Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Kentish, Nathaniel Lipscomb (1797–1867)

by L. J. Blake

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

Nathaniel Lipscomb Kentish (1797-1867), surveyor, author and editor, was born in Winchester, England, the son of Nathaniel Kentish, a naval surgeon. Trained as an engineer he became staff instructor in surveying and drawing at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, in 1827. Dismissed after two years through retrenchments, he applied for a position in Upper Canada, but was appointed instead to the staff of the surveyor-general in New South Wales. He arrived at Sydney with his wife and two children in March 1830. Disagreements cost him his job in 1833, and in June he planned but never published a literary and religious magazine, 'Surveyor-General.' Next year he sailed for England in the Sarah, left the 'leaky ship' at Cloudy Bay, New Zealand, and after five unhappy months returned to Sydney in the Hind.

In an 'unremitting endeavour to “Advance Australia”', Kentish began publication on 15 August 1834 of the Sydney Times, an independent, pro-emancipist, four-page semi-weekly. With sales rising to 1371 copies, his paper, though irregularly published, finally outstripped its four contemporaries. Kentish wanted to buy the Sydney Herald but his plans were upset by debts and by quarrels with George Cavenagh of the Sydney Gazette. The last 'Extraordinary' edition of the Times on 2 July 1838 contained the editor's 'Memorial to the Queen Upon Colonial Affairs'. Working next as an emigration agent and to this end publishing The Present State of New South Wales (1835) and The Political Economy of New South Wales (1838), Kentish advertised for employment as a civil engineer and surveyor. Friendly intervention gained him appointment in April 1839 as a senior surveyor in South Australia. Retrenched next year and unsuccessful in private practice, he took his family to Van Diemen's Land, where with credentials from Governor George Gawler, he was appointed a contract surveyor on 18 November 1841. The surveyor-general Robert Power sent him to survey in the rugged north-west of the island where he discovered Kentish Plains. Next year the Cornwall Chronicle printed his reports, as well as some of his verses and an Essay on Capital Punishment (Hobart, 1842) with a petition to the Queen urging abolition of the death penalty. From 1843 to 1845 he surveyed the road from Deloraine to Emu Bay. To escape 'intolerably severe duty in the bush' he then contracted to survey the town of Launceston in eight months for £260. He soon found his estimate wildly astray, but Power insisted on the terms of contract and dismissed Kentish when he appealed to Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Eardley-Wilmot. The subsequent row went on for two years and involved the colonial government in voluminous correspondence. Kentish lost his contract but received £100 in compensation. Earlier he had dedicated a small privately printed collection of his verses to Gawler; now his laudatory verses to Wilmot appeared in the Colonial Times. As fire at the bookbinders had destroyed most copies of his poem The Bush in South Australia, he published a new version in several parts: Work in the BushThought in the BushLife in the Bush of Van Diemen's Land (Hobart, 1846). In press, pamphlet and public meeting he continued to air his grievances against officialdom.

In June 1849 Kentish went to the Port Phillip District where he tried to float a Sheep and Cattle Mutual Assurance Co. for covering losses through catarrh and foot-rot. With forty-two prospective shareholders he announced in September that a public meeting would be called. When Cavenagh, now editor of the Melbourne Herald, attacked the assurance scheme, Kentish filed a libel suit. Incensed by further aspersions in the Herald, he attacked Cavenagh with a stockwhip and received a gaol sentence. On release, he planned three volumes on the Australasian Muse but the gold discoveries emptied the printing offices and the work never appeared. He celebrated the separation of Victoria from New South Wales with three anthems that appeared in 1850 and 1851, and shared with George Wright of Geelong the distinction of having the first literary work published in Victoria. Self styled 'Amateur Poet Laureate', in his second book, The Question of Questions … (Melbourne, 1855), he published the anthems, some miscellaneous verse, including lines on the diggings and an essay. His last years were spent in Sydney where he died at Ashfield on 11 October 1867. His name is remembered in the municipality of Kentish, Tasmania. Although 'a man of honour and character, generally regarded as talented and enterprising, but neither judicious nor patient' his 'bizarre and paranoidal complaints against officials' tended to obscure the value of his exploratory and survey work. His writings were unnecessarily prolix, his verse over-decorated with worn-out illusions, his pamphleteering vitriolic. Egotistical and pedantic he was obsessed with the worth of his own achievements.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Bonwick, Early Struggles of the Australian Press (Lond, 1890)
  • E. M. Miller, Pressmen and Governors (Syd, 1952)
  • Victoria Colonist and Western Districts Advertiser, 3, 10 Sept 1849
  • CSO 8/147, 148, 11/20/456 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • CO 323/134.

Citation details

L. J. Blake, 'Kentish, Nathaniel Lipscomb (1797–1867)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kentish-nathaniel-lipscomb-2302/text2977, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 23 November 2014.

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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014