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Ritchie, Thomas (1789–1851)

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

Thomas Ritchie (1789-1851), naval officer and landowner, was born at Rhynd, Perthshire, Scotland. At 15 he entered the navy as a first-class volunteer in the sloop Diligence. Later in the Combatant he served in the English Channel and Baltic until captured by the Danes in September 1807. He was exchanged in 1809 and joined the Courageux, accompanied the expedition to Walcheren, served again in the Baltic in the Victory, and in 1812 became acting lieutenant in the Ariel. He spent the last three years of war in the Cherokee at Leith. In 1814-15 he obtained leave from the Admiralty, purchased the brig Greyhound and traded between India and Australia.

In February 1818 he arrived in Hobart Town, advertised his mixed cargo for sale and later sailed for Sydney. There as he was leaving a waterman brought out a passenger, Hannah Harris, a free native of New South Wales. Ritchie took her to Ceylon and married her at Launceston in 1831. However, when he returned to Sydney in April 1819 he had to face charges brought against him by the government for abducting her from the colony without the governor's consent.

Ritchie was fined £500 with £250 costs, and he attributed the severity of the sentence to Governor Lachlan Macquarie's pique at Ritchie's having had in his possession a 'Book … found to contain in Manuscript all of what were considered the best satirical fugitive pieces of the day at that time forming a principal amusement of the best educated colonists'. His property reduced to about £2500, Ritchie sold the Greyhound and left Sydney for Hobart at the end of 1820 to claim property left to him on the death of his brother, Captain John Ritchie, who had been commandant at Port Dalrymple in 1812-14. He went on to Port Dalrymple, where he began shipping grain to Sydney; but he lost a full cargo in the Commerce, and decided to go on the land. Macquarie, remembering the 'Book', as Ritchie said, would give him only 700 acres (283 ha), but he bought extensions and Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur granted him 1300 acres (526 ha). Ritchie felt that his capital and rank entitled him to much more, and in 1830 he went to England to press his claim, which ultimately failed. Yet by 1832 his land amounted to 3630 acres (1469 ha), widely scattered in Northern Tasmania. In 1833 his new flour-mills on his Scone property, Perth, were praised by the local press. Powered by a water race from a weir across the South Esk River at Perth, they served a wide hinterland.

In the 1840s Ritchie was elected president of the St Andrew's Club, a benevolent society which became an active immigration agency; he was also a strong opponent of transportation to the colony and a promoter of horse-racing. In April 1845 he was appointed a justice of the peace but otherwise took little part in public affairs, devoting his energies to the improvement of his breeds of cattle and sheep which became widely renowned under later owners of Scone. He died at Perth on 9 February 1851 after a long illness, leaving a family of seven sons and two daughters. His widow Hannah survived him more than thirty years, dying at Longford on 25 August 1882. The eldest sons inherited the estates of Scone and its mill, and Cairns Mount, Chudleigh; another son founded the legal firm of Ritchie Parker, and others acquired farms in the Perth district.

Select Bibliography

  • W. R. O'Byrne, A Naval Biographical Dictionary (Lond, 1849)
  • correspondence file under Thomas Ritchie (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

'Ritchie, Thomas (1789–1851)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ritchie-thomas-2593/text3559, 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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