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Minchin, William (1774–1821)

by M. Austin

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

William Minchin (1774?-1821), military officer and settler, was born in Ireland, probably in County Tipperary, son of George Minchin. Commissioned ensign and adjutant of the New South Wales Corps on 2 March 1797, he proceeded to take up his appointment in the female convict transport Lady Shore, in command of a detachment of troops which included French and Irish prisoners of war, deserters, and prisoners from the Savoy. The prisoners mutinied on 1 August 1797, and Minchin and his wife Ann, with twenty-seven others, were cast adrift on 15 August, making landfall at Port St Pedro (Rio Grande), Brazil, two days later. On his return to England he appears to have successfully answered charges concerning the mutiny, and in due course he sailed for New South Wales; on arriving there, he took up duty as adjutant from Neil MacKellar in November 1800. He was closely connected with the duel between Colonel William Paterson and John Macarthur in 1801. Next year he was a prime mover in the accusation that Nicolas Baudin was selling at great profit rum which he had bought as provisions for his voyage home. Arising from this episode, he and Surgeon John Harris were charged and acquitted of lying; however, one result was a loss of confidence in Minchin by some of his brother officers.

Because of Minchin's earlier artillery experience, Governor Philip Gidley King appointed him engineer and artillery officer late in 1804, an appointment which involved training the Loyal Associations in the use of the 'great guns', and supervision of the construction of Fort Phillip. In March 1805 he was promoted lieutenant.

Like his fellow officers Minchin was not enamoured of Governor William Bligh. He was prominent in the rebellion in January 1808 and, while his part will never be fully clarified, at Colonel George Johnston's court martial he was accused of removing the screws from the guns outside Government House and training those on the parade ground to fire in that direction. He accompanied Johnston from Annandale, was a member of the court which tried Macarthur both before and after the rebellion, procured spirits from the Jenny to celebrate the 'night of the illuminations', rescued Bligh from possible manhandling when he was arrested, and arrested Commissary John Palmer, whose books and papers he seized, and Provost-Marshal William Gore.

Minchin carried Johnston's first dispatches to the Colonial Office, arriving in England in September 1808. He returned to the colony next August and went again to England in 1810 by way of Cape Horn with the New South Wales Corps, now renumbered the 102nd Regiment, which thereby became the first regiment to circumnavigate the globe. An only daughter, Maria Matilda, was born during this voyage or soon afterwards. Minchin gave evidence at Johnston's court martial, applied for a captaincy in the Royal African Corps, which he did not receive because there was no vacancy, and then accompanied his regiment to Guernsey and to Bermuda, where it arrived in September 1811, two days after he had been promoted captain. He saw action in a few small skirmishes during the American war of 1812-14. In September 1813 the regiment moved to Halifax and in 1816 was stationed in New Brunswick where his brother George, later a member of its Legislative Council, was living.

In August 1817 Minchin retired and sold his commission; he returned to New South Wales with his wife and daughter in September 1818. In April 1820 Governor Lachlan Macquarie appointed him principal superintendent of police, and treasurer of the Police Fund in the place of D'Arcy Wentworth. He became a director of the Bank of New South Wales, a member of the Bible Society, and was appointed a member of the Male Orphan, Female Orphan and Native Institutions. He died after a short illness on 26 March 1821. His widow was married to Eber Bunker in 1823, and his daughter to Henry Howey in 1826. Howey and his wife and family were lost in the Sarah in 1838.

Minchin did not trade in rum and his land holdings during his military service in the colony were small. During the interregnum Johnston made him a grant of 100 acres (40 ha), and Paterson one of 200 acres (81 ha) to his wife; Macquarie cancelled both but in 1819 granted him 1000 acres (405 ha) which now form part of the Minchinbury estate.

As a soldier Minchin was not outstanding. He apparently neither sought nor was he placed in a position to display any particular talent in his profession. His control of troops during the Lady Shore mutiny was weak and his judgment at fault, but it cannot be said that he was a traitor or that he lacked courage. He appears to have been reasonably conscientious as an adjutant, perhaps too much at times for his own good. While not without strength of character, he did not have the qualities necessary to influence markedly the course of events, but Macquarie thought him of superior intelligence and good moral conduct and considered his death a great public loss.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of New South Wales, vols 3-7, Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 3-7, 10
  • J. Black, An Authentic Narrative of the Mutiny on Board the Ship Lady Shore (Ipswich, 1798)
  • J. G. Semple Lisle, The Life of Major J. G. Semple Lisle (Lond, 1799)
  • Proceedings of a General Court-Martial … for the Trial ot Lieut.-Col. Geo. Johnston (Lond, 1811)
  • (L Davoren), A New Song Made in New South Wales on the Rebellion, ed G. Mackaness (Syd, 1951)
  • Army letter book 1816 (Legislative Library, Fredericton, New Brunswick)
  • WO 4/845, 17/2363
  • manuscript catalogue under William Minchin (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

M. Austin, 'Minchin, William (1774–1821)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/minchin-william-2460/text3291, 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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