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Read, Charles Rudston (1818–1854)

by Suzanne Edgar

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Charles Rudston Read (1818-1854), naval officer and adventurer, was born on 16 May 1818, probably at Hayton, Yorkshire, England, fifth surviving son of Rev. Thomas-Cutler Rudston-Read and his wife Louisa, née Cholmley. At 13 he entered the navy, passed his examination on 5 October 1838 and first visited Australia in that year. In the Conway off the coast of China he assisted in the attacks on Canton and was promoted lieutenant on 8 October 1841. In 1842-45 he served in the Frolic on the Brazilian and Pacific stations and in 1845-47 in the Asia at Sheerness. He failed to gain promotion in the Maeander in 1848, but had two further postings, in Inconstant and Alecto, before travelling to New Zealand late in 1849. He had intended farming but instead journeyed alone through that country; often sleeping out, he covered thousands of miles in eighteen months.

In September 1851 Read reached Newcastle, New South Wales, in the Halcyon and went by steamer to Sydney where gold-fever led him to the Turon diggings. With a partner he dug for gold at Thompson's Point until 'sandy blight' forced him to abandon the attempt and return to Sydney in January 1852. There the heightened excitement, this time emanating from Mount Alexander, Victoria, sent him to Melbourne where he found both work and accommodation scarce. Finally he was introduced to Lieutenant-Governor La Trobe who appointed him, on 20 May, assistant commissioner of crown lands at Forest Creek in the gold district of Castlemaine, at a salary of £500 with rations and forage. He issued licences, detected defaulters, guarded fees and gold, settled disputes and maintained an orderly field. Humane, popular, and understanding, he later wrote critically of the licence-fee system and the police on the diggings.

In June 1852 Read was transferred to Bendigo and on 28 August was appointed a police magistrate. He headed the outstation, Myers Creek, for four months with a clerk, sergeant and nine foot police under him. He spent the day riding over his district, doing the book-work at night.

In 1853 Read resigned, returned to England in the Statesman and published, with the aid of private subscriptions, What I Heard, Saw, and Did at the Australian Gold Fields (London). Intended as a realistic emigrants' guide, it is a colourful and humorous account of his adventures in which lively, detailed reporting of conditions and methods of digging alternates with comical vignettes of scenes observed. Illustrated by fourteen of his own excellent lithographs of life on the diggings, the book declines in the final section to generalized second-hand information.

Read was approached frequently for advice on emigration; he planned to return to Australia but died in 1854.

Select Bibliography

  • W. R. O'Byrne, A Naval Biographical Dictionary (Lond, 1849)
  • G. Serle, The Golden Age (Melb, 1963)
  • Select Committee on the … Goldfields, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, Victoria), 1852-53, 2, 1853-54, 3 (D8a)
  • Victoria Government Gazette, 1852, 2, 519, 933
  • Argus (Melbourne), 3 Jan 1853.

Citation details

Suzanne Edgar, 'Read, Charles Rudston (1818–1854)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/read-charles-rudston-4454/text7257, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 18 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

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