Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Perry, Samuel Augustus (1787–1854)

by Bernard T. Dowd

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

Samuel Augustus Perry (1787-1854), by unknown artist

Samuel Augustus Perry (1787-1854), by unknown artist

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 13814

Samuel Augustus Perry (1787-1854), soldier and surveyor, was born on 14 March 1787, and baptized on 12 September 1791 at Holborn, London, son of Jabez Perry, goldbeater, and his wife Ann. He was appointed an ensign in the Royal Staff Corps in June 1809 and promoted lieutenant in 1811. He then served in the Peninsular war under Sir George Murray and was present at Badajoz, Nivelle and Nive. When the bridge over the Tagus at Alcantara was broken, he distinguished himself by filling the gap with a 'flying bridge' to carry the guns. On 12 April 1817 at St Paul's Church, Hammersmith, London, he married Caroline Elizabeth, daughter of James Johnson of Baker Street. In October 1819 he went on half-pay, and in that year was appointed professor of topographical drawing at the Royal Military College, a position he occupied until 1823. In 1824 he went to Dominica as private secretary and colonial aide-de-camp to the governor, Major-General William Nicolay. Because of ill health he was compelled in 1827 to return to England where he lived on half-pay at Ampfield, Hampshire.

When (Sir) Thomas Mitchell was appointed surveyor-general in New South Wales in 1828 he considered none of his juniors competent to succeed him as deputy surveyor general. Murray, now secretary of state, appointed Perry at a salary of £500 with allowances, and he reached Sydney in the Sovereign with his wife and six children in August 1829. Mitchell did not welcome the new arrival. In March 1831 Governor (Sir) Ralph Darling reported to Murray: 'The jealousy of [Mitchell's] disposition prevents his permitting the Employment of any Person whom he supposes likely to deprive him of any part of the service. Thus, the Deputy Surveyor General was kept a perfect Cypher in Sydney for nearly 18 months after his arrival, not being permitted, even during Major Mitchell's absence, to see any but the Commonest Letters the others being selected for the Surveyor General by his Confidential Clerk'. However, when Darling suggested that Perry might take charge of the Road Department, Mitchell said that he could not be spared.

After Governor (Sir) Richard Bourke's arrival Under-Secretary Hay, having noted Mitchell's complaints about his staff, asked Mitchell for a confidential report on members of the survey department. In his reply on 22 September 1832 Mitchell complained that Perry was idle and insinuated that he might be happy to see the department's business going wrong. 'I am almost inclined to say', he added, 'abolish the situation and let me have the credit for doing all the duty; or, appoint a person who can and will assist me'. In April 1833 the Colonial Office ordered the removal of Perry and any other members of the department 'designated as objectionable' by Mitchell. However, Mitchell knew that he must have a deputy to lead the department during his long absences; Perry remained his deputy for twenty more years. During Mitchell's absences in the interior and in England between 1835 and 1841 the department was busy with surveys of towns, village and allotments. Among the squatters who took up runs beyond the Nineteen Counties in this period was Perry's son, Thomas Augustus, who established Llangollen (Llangothlin) and Bendemeer in New England. In 1839 Perry reported favourably on the Clarence River district and in 1842 made a detailed survey of it.

In 1844-45, during the depression, Perry had eighteen months leave in England. In 1846 he accompanied Colonel George Barney on the investigation which resulted in the proposal that Port Curtis should be the centre of a new colony of North Australia. During Mitchell's visit to England in 1847-48 Perry again conducted the department. When Mitchell returned he criticized Perry so harshly that Perry complained to Governor Sir Charles FitzRoy, who recommended to the Colonial Office that Mitchell be removed. The Colonial Office was aware of the unfairness of Mitchell's insulting attitude towards Perry 'who has had to perform [Mitchell's] proper duties for him whilst he has been spending whole years in Europe bringing out lucrative books of his own, or else indulging his taste in exploring expeditions in the Colony'. However, Mitchell was not removed, and in August 1852 Perry was given leave on the ground of ill health. In April 1853 his leave was extended but in July he felt compelled to ask permission to retire, and his retirement became effective in October. He and his wife spent their remaining years at Kiama, where Mrs Perry died, probably late in 1853, and Perry on 15 January 1854. It is believed that they were survived by nine children.

Perry was a loyal and capable administrator and a skilful surveyor. It was his misfortune to serve under so objectionable a superior as Mitchell, and greatly to his credit that he seems never to have resorted to Mitchell's tactics in self-defence.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 14-22, 25-26
  • N. R. Gray ‘Samuel Augustus Perry: Deputy Surveyor-General of New South Wales’, Descent, vol 2, part 2, 1964, pp 45-54.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Bernard T. Dowd, 'Perry, Samuel Augustus (1787–1854)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/perry-samuel-augustus-2546/text3465, published in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 16 April 2014.

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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Samuel Augustus Perry (1787-1854), by unknown artist

Samuel Augustus Perry (1787-1854), by unknown artist

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 13814