Australian Dictionary of Biography

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

Savery, Henry (1791–1842)

by Cecil Hadgraft

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

Henry Savery (1791-1842), businessman, forger, convict and author, was born on 4 August 1791 in London, the sixth son of John Savery, a Bristol banker, and may have been educated at Oswestry Grammar School. He served an apprenticeship to business in Bristol, where he engaged in sugar refining, through which he became bankrupt, and newspaper editing. On 14 October 1815 he married Eliza Elliott, daughter of William Elliott Oliver, of Blackfriars, London. A son, Henry Oliver, was born on 30 June 1816.

Returning to sugar refining he entered upon commitments beyond his firm's resources, forged fictitious bills, fled, was pursued by his partner Saward, and was captured on board the Hudson at Cowes within half an hour of sailing. Brought back to Bristol, he pleaded guilty on the advice of a magistrate, was condemned to death on 4 April 1825, but the day before the hanging was to take place his sentence was commuted to transportation for life.

He arrived in Hobart Town in the Medway early in December 1825 and was employed as a clerk in the colonial secretary's office and then in the colonial treasurer's. In 1827 he was assigned to Captain B. B. Thomas, superintendent of the Van Diemen's Land Establishment. Early in 1828 Eliza Savery sailed in the Jessie Lawson, was saved from the wreck of that ship, and later in the Henry Wellesley arrived at Hobart in October to find Savery still bond and threatened by a writ for debt. His distress was probably heightened by doubts of the relationship between his wife and Algernon Montagu, the attorney-general, to whose care her parents had entrusted her on the voyage. Savery attempted suicide by cutting his throat but was saved by the attentions of Dr William Crowther. After her husband was imprisoned for debt Eliza Savery left Hobart in mid-February 1829, never to return.

While in prison Savery wrote sketches of Hobart life for the Colonial Times, from June to December 1829, under the title of The Hermit in Van Diemen's Land, using the pseudonym Simon Stukeley. They formed the first volume of Australian essays; published in Hobart in 1829 they were the subject of a libel suit in May 1830. After his release Savery wrote Quintus Servinton, the first Australian novel. It was published in three volumes in Hobart in 1830-31. Both works are now extremely rare, only four or five copies of each being known to exist.

For some years after this Savery prospered somewhat. In June 1832 he was granted a ticket-of-leave which was withdrawn for some months in 1833 because of a law suit in which he served as an innocent victim; he engaged in agriculture, was granted a conditional pardon early in 1838, and even had one or two assigned servants. Then, falling into debt, he once again forged bills, was arrested, and in October 1840 was condemned by his wife's former protector, Montagu. Savery was sent to Port Arthur, where he died, possibly from a stroke, on 6 February 1842.

Though his literary fame rests mainly on his priority in time, his sketches have some life and vividness, and his novel, in part autobiographical, gives an insight into business life in England and convict life in Tasmania.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Savery, Quintus Servinton, ed. C. Hadgraft (Brisb, 1962)
  • E. Morris Miller, Pressmen and Governors (Syd, 1952).

Citation details

Cecil Hadgraft, 'Savery, Henry (1791–1842)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/savery-henry-2632/text3649, published in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 17 September 2014.

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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014