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Jamison, Sir John (1776–1844)

by G. P. Walsh

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

Sir John Jamison (1776-1844), physician, landowner and constitutional reformer, was born at Carrickfergus, Antrim, Ireland, the eldest son of Thomas Jamison, who arrived in the colony as surgeon's mate in the First Fleet. After education at the University of St Andrews (M.D., 1808) he joined the navy and served in many parts of the world. In 1809, while physician in the hospital ship Gorgon with the Baltic Fleet, he was instrumental in curbing a serious outbreak of scurvy in the Swedish navy. This work, which was carried out in the face of great opposition and ignorance, earned him the approbation of King Charles XIII of Sweden, who honoured him in July 1809 with a knighthood of the Order of Gustavus Vasa. In May 1813 he was appointed a knight bachelor by the Prince Regent.

On the death of his father in 1811 Jamison inherited several grazing properties close to Sydney, including 1000 acres (405 ha) near Penrith, together with some city property. He arrived in Sydney in the Broxbornebury in 1814 to look after his interests, until then administered by D'Arcy Wentworth. He soon became associated with the public and official affairs of the colony. He accompanied Governor Lachlan Macquarie on his visit to the interior in June 1815, and in 1818 explored the Warragamba River. In 1817 he was one of the founders of the Bank of New South Wales, and asked the British government to appoint him a member of any proposed colonial council.

His relationships with Governor Macquarie were at first friendly but in December 1817 because he objected to the governor's emancipist policy, called by him 'the very impolitick levelling measures of this Government', Macquarie in a secret report named him one of twelve intriguing and discontented persons. By 1819, however, Macquarie regarded him as loyal and appointed him a justice of the peace, an office which was extended by Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane in 1821. Because of his 'wealth, landed possessions and consequent influence', Brisbane included him in the list of ten nominees submitted for a colonial council in 1824, but withdrew his nomination next year. In 1822 Jamison had made serious allegations of immorality among the convicts in the government establishment at Emu Plains but an inquiry did not substantiate his charges; in consequence, he remained persona ingrata with the Colonial Office for some years. In 1826 Governor (Sir) Ralph Darling was instructed that on no account whatever should he be employed in any civil office under the colonial government. Jamison appealed against this decision in 1827 and Darling tried without success to persuade the Colonial Office to modify its censure. In 1831, however, Jamison was restored to the magistracy, and next year Governor (Sir) Richard Bourke recommended him for a vacancy in the council in place of John Macarthur. This time the British government accepted the nomination, but it was not until 1837 that he took his seat in the Legislative Council. He remained a member until January 1843 when he and Robert Campbell were omitted from the nominations for the new council; according to Governor Sir George Gipps, both were 'by years and infirmities unable to continue their services to the Public'.

In spite of his differences with the government Jamison always exhibited great public spirit and was prominent in most movements aimed at the improvement of prevailing conditions or at the redressing of an evil. Throughout his colonial life he devoted his time, wealth and influence to the introduction of the free institutions of England into New South Wales. Although not as forceful and prominent a speaker as his friend William Charles Wentworth Jamison, as the chief representative of the immigrant settler class, presided over many important meetings in the 1830s to agitate for representative government and trial by jury. He thus became the first president of the Australian Patriotic Association, founded in 1835. Bourke described him in 1837 as one of the 'many free Emigrants of great wealth and intelligence … who advocate liberal principles'.

By the 1820s Jamison was 'one of the first Landed Proprietors in the Colony'; he acquired more land by grant and purchase and extended his Penrith estate, where about 1825 he built Regentville, a famous country house of the early period, named in honour of George IV, the former Prince Regent. Regentville was a model property with vineyards, an irrigation scheme, and a woollen mill built about 1842; it was here that Henry Parkes obtained his first employment in Australia. Commissioner John Thomas Bigge referred to Regentville as one of the more prosperous and improved properties in the colony. Described by Darling in 1829 as 'holding perhaps the largest Stake in the Colony', Jamison in the 1830s had grazing runs on the Namoi and Richmond Rivers, about 11,000 acres (4452 ha) at Bathurst and over 18,000 acres (7284 ha) at Capertee. He also took a keen interest in the turf and was an importer of bloodstock. He was a founder and president of the old Sydney Turf Club in 1825-27 and of its successor, the Australian Racing and Jockey Club formed in 1828. He was patron of the Hawkesbury Racing Club in 1829 and had his own race-course at Penrith.

He was prominent in organizations which aimed at the betterment of agriculture and the protection of the grazing interest, being a founder in 1822 and president for many years of the Agricultural and Horticultural Society of New South Wales, and founder and first president of the Northern Districts Stock-owners' Association in 1837. His annual presidential addresses to the Agricultural Society took the form of detailed accounts and criticisms of the state of the primary industries and manufactures. In 1830 the London Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce awarded him a gold medal 'for his successful method of extirpating the stumps of trees', a process outlined in his address to the Agricultural Society in 1829.

Jamison's other public activities were many; he was one of the founders and a president of Sydney College (later Sydney Grammar School) in 1830, and for his charitable contributions he was made a life member of the Benevolent Society. Like many naval and military officers of the period he was a member of the Masonic craft. In 1817 he was admitted to the Royal Arch Chapter, Mount Floreb No. 227, under the Registry of Ireland, and in 1834 was elected president of the United Masonic Fraternity. He was interested in natural history, taking with him a 'collector of natural History productions' on his exploration of the Warragamba in 1818 and sending specimens to England. In 1811 he was elected a non-resident member of the Wernerian Natural History Society of Edinburgh, and admitted as a corresponding member of the Société d'Histoire Naturelle of Mauritius in 1830. In the 1830s he was a member of the Australian Museum and the Botanical Gardens committee.

Sir John Jamison entertained lavishly both at his town house and at his country estate, and in the season of his affluence never lost an opportunity of extending hospitality to visitors to the colony, for whom he arranged outings, picnics and other diversions. He lived like a genial and prosperous English squire, earning by his unlimited bounty the appropriate title, 'the hospitable Knight of Regentville'.

In February 1844 he married his housekeeper Mary, daughter of John Griffiths, an ex-private in the marines, by whom he had already had two sons and five daughters. The eldest son, Robert Thomas (1829-1878), was a member of the first three parliaments under responsible government. The 'hospitable Knight' died on 29 June 1844, comparatively poor through the failure of the Bank of Australia, in which he was the second largest shareholder. His wife died at Hunter's Hill in 1874, aged 74.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 8-24, series 4, vol 1
  • R. Therry, Reminiscences of Thirty Years' Residence in New South Wales and Victoria (Lond, 1863)
  • E. Sweetman, Australian Constitutional Development (Melb, 1925)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 July 1844
  • manuscript catalogue under J. Jamison (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Jamison, Sir John (1776–1844)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jamison-sir-john-2268/text2907, published in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 18 April 2014.

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

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