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Liardet, Wilbraham Frederick Evelyn (1799–1878)

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

Wilbraham Frederick Evelyn Liardet (1799-1878), by unknown photographer

Wilbraham Frederick Evelyn Liardet (1799-1878), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 16195

Wilbraham Frederick Evelyn Liardet (1799-1878), hotel-keeper and water-colourist, was born on 17 July 1799 at Chelsea, London, the son of Wilbraham Liardet, an official in the Ordnance Department, and his wife Philippa, née Evelyn, widow of Major Houghton of the 69th Regiment and a direct descendant of John Evelyn, the diarist. The Liardet family was of Swiss origin.

Liardet entered the navy and served in the Pelican, but he transferred to the army, became a lieutenant in April 1825 and in September 1826 was retired on half-pay. About 1821 he had married his cousin Carolina Frederica, daughter of John William Tell Liardet, an officer of the Royal Marines. By 1839 they had had eleven children of whom five sons and four daughters survived infancy. In July of that year the family sailed for Sydney in the William Metcalfe.

The ship spent some three weeks in Hobson's Bay and Liardet decided to settle there. He left the family in the charge of his eldest son, Frank, 17, went on to Sydney with his second son, Frederick, and returned in the same ship a few weeks later. He settled by the water at what became Port Melbourne, hitherto occupied only by two fishermen, who lived in a hogshead cask. Liardet obtained a whale-boat and built a hut. He carried mail ashore from ships and by August 1840 was running a 'mail cart' to and from the town three times daily. In October he opened the Brighton Pier Hotel and soon had a passenger coach service to Melbourne. Liardet had possessed a competence when he arrived but was a poor man of business. By December 1841 he had transferred his hotel licence to his son Frank and in 1845 was insolvent. Nevertheless the family enjoyed their life by the sea where Wilbraham was a leading net fisherman and entertained the growing community by playing the guitar and flute and singing to them. The hotel was extended and attracted pleasure seekers from town for whom Liardet organized horse races, regattas and archery. Liardet was a capable water-colour draftsman; in 1843 when Sir John Franklin visited Melbourne Liardet presented him with a view of Melbourne afterwards engraved and sold in London for a guinea a copy.

Frank married the widow of the licensee of the Albion Hotel, Williamstown, where they lived. Hector, the third son, went to sea for a time and then took over the Pier Hotel. John Evelyn, the fourth son, was sent to London where he studied law. About this time Mrs Liardet took the five younger children to England.

In 1850 Liardet resumed the licence of the Pier Hotel and then sold it and sailed to England. In a year or two he returned and he and his wife settled in a house on the Yarra River. As a result of the gold rush their sons were prospering as coach and steam-boat proprietors; in 1853 Frank and Hector combined to conduct the Chusan Hotel in Port Melbourne and in 1861 Hector opened a hotel in East Melbourne. In the early 1860s Hector, St Clere, the fifth son, and then Frank went to New Zealand, where their parents joined them and later spent several years and where one of the daughters married. Mrs Liardet was a sister of Captain Francis Liardet, R.N., who went to New Zealand in 1841 as agent at New Plymouth for the New Zealand Co.

In 1869, when the Royal Dockyard at Deptford, London, was closed, Liardet, now 70, went to England to claim part of the site on the ground that John Evelyn had granted the use of sixteen acres (6.5 ha) of his land at Deptford to enlarge the government dockyard on condition that the land should revert to his heirs if the government ceased to use it for ship-building. The claim did not succeed. In 1874 Liardet was again in Melbourne and soon was at work on a history of Melbourne illustrated with his own water-colour sketches. He made forty sketches of scenes in early Melbourne, but had not got beyond making notes towards the history when he died on 21 March 1878 at Vogeltown, Wellington, New Zealand, where he had arrived a few months before. His wife died in Wellington on 30 April 1882.

In the dedication of his uncompleted history Liardet wrote: 'The humble compiler of the drawings … of primitive buildings of the City of Melbourne deems it the highest consideration to dedicate his work to Sir Redmond Barry'. They depict Melbourne when it 'was dawning into a creditable township'. Drawings and notes are now in the La Trobe Library, Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • A. W. Greig, ‘The Liardets of "The Beach"’, Victorian Historical Magazine, vol 5, no 1, Mar 1916, pp 1-14.

Citation details

'Liardet, Wilbraham Frederick Evelyn (1799–1878)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/liardet-wilbraham-frederick-evelyn-2358/text3087, published in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 21 October 2014.

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

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