Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Jackson, John Alexander (1809–1885)

by B. R. Penny

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

John Alexander Jackson (1809-1885), by unknown artist, 1845

John Alexander Jackson (1809-1885), by unknown artist, 1845

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 7152

John Alexander Jackson (1809?-1885), public servant and colonial agent, was the son of John Serocold Jackson, major in the 72nd Regiment, who in July 1825 brought his large family to Sydney because his income from a 'valuable paternal estate in Scotland' had become inadequate for their support. By November 1826 J. S. Jackson sold his commission; with greatly diminished means he gratefully accepted appointment as acting barrack master at 10s. a day, but soon proved totally useless and Governor (Sir) Ralph Darling stopped his pay, although he was not dismissed by the Colonial Office until 1837.

J. A. Jackson was appointed a draughtsman in the Surveyor-General's Department at a salary of £100. He appears to have returned to England, for he arrived from London at Launceston in the David Owen in June 1831. More successful in every way than his father, by 1834 he was referred to as an agriculturist on a large scale, possessing two large farms and renting Esk Farm, Rosetta; he frequently complained of the shortage of assigned labour to work his farms. In 1833 he became editor of John Pascoe Fawkner's Launceston Advertiser. Next year he tried to become co-proprietor with Henry Dowling, and may have succeeded when Fawkner went to Port Phillip in 1835. Later Jackson claimed to have had ten years association with the Launceston press. On 24 March 1834 at Vron, Norfolk Plains, he married Maria Anne, eldest daughter of W. G. Walker, who had come to Van Diemen's Land in 1825 and had taken over the Vron estate in 1829.

Jackson was attracted from this successful private life to a public career by an invitation from Governor George Gawler of South Australia. Jackson and his wife reached Adelaide in the Dawsons on 2 September 1839, and on 1 October he was appointed colonial treasurer and accountant-general. He had been recommended by the colonial secretary, Robert Gouger, and his Tasmanian friends, William Effingham Lawrence and George Clark stood as his sureties. The Treasury was in a most confused state and Gawler had instituted an Audit Board to investigate the colony's financial position. Jackson wanted to introduce a more effective accounting system, but the board decided that the head of each government department was to be responsible for the correctness of his own accounts. Jackson was thus left with inadequate powers of audit and little encouragement to be efficient in his methods.

Captain (Sir) George Grey succeeded Gawler in May 1841 and began an era of retrenchment and firm government control. The first reckoning came early in 1842 when Downing Street discovered that Jackson, while still colonial treasurer, had become a local director of the Bank of Australasia. Suspicion had been aroused by the transfer of the government account, from the South Australian Banking Co., to the Adelaide branch of this bank a few months after it opened in 1841, a decision said to have been influenced by Jackson. He was reprimanded by the Colonial Office for holding two positions, but the government account remained with the Bank of Australasia. Meanwhile on 16 October 1841 Jackson had left the Treasury to become colonial secretary. A more serious reckoning came in March 1843 when Grey appointed a new local Audit Board, which examined the confused government accounts, and Jackson was surcharged for certain minor omissions in his accounts for 1840. At the same time the Colonial Office told Grey that money received by the colonial treasurer in 1839-41 from land sales did not appear in his general accounts. As a result some £9800 had been lying in the South Australian Bank for two years without Grey's knowledge. Jackson was summoned to Government House on 26 May 1843 to explain. He was so incensed by Grey's 'alacrity of suspicion' and disrespectful tone that he resigned as colonial secretary on 10 June. Before he left, his friends in Adelaide presented him with plate worth £50 as testimony to his 'able, upright and honorable conduct as a public functionary'. Since the local Audit Board stressed that it had not aspersed Jackson's character but merely condemned his methods of accounting, Grey was irritated when Jackson revived the matter in correspondence in August and announced his intention of going to England to justify his activities as colonial treasurer and explain his resignation as colonial secretary. Probably he was regretting a hasty decision which could blight his career in the colonial public service, for he later claimed that his years in Adelaide had ruined him. On 21 December 1843 Jackson left Launceston in the Mona for London. There he sought to vindicate his character, but prolonged correspondence culminated in a refusal by the Colonial Office in July 1846 to give him employment in the colonial service. However, in November 1847 he was fully exonerated and the surcharges held against him were remitted.

Meanwhile Jackson had returned to Australia, going first to Sydney, where he assisted in compiling a census early in 1846, then to Launceston, where he arrived on 26 June. In January he had sent a circular to his Van Diemen's Land acquaintances asserting that colonial affairs were pushed aside or disregarded in London, and proposing the appointment of an agent there. He offered himself for the position. The proposal was well timed, for the colonists were becoming increasingly impatient with delay or indecision in London in meeting long-standing grievances, and Port Phillip and New South Wales colonists were separately arranging to appoint agents in London.

In Van Diemen's Land affairs had reached a climax in October 1845 when the Patriotic Six resigned. On 25 March 1846 a London Agency Association was formed at a meeting in Launceston with John Gleadow as secretary to consider sending Jackson to London to represent colonial interests. Jackson's offer was accepted, and at another meeting in July he received instructions and a formal appointment for two years at a salary of £400 to be subscribed by interested colonists. With the committee Jackson went to Hobart Town to collect more general support than that given by the landowners in the north of the island, and in August he embarked at Launceston in the Shamrock as the accredited agent for the colonists of Van Diemen's Land. He was unavoidably delayed at Sydney until December when he sailed for London in the Penyard Park. His friend G. C. Clark, a subscriber to the Agency Association, gave him letters of introduction to London acquaintances, and on his arrival on 3 April 1847 Jackson stayed with Clark's family. At once he set about lobbying at the Colonial Office through sympathetic members of parliament. He published pamphlets on emigration, abolition of transportation, steam communication to Australia, and representative assemblies for the colonies. He reported regularly to the Agency committee, and his letters were published in the Van Diemen's Land press. Petitions were sent to him for shepherding through the imperial parliament, and he sent back parliamentary papers, reports of debates and informal news of colonial interest. His activities were much appreciated: he was reappointed for two more years in 1848 and for a further year in 1850. The Van Diemen's Land colonists continued to subscribe for his salary and expenses, and in 1847-48 some South Australians subscribed £130 a year for him to act as their agent also. At the same time Jackson was busy on his own account, for in October 1847 he had been admitted to the Middle Temple and three years later was called to the Bar.

The London Agency Association exaggerated his part in the achievements of the mid-century: they attributed to him such welcome reforms as the transfer of the land fund to colonial control, the inclusion of Van Diemen's Land in the 1850 Australian Colonies Government Act, the abolition of transportation, and the successful promotion of free emigration: 'a record of exertions untiring, incessant, multiform and judicious … in every colonial movement he has been the chief mover'. The results certainly were gratifying, but Jackson was only one of many lobbyists, and the changes in British colonial policy reflected changes in Britain itself as much as deference to colonists' wishes. In 1851 Jackson's work for the London Agency Association was absorbed into the intercolonial Australasian League. When this body voluntarily went out of existence in June 1853 Jackson's agency work ceased. In that year he was appointed colonial inspector for the English, Scottish and Australian Bank at £1200 a year, to reside in Melbourne. He held this position until 1872 when another former colonial agent in London, Sir George Verdon, succeeded him. Jackson died at Ealing, England, on 25 May 1885, at the age of 76.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 12-14, 16-18, 25, 26
  • J. West, The History of Tasmania, vols 1-2 (Launceston, 1852)
  • D. Pike, Paradise of Dissent (Melb, 1957)
  • Hobart Town Courier, 25 Mar 1846
  • Launceston Advertiser, 2, 13 July, 20 Aug 1846
  • London Agency Assn and Tasmanian administration papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • CSO 787/150, 230, 232 (State Records of South Australia)
  • CO 13/66, 201/410, 280/252.

Citation details

B. R. Penny, 'Jackson, John Alexander (1809–1885)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jackson-john-alexander-2265/text2899, published in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 24 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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