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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ledger, Charles (1818–1905)

by B. G. Andrews

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Charles Ledger (1818-1905), adventurer, was born on 4 March 1818 in London, son of George Ledger, mercantile broker, and his wife Charlotte, née Warren. In 1836 he went to Peru, worked as a clerk for an English merchant firm, settled at Tacna and succeeded as a trader in wool, skins, bark and copper. In 1848 he began to breed alpacas at Chulluncayani and in 1852 was asked by British consular officials to supply some of the animals for New South Wales. He visited Sydney in 1853 to confer with Governor FitzRoy, E. Deas Thomson and T. S. Mort and confirmed that the rewards would be satisfactory.

The export of alpacas from Peru was prohibited and Ledger was forced to drive them through Bolivia to Argentina and return across the Andes to Copiapo in Chile, where he arrived in April 1858 with a depleted flock. On 28 November Ledger, with South American shepherds and 256 alpacas, llamas and vicunas, disembarked from the Salvadora in Sydney. However, commercial interest had waned and plans to float a company to buy the flock were abandoned. The government paid £15,000 for the alpacas but this went to the Chilean merchants who had financed the project after Ledger's own funds were exhausted. In April 1859 he became superintendent at a salary of £300, later increased to £500, with £1000 a year for management expenses, but could get no further compensation. Disillusioned by the rejection of his claims for £7000 and by the failure of negotiations to repurchase the flock on liberal terms, he submitted his resignation three times in 1859-61. 'On the faith of promises made in this country', he complained, 'I undertook every risk—did succeed—and am ruined!' The government's decision to increase his salary to £800 and to grant him leave so that he could bring his children to Australia somewhat assuaged this bitterness but on 14 August 1862 he was suspended from office, apparently for misappropriating money given to him by the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria. In that year his display of stuffed alpacas won medals at the London International Exhibition.

Ledger vigorously defended his conduct and petitioned for a redress of his earlier grievances but decided in August 1864 to return to South America. He had intended to settle the alpacas at Nimmitabel, a region not unlike their natural habitat, but they had been depastured in turn at Liverpool, Camden and Arthursleigh station near Goulburn. Reserve prices were not reached at an auction in 1864 and most were then given away in small lots to graziers in New South Wales and Queensland.

On his return to Chile in 1865 Ledger began his second great adventure. In Bolivia his servant, Manuel Incra Manami, had spent four years collecting cinchona seeds, highly prized for their quinine but a prohibited export. Ledger managed to get some seeds out; the British government refused to buy them but the Dutch government bought a small parcel, which was successfully cultivated in Java. Plantations of the species, later named Cinchona ledgeriana, provided much of the world's quinine from 1900 to 1940.

After living in America, Uruguay and Argentina Ledger returned to Australia in 1883. He died at Leichhardt on 19 May 1905 from senile decay and was buried in the Independent section of Rookwood cemetery according to Methodist rites. He was survived by three daughters; their mother, a South American, died in Peru in 1857 and Ledger's second wife, Charlotte Tooth, widow, whom he married in 1860, died in 1891. Although awarded a pension of 1200 guilders by the Dutch government in 1895, his estate was valued at only £2.

Ledger was sustained in his expeditions by great physical endurance, by expectation of personal reward and not least by a fervent desire to bring credit on the empire. His difficulties in Australia stemmed partly from his inability to account satisfactorily for his management of the alpacas, but he correctly believed that he had been deceived by verbal promises. A sketch-book of his adventures with the animals in 1849-58 is in the Mitchell Library.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Ledger, The Alpaca: Its Introduction into Australia, and the Probabilities of its Acclimatisation There (Melb, 1861)
  • N. Taylor, Cinchona in Java: The Story of Quinine (New York, 1945)
  • P. Mander Jones, ‘A sketch book found in Australia’, Inter-American Review of Bibliography, 3 (1953)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 1853, 2, 317, 1859-60, 5, 371, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1861-62, 2, 1383, 1863-64, 1, 487, 770
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Nov 1850, 30 Nov 1858, 22, 30 Mar, 8 Apr 1859, 8 June 1860, 2 Oct 1861, 13 Nov 1862, 11, 25 Feb, 28 June 1864, 20 May 1905
  • Sydney Mail, 6 Feb 1864, 29 July 1865
  • Examiner (Melbourne), 19 Nov 1859, 7 Jan 1860, 26 Oct 1861
  • manuscript catalogue under Ledger (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

B. G. Andrews, 'Ledger, Charles (1818–1905)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 25 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

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