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Marsh, Matthew Henry (1810–1881)

by E. W. Dunlop

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

Matthew Henry Marsh (1810-1881), barrister, pastoralist and parliamentarian, was born in Wiltshire, England, eldest son of Rev. Matthew Marsh, canon and chancellor of the diocese of Salisbury, and his wife Margaret, née Brodie. Educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford (B.A., 1833; M.A., 1835), he was called to the Bar of the Inner Temple in 1836 and practised on the Western Circuit and the Wiltshire Assizes. He had few briefs and on the advice of his uncle, B. C. Brodie, migrated to New South Wales. He reached Sydney in the Broxbornebury on 24 June 1840 and bought a 34,000-acre (13,759 ha) property in New England from R. R. Mackenzie which he called Salisbury Plains. He later acquired Boorolong, another New England run of 175,000 acres (70,820 ha) and Maryland, 200,000 acres (80,937 ha) on the Darling Downs. A magistrate from 1841, he was an early member of the Australian Club.

Joined by his brother Charles whom he left to manage his stations, Marsh visited England where he married Elizabeth Mary, sister of E. C. Merewether in 1844. They returned in 1845 and lived in a canvas-lined slab hut known as Old Sarum until Salisbury Court was finished in 1846. Charles continued to manage Boorolong. A believer in cheap labour, Marsh found English immigrants 'discontented and troublesome' and in 1852 imported Chinese shepherds from Amoy whom he paid £7 4s. a year. In 1849 he successfully sued his superintendent for neglect and damages and next year won a Supreme Court action refusing a new trial. In September 1851 he was elected unopposed as a 'Liberal Whig' to the Legislative Council for the districts of New England and Macleay. He took part in the debates on W. C. Wentworth's constitution bill and derided American 'mobocracy', opposed an elected Upper House and denied the value of representation according to population. In 1854 he was a member of the commission to send exhibits to the Paris Exhibition. In August 1855 he vacated his seat in the council and returned to England with his family, leaving Charles to run his stations.

In 1857 Marsh was elected to the House of Commons in the liberal interest for Salisbury; his fellow representative was E. W. T. Hamilton. In parliament Marsh supported separation of the Moreton Bay District though regretting that the new colony did not include New England. Appointed honorary representative in England for the Queensland government he was the principal commissioner for Queensland at the London Exhibition in 1862. From June to December 1865 he visited Australia and his support for Queensland separation was recognized at a public banquet in Brisbane. On his return he published Overland from Southampton to Queensland (London, 1867). In the House of Commons he had brief notoriety as a leading Adullamite with Robert Lowe against the reform bill of 1866 and cited his colonial experience as proof of the destructiveness of democratic politics. He retired from parliament in 1868 and was defeated for Salisbury next year.

A fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, Marsh revisited his Australian estates in 1873. A magistrate for Wiltshire and Hampshire and a deputy-lieutenant of Wiltshire, Marsh lived at Mansion House, Ramridge, Hampshire. He died on 26 January 1881 at Bournemouth, survived by his wife and three daughters. His eldest daughter Georgina Eliza Lucy married Sir Herbert Croft and descendants still live at Salisbury Court. Marsh's goods were valued for probate at £38,000.

Select Bibliography

  • G. N. Griffiths, Some Northern Homes of N.S.W. (Syd, 1954)
  • R. B. Walker, Old New England (Syd, 1966)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 1841-52
  • 'Obituary', Times (London), 31 Jan 1881, p 6
  • A. Gardner, Northern and Western Districts, N.S.W., 1842-54, vol 1 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Sir Bernard Croft papers (Salisbury Court)
  • Macarthur and Elizabeth Marsh papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

E. W. Dunlop, 'Marsh, Matthew Henry (1810–1881)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/marsh-matthew-henry-4156/text6669, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 18 October 2018.

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

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