Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Meredith, George (1777–1856)

by David Hodgson

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

George Meredith (1777-1856), settler, was born on 13 February 1777 near Birmingham, England, the fourth son of John Meredith and his wife Sally, née Turner; his father was a prominent barrister and solicitor and descended from the ancient Amerydeth family of Devon and Wales. In 1796 Meredith was commissioned second lieutenant in the marines and later served in the West Indies, at the blockade of Ferrol in Spain and on the Mediterranean Station. At Alexandria in 1803 he made a daring ascent of Pompey's Pillar, a granite column 180 feet (55 m) high, to fasten the Union Jack in place of a French cap-of-liberty placed there by Napoleon's forces. In 1805 when recruiting in Berkshire he met and married Sarah, the daughter of H. W. Hicks. Next year he retired on half-pay and commenced farming at Newbury; later the family move to Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, and farmed there until 1819 when the post-war rural depression stimulated his interest in emigration. He then had two boys and three girls, the eldest being 13.

Meredith resolved to settle in Van Diemen's Land and applied to the Colonial Office for letters of introduction. In company with several partners he chartered a ship, but early in 1820 his wife died suddenly, thus jeopardizing the whole venture. By good fortune their former governess and companion, Mary Evans, consented to take care of the young family on the voyage. In July official permission was granted and in October the ship was loaded with personal possessions, extensive farm equipment and a small flock of merino sheep. An agreement had already been made to obtain additional stock from Edward Lord's flocks already on the island. The original partners, Meredith, Joseph Archer and Thomas Gregson, were joined by a number of passengers, including the Amos family, John Kerr, Francis Desailly and John Meredith, a cousin of the family. Before embarkation George Meredith and Mary Evans were quietly married and on 8 November the expedition sailed in the Emerald and reached Hobart Town on 13 March 1821.

After settling the family in temporary lodgings Meredith presented his letters of introduction to Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell and began to look for suitable land. He had already experienced the limited market outlets for inland farms in England and Wales, and was determined to secure coastal grants if possible. According to government surveys the most promising land lay at Oyster Bay, about 140 miles (225 km) distant on the eastern coast, and a small party set out in a whale-boat to visit the district. Close examination proved the land to be greatly inferior to the official descriptions, but certain parts capable of development were selected and the party returned to Hobart on 24 April to lodge the formal applications.

Official permission was duly given to the whole scheme, which included the individual grants, and late in September, after the first livestock were dispatched overland, a small schooner was chartered to take the settlers to Oyster Bay. There they found part of the granted land occupied by William Talbot, an emigrant Irishman who had already unsuccessfully sought inclusion in the group and now claimed that the land had been granted to him. Vigorously protesting he withdrew from the district but the dispute was finally decided in Meredith's favour in 1826.

Meanwhile the grants were developed and improved, both for seasonal crops and grazing stock; a tannery and flour-mill were established at the Meredith River, and bay whaling stations set up on near-by islands to try out whale oil for export. In a shipyard at Waterloo Point were built several trading vessels and also small craft for the use of sealing gangs on their visits to the Bass Strait islands. These enterprises required both skilled labour and special equipment and necessitated repeated visits to Hobart, so Meredith was able to maintain a close interest and participation in the public affairs of the free colonists. In 1824, after the declaration of a new Charter of Justice for Van Diemen's Land, Meredith and many other colonists met publicly to express their appreciation and to seek more benefits from the British government. In March 1827, after news that property owners in New South Wales were petitioning for an elective legislature, Meredith and other landowners arranged a public meeting to encourage similar efforts in Van Diemen's Land. A petition and addresses were prepared for submission to London by Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur. Through misunderstanding the documents were delayed; copies were later sent privately to England but the whole matter lapsed because the Colonial Office disapproved the colonists' attitude toward Arthur. Later that year Meredith and others again came into conflict with the lieutenant-governor over legislation to license the press, with which Meredith had strong connexions. Bitter official opposition toward Meredith continued throughout Arthur's term and constituted a severe restriction to his personal life and public spirit.

In the early 1820s many isolated settlements were under repeated attack from escaped convicts. In October 1825 the homestead at Oyster Bay was raided in Meredith's absence by the bushranger Matthew Brady. None of the family was injured but the house was ransacked and a servant taken hostage was later killed; fortunately the plate and other valuables were found buried near Hobart and returned. The family had first lived at Redbanks, a turf hut strengthened with timber, on the south bank of the Meredith River. About 1827 they moved into Belmont, a more spacious home lying about one mile (1.6 km) further inland. About 1836 they moved into Cambria, a large dwelling designed by Meredith near the original home and surrounded by gardens which had been steadily developed since their arrival. From that time the management of the property devolved more upon the eldest sons, and they took the entire care of the estate when his wife Mary died unexpectedly in 1842. By his second marriage he had three sons and four daughters, of whom the second son John remained in charge at Oyster Bay until George Meredith died in 1856.

Several of Meredith's children became prominent in later years; his second son, Charles, was appointed colonial treasurer of Van Diemen's Land in 1857 and continued in high public offices for twenty years; the fourth son, John, was appointed a magistrate at Swansea in 1855 and contributed greatly to the welfare of the district; the fifth son, Edwin, migrated to New Zealand as a pioneer colonist in 1851, and the fifth, daughter Clara, married Richard Dry.

George Meredith possessed qualities of endurance and strength which, coupled with his early experience at sea in command of men and subsequent farming life in England, resulted in a character eminently suitable for pioneer colonial life. The enthusiasm and encouragement of his wife Mary also contributed greatly to his successful career in public and private life.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 3, vols 4-6
  • R. W. Giblin, The Early History of Tasmania, vol 2 (Melb, 1939)
  • A. D. Baker, The Life and Times of Sir Richard Dry (Hob, 1951)
  • K. R. von Stieglitz, Pioneers of the East Coast from 1642 (Launceston, 1955)
  • A. McKay (ed), Journals of the Land Commissioners for Van Diemen's Land, 1826-28 (Hob, 1962)
  • correspondence file under George Meredith (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • manuscript catalogue under George Meredith (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Meredith file (Royal Society of Tasmania).

Citation details

David Hodgson, 'Meredith, George (1777–1856)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/meredith-george-2449/text3269, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 29 November 2014.

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

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