Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Reeve, Edward (1822–1889)

by Rosilyn Baxter

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

Edward Reeve (1822-1889), writer, museum curator and police magistrate, was born on 15 December 1822 at Locking, Somerset, England, fourth son of Lieutenant John Andrewes Reeve, R.N., and his wife Mary, née Morell. Educated at Bristol College he reached Sydney in the Earl Grey on 25 February 1840. On 21 March 1847 at Christ Church St Laurence, he married Margaret Hennessy, who bore him two sons and two daughters. In 1848 after 'more than eight years of uninterrupted employment and misery as a teacher in New South Wales', Reeve became a clerk in the Immigration Department; he transferred to the Police Department in 1854 and by 1857 had found a 'perfectly congenial' position as a reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.

Reeve wrote at times under the pseudonym of 'Yorick'. In 1863 his blank verse play, Raymond, Lord of Milan; A Tragedy of the 13th Century (Sydney, 1851), was performed for four nights at Sydney's Victoria Theatre. William Walker described the play as 'the most successful drama which has been produced in this colony' but G. B. Barton thought it 'suffered greatly from the negligence with which it was put on the stage. Intoxicated actors and giggling ballet girls did their best to ruin it'. Reeve's wide-ranging interests were reflected in his journalism. He wrote a series of articles on education in New South Wales for the People's Advocate and, as a member of the New South Wales Professional Literary Association, contributed to its journal, Australian Era. He was associated with the Month, a literary magazine of his friend Frank Fowler. After he retired from active journalism he continued to contribute to Sydney papers and his long romance 'Friends and Foes; or, The Bride of Bernback', was published in the Sydney Mail from January to May 1882. Set in England with local interest provided by a visiting Australian cousin, it is fluently written, with a well-knit plot; its characters, though cast in the romantic convention, often achieve individuality. He compiled a 'Gazetteer of Central Polynesia' for Charles St Julian's Official Report on Central Polynesia (Sydney, 1857), became his secretary and succeeded him as Hawaiian consul-general in 1872. In 1876 he was made a knight commander of the Royal Order of Kalakaua I.

In 1860 Reeve had also become first curator of the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney, and compiled and printed a Catalogue of the Museum of Antiquities of the Sydney University (Sydney, 1870). In 1871 he was a founder and honorary secretary of the New South Wales Academy of Art; in his opening speech he stressed that 'our flora and fauna are an inexhaustible store for novelties of beauty and design, of which the old world knows nothing whatever and these suggestive types we must learn to utilize in what we have to do'.

Failing in health, Reeve left the Herald and became police magistrate at Gosford and coroner at Brisbane Water in 1875; he transferred to Port Macquarie in 1887, retired on a pension the next year and resumed his position as curator of the Nicholson Museum. He died on 13 May 1889 and was buried in the Anglican section of Waverley cemetery, survived by his second wife Catherine, née McVeigh, whom he had married in Sydney in 1854, and by three sons and three daughters of their nine children.

Select Bibliography

  • G. B. Barton, Literature in New South Wales (Syd, 1866)
  • J. S. Moore, The Life and Genius of James Lionel Michael (Syd, 1868)
  • People's Advocate (Sydney), 1851
  • Southern Cross (Sydney), 19 Nov 1859
  • Town and Country Journal, 18 May 1889
  • Senate minutes (University of Sydney Archives)
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Rosilyn Baxter, 'Reeve, Edward (1822–1889)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/reeve-edward-4462/text7275, published in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 31 October 2014.

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

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