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Lyttleton, William Thomas (1786–1839)

by C. J. Craig

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

William Thomas Lyttleton (1786?-1839), soldier and settler, was a distant connexion of the well-known Lyttelton family of Hagley Hall, Stourbridge, Worcestershire, England. He used the family crest on his silver, gave a family name, Westcote, to one of his sons, and the name, Hagley, to his property in Van Diemen's Land and to the near-by village. He entered the army as an ensign in the 73rd Regiment in April 1809. For five years he was wrongly listed as W. H. Lyttleton in the Army Lists and he even signed as 'W.H.' when he married. He was gazetted lieutenant in November 1810, but though known as 'Captain' Lyttleton in Tasmania, he never officially gained that rank. The regiment left Yarmouth in the Hindostan and Dromedary and arrived in Sydney in December 1809. In February 1810 a company under Major Gordon arrived at Port Dalrymple in the Tryall, and for a short time Lyttleton was attached to the Commissariat Department. In 1812 he was appointed Naval Officer at Port Dalrymple.

On 4 January 1812 Lyttleton married Ann, daughter of Private James Hortle of the New South Wales Corps. In June 1814 the Windham took two companies of the 73rd Regiment from Hobart Town to Ceylon and in 1821 the regiment returned to England. Lyttleton was granted leave on grounds of ill health from February 1820 to January 1822 but in November 1824 he sold his commission and retired from the army. Claiming possession of 500 cattle in Tasmania, and a capital of more than £2000, he sailed from Leith in the Triton with his wife and family, and after arrival at Hobart on 4 October 1825, was granted 560 acres (227 ha) near Westbury and 800 acres (324 ha) in the Meander district. With William Archer he rented another 2560 acres (1036 ha) at Norfolk Plains.

In November 1829 he was appointed police magistrate and deputy-chairman of Quarter Sessions at Launceston. In 1833 he convicted an assigned convict, Samuel Arnold, of cattle stealing and sentenced him to death, but after the trial suggested that 'another person' was the real culprit. This was taken to refer to Arnold's master, William Bryan, who sent a friend to issue a challenge. Lyttleton declined and sent an account of the matter to the attorney-general. The challenger was prosecuted, and Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur dismissed Bryan from the Commission of the Peace and recalled all his assigned servants.

Lyttleton is supposed to have built two notable late Georgian houses in Tasmania. He built probably only the western side of Hagley House, Hagley, but there is certainly evidence to connect him with Pinefield, at Longford, which the government bought for a parsonage in 1830, for Rev. Robert Davies, who in 1835 married Lyttleton's daughter. Lyttleton was also a talented amateur artist; two of his local paintings of 1811 and about 1830 are in the Mitchell Library, Sydney. He also drew the original picture from which was copied the well-known lithograph of Panshanger, the seat of Joseph Archer.

In 1835 Lyttleton resigned his post at Launceston and on 14 January 1836 he sailed for England in the Ann. He died on 7 June 1839 in London and was buried at Kensal Green cemetery, where a tablet to his memory is in the chapel. His widow returned to Van Diemen's Land in 1843, then lived in New Zealand for some time, came back to Tasmania in 1863, died at Hobart in 1874 and was buried at St John's cemetery, Launceston, in the Davies family vault. She had six other children, of whom the third son, Thomas Hamilton (1826-1876), was superintendent of police in Victoria. The novelist G. B. Lancaster (1874-1945) was a great-granddaughter and some of her characters are said to be modelled on Lyttleton.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 3, vol 1
  • Launceston Advertiser, 31 Oct 1839
  • correspondence file on W. T. Lyttleton (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

C. J. Craig, 'Lyttleton, William Thomas (1786–1839)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lyttleton-william-thomas-2385/text3143, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 22 April 2018.

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

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