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Kent, William (1760–1812)

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

William Kent (1760-1812), naval officer, was born on 20 November 1760 at Newcastle upon Tyne, England, the son of Henry Kent and his wife Mary, a sister of Governor John Hunter. He joined the navy aged 10 and became a lieutenant in 1781. In 1795 he was given command of the Supply which sailed with the Reliance, carrying Hunter as governor-elect to New South Wales, and reached Port Jackson on 7 September.

After the voyage Hunter reported that a survey had shown the Supply to be unseaworthy, 'a complete mass of rotten timber'; he praised his nephew's zeal and 'steady and active conduct', and proposed, in vain, that he be appointed to Norfolk Island and promoted commander. Despite the Supply's dangerous condition Kent willingly sailed her to the Cape in 1796-97, in company with Reliance, captained by Henry Waterhouse, to bring back livestock and stores. After Kent's return in May 1797, surveyors declared the Supply 'irreparable in this port or any other' and 'unfit to proceed to sea'. While in Sydney, Kent had occasion to comment adversely on the improper conduct of Judge-Advocate Richard Dore in the civil court and to criticize the handling of the trial of Isaac Nichols in the criminal court. He received grants of 690 acres (279 ha) and a lease near the Tank Stream on which he built a house valued at more than £1500 and described as the best in Sydney. After the Buffalo arrived from England in May 1799 Hunter appointed Kent and his crew to her, sent them to the Cape and for the second time recommended Kent for promotion. After his return, Hunter appointed himself chief commander of the Buffalo and made Kent her second commander. Kent departed in her with Hunter in October 1800, after selling to the government his house for the 'reception and Education of the Orphans of this Country', and eleven cattle at £37 a head. He carried with him for Sir Joseph Banks emus, a water-mole in a keg and specimens of iron ore, but the last did not turn out well.

In October 1800 the acting governor, Philip Gidley King, recommended Kent again for appointment as lieutenant-governor of Norfolk Island, but again in vain. In 1801 Kent complained to Banks of the neglect of his claims but next year he took the Buffalo back to Sydney with two nephews on board, Lieutenant William G. C. Kent, and Lieutenant Bartholomew Kent, whose death was later falsely reported in the Sydney Gazette, 10 March 1805. When they arrived in October 1802 Kent senior was promoted commander. In April he was ordered to take the Buffalo with supplies to Norfolk Island and then to seek cattle in the East Indies and India. He proceeded along the west coast of New Caledonia where he found and charted 'one of the finest harbours in the world', Port St Vincent. He could not obtain cattle in the Indies but shipped 84 head, 4 mares and 2 stallions at Calcutta. In October 1804, four months after his return to Sydney, he took Colonel William Paterson's party to form a settlement at Port Dalrymple.

In November 1802 Kent had been made a magistrate, and in March 1803 Governor King appointed him a member of the council summoned to give advice on court-martial procedure following King's disputes with the officers of the New South Wales Corps. During these years in the colony Kent held about 1200 acres (486 ha) and ran some 350 sheep and a few cattle. On 23 May 1805 he left Port Jackson for the last time, after King had chosen him to take the Investigator to England with dispatches, since Kent was particularly well qualified to explain the circumstances in which a British privateer had seized two Spanish ships before war had been declared on Spain. In January 1806 he was appointed a post captain and in March Lord St Vincent suggested that he should go back to Australia to continue the survey begun by Matthew Flinders, but Kent proposed to Banks that he be appointed assistant to the newly appointed Governor William Bligh; however, Banks on this occasion was unable to persuade the Colonial Office to agree. In November 1808 Kent was given command of the Agincourt, and later was transferred to the Union, in which he died at sea off Toulon on 29 August 1812.

He married a cousin, Eliza Kent, in 1791; they had a son William (1799-1870) and two daughters, all born in Sydney. His wife died on 29 January 1810. In 1828 William junior sent a petition to the Colonial Office from Cheltenham, England, seeking rescue from 'dire pecuniary distress'. His father, he wrote, had died suddenly and without arranging his affairs, leaving him a friendless orphan. He was now a clerk, married with three children and, unable to take steps to regain his father's property which others were enjoying, sought a government post. In 1835-41 several farms of the elder Kent round Kissing Point were sold and presumably his children benefited. William, the son, visited Sydney from 12 December 1838 to 2 January 1839.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of New South Wales, vols 3-6
  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 2-5
  • Australian, 21 July, 15 Dec 1835, 13 Dec 1838, 3 Jan 1839, 4 May 1841.

Citation details

'Kent, William (1760–1812)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kent-william-2300/text2973, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 28 November 2014.

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

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