicts might have raised for nothing; his practice of providing maintenance for the officers' convict servants increased the burden on the stores, and perturbed the Home Office who thought that such people should be supported by their employers. That he should knowingly disregard the government's wishes casts interesting light on the character of a man generally believed reluctant to act on his own initiative.

Assessments of the other aspects of his rule have been too strongly coloured by the writings of contemporaries such as Richard Johnson, Samuel Marsden and Thomas Arndell and it is unlikely that New South Wales in this period experienced murder, drunkenness and rapine on the scale they indicated. The smallholders were not exploited by the officers to the extent often suggested, and were better placed in 1794 than is generally realized, but the picture drawn by contemporaries, though exaggerated, was not entirely untrue. By encouraging the officers' farming pursuits and allowing them to engage in trade, Grose enabled them to secure a hold over the colony which they were soon to exploit in their own interests. Unwittingly he helped to create problems that none of his immediate successors was able to surmount.

In December 1794, debilitated by his wounds, he departed to recuperate and resume his military career; but he took no direct part in either the Revolutionary or the Napoleonic wars. He served first in England where he was promoted colonel, then in 1798 he was transferred to the staff in Ireland as a brigadier-general. He proceeded to Gibraltar in January 1805 as a major-general and staff officer. Dogged by ill health he was obliged to return to Britain in May 1807. During an enforced stay of two years he twice attempted to secure the post of governor of New South Wales, first early in 1808 when William Bligh's recall seemed likely, and then in April 1809 when he offered himself as a substitute for the sick Brigadier-General Nightingall. Both requests were rejected and Grose went to Ireland on military duties in May 1809. By April 1814, as a lieutenant-general, he was living at Croydon, Surrey. Here his first wife died in January 1813, and on 8 May 1814, a month after marrying his second wife, Elizabeth, widow of William Paterson, Francis Grose died also, leaving an estate of £2000 to the only son by his first marriage, Rev. Francis Grose, who died on 2 December 1817.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of New South Wales, vol 1, part 2, vols 2-4, 6-7
  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 1-6
  • A. Britton, History of New South Wales From the Records. Vol. II, Phillip and Grose, 1789-1794 (Syd, 1894)
  • E. M. O'Brien, The Foundation of Australia (Syd, 1950)
  • M. H. Ellis, John Macarthur (Syd, 1955)
  • C. M. H. Clark, A History of Australia, vol 1 (Melb, 1962)
  • B. H. Fletcher, Development of Small Scale Farming in NSW 1787-1803 (M.A. thesis, University of Sydney, 1961)
  • manuscript catalogue under Francis Grose (State Library of New South Wales)
  • R. Atkins journal, 1792-1810 (microfilm, National Library of Australia, and State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

B. H. Fletcher, 'Grose, Francis (1758–1814)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/grose-francis-2130/text2701, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 19 December 2014.

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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Francis Grose (1758-1814), by unknown engraver, 1790s

Francis Grose (1758-1814), by unknown engraver, 1790s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an9597965