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Ross, James (1786–1838)

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

James Ross (1786-1838), teacher and editor, was baptized on 4 January 1787 at Aberdeen, Scotland, the third son of Alexander Ross, writer to the signet, and his wife Catharine, née Morrison. He was educated at Marischal College, Aberdeen (M.A., 1803; LL.D., 1818) and conducted a school first at Sevenoaks, Kent, and then at Sunbury, Middlesex, where he married Susannah, née Smith. He won great esteem as a schoolmaster but by 1822 was in financial difficulties and in poor health. He decided to emigrate to Van Diemen's Land and make a home there for his rapidly growing family, to farm and to teach a few pupils.

Supported by a recommendation from Lachlan Macquarie to Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell and with a capital of £1309, including books worth £100, he arrived at Hobart Town in the Regalia in December 1822 and in January was granted 1000 acres (405 ha) on the River Shannon; he named this property the Hermitage. In 1824 he discussed with Sorell the possibility of establishing a school and for this purpose sought a grant near Hobart. In 1825 he became the tutor of Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur's children and his own. By this time he was discouraged by losses caused by bushrangers and a fire at the Hermitage and in May 1825 was appointed jointly with George Howe government printer and editor of the Hobart Town Gazette at a salary of £300. They published the first issue of the Gazette on 25 June. In January 1827 the partnership of Howe & Ross was dissolved; Ross was appointed to sole charge of the government printing office in February and in March Howe began publishing the Tasmanian in Hobart. Under the new arrangement the Hobart Town Gazette was an official weekly paper containing government announcements but no comment or discussion. In October Ross began to publish weekly also the Hobart Town Courier, an independent newspaper, but one which consistently supported the government. In 1828, instead of his salary, Ross was given a contract to print the Gazette for £5 a week with a monopoly of government printing. In 1829 he began producing the annual Hobart Town Almanack, and in February 1833 the short-lived Hobart Town Chronicle. In 1835 he edited and published four issues of the Van Diemen's Land Monthly Magazine, in which appeared verse, literary articles, and articles on natural history. In 1832 he was granted 312 acres (126 ha), Paraclete, on Knocklofty.

In January 1834 he wrote to the colonial secretary, John Montagu charging Andrew Bent and Henry Melville with conspiring to take his work away from him; Melville, he said, had informed Ross's clerk that he would persevere in public attacks on the government and Ross until he had succeeded in removing him from office. Ross's claim that he made only a modest profit was confirmed by the auditor. Earlier he had declared that his work had increased but not his emoluments; he had to teach his children himself and had been unable to afford to send any of them to Britain. Ross and Robert Lathrop Murray frequently attacked each other in the columns of their newspapers and in November 1836 Ross had an angry controversy with Gilbert Robertson. In 1836, with government approval, Ross disposed of his printing, bookbinding and stationery establishments to William Elliston for £12,000, and bound him to fulfil his engagements as government printer. He then retired to Carrington in the Richmond district.

After Ross's retirement Franklin, supporting his request for a secondary grant of land, wrote: 'If I were called upon to name the person who had in the greatest degree contributed to the welfare of Van Diemen's Land in the last twelve years I should certainly name Ross. His knowledge is most various and extensive and he has the gift of conveying it in the most simple, pleasing and popular manner … But in doing good he overlooked his family'. As an editor Ross had 'frequently quite embarrassed the Government by his support. Politics were evidently not his forte, and often on perusing his Paper might I have exclaimed “Save me from my friends”'. Ross published An Essay on Prison Discipline (2nd ed., Hobart, 1833). In the Penny Magazine (London), 31 March, 5 and 12 May 1832, he described his experiences in Van Diemen's Land under the heading 'An Emigrant's Struggles'. Some of his articles in the Hobart Town Almanack were used by Marcus Clarke in For the Term of His Natural Life.

He died of apoplexy at Carrington on 1 August 1838, and was buried in St Luke's cemetery, Richmond. Next year his widow, left with thirteen children, announced that she would open a boarding school at Carrington. In 1842 Carrington was sold to Esh Lovell for £2750 and the school moved to Paraclete. Mrs Ross married Robert Stewart, solicitor, of Hobart, and died at Battery Point on 12 May 1871, aged 75.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 3, vols 4, 6
  • P. L. Brown (ed), Clyde Company Papers, vol 1 (Lond, 1941)
  • E. M. Miller, Pressmen and Governors (Syd, 1952)
  • GO 1/30/64 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • CSO 1/89/1987, 1/114/2847 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • manuscript catalogue under James Ross (State Library of New South Wales)
  • CO 201/113.

Citation details

'Ross, James (1786–1838)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ross-james-2607/text3589, published in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 23 October 2014.

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

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