Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Power, Robert (1794–1869)

by A. R. Love

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

Robert Power (1794-1869), military officer and surveyor-general, was born in Ireland, the second son of Edmond Power (1767-1837), sometime editor of the Clonmel Gazette, and his wife Ellen, née Sheehy. Two of his sisters married into the aristocracy: Marguerite (1789-1849) to Charles John Gardiner, earl of Blessington, and Ellen (1791-1845) to Charles Manners-Sutton, M.P., Viscount Canterbury. Robert was an ensign in the Leitrim Militia in September 1812 when he volunteered for service in the 91st Regiment. In 1815 he was commissioned lieutenant in the 73rd and in 1817 captain in the 20th. He resigned from the army in 1823 and became agent for the Tyrone estates. In 1829 by Blessington's will he inherited £1000 which helped him to keep 'his old reprobate of a father', his youngest sister Mary Ann, his own wife Agnes, née Brooke, and his children. In 1837 he had to appeal for aid from Lady Blessington who sent him money and took charge of Mary Ann. Next year, through the influence of Edward Ellice, M.P., Power was appointed deputy-commissioner of crown lands and forests and deputy surveyor general in New Brunswick at a salary of £300. In 1840 his superior officer resigned but Power was not appointed to the vacancy because the local inhabitants showed great jealousy of officers sent out from Britain. Since his position as deputy became redundant he was allowed a full year's salary and recommended by the local lieutenant-governor 'for any office in connexion with the Police Department either in Ireland or in any healthy Colony in Her Majesty's foreign possessions'. However, the Colonial Office decided to send him to Van Diemen's Land.

Power arrived in June 1841 at Hobart Town in the Bombay, accompanied by his wife, four children and two servants. Two daughters had been left with Lady Blessington in Paris to be educated. The eldest son, Charles John, a lieutenant in the Madras Army, died at Singapore on 13 November 1844. The second son married Anna Munro, daughter of George Hull on 10 August 1850.

In July 1841 Power was gazetted surveyor-general of Van Diemen's Land. Revenue from land sales was already falling off sharply because of the depression and his department was severely retrenched. The trigonometrical survey was stopped temporarily and most of the government surveyors were placed on contract work. As the depression lifted Power introduced a system of land leases which greatly increased revenue, although he also had to act as commissioner of crown lands without pay. These changes created much friction within the department and he was blamed for it by Lieutenant-Governor Sir William Denison. Through vice-regal patronage Hugh Cotton was made deputy surveyor general and placed in charge of the revived trigonometrical survey; Power was virtually relegated to administrative duties and his salary was reduced by £100. Although Power was always civil and obliging, Denison lamented to the Colonial Office that it was difficult to get rid of the head of a department without good reason.

On 12 December 1855 Power was advised that his retirement, on terms suggested by himself, would take effect from 1 January 1856. This arrangement broke down because after Denison's transfer to New South Wales Cotton had been removed from office and his successor as deputy surveyor general, James Sprent, was too busily engaged in the supervision of field work. Power remained as nominal head of the department until 1 July 1857. In November he was appointed serjeant-at-arms of the House of Assembly and in July 1866 he became usher of the black rod. In 1857 he had been given a pension of £175, but it was increased in 1860 to £300 because he had been appointed from Britain. He died at Hobart on 15 February 1869.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Sadleir, Blessington D'Orsay (Lond, 1947)
  • Hobart Town Gazette, 1811, p 596, 1857, p 1060
  • Hobart Town Courier, 2 July 1841, 28 Aug 1855
  • Mercury (Hobart), 17 Feb 1869
  • GO 33/70/672, 818 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

A. R. Love, 'Power, Robert (1794–1869)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/power-robert-2559/text3489, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 24 May 2019.

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

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2019