Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Scott, James (1790–1837)

by G. H. Stancombe

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

James Scott (1790-1837), surgeon, was born at Inchdrewer Castle, Banffshire, Scotland, the eldest son of Thomas Scott. At 19 he received the diploma of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh, and after service in the navy he resumed his studies at Edinburgh University (M.D., 1815). In January 1820 he arrived in Sydney as surgeon-superintendent in the convict transport Castle Forbes and went on with it to Hobart Town. In May he gave evidence on conditions at the Hobart Hospital before Commissioner John Thomas Bigge. Next month he obtained a permit to settle in New South Wales and an order for a land grant of 800 acres (324 ha), which he transferred to Van Diemen's Land when in December 1820 he accepted temporary appointment at Hobart as colonial surgeon and controller of medical services in the southern part of the island. Bigge had criticized the house, hired for a hospital in Hobart, and proposed changes in the plans of the new hospital. Scott implemented these changes and obtained equipment, but he had to send his reports and requisitions to the principal surgeon in Sydney. In 1824 with Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell's help he appealed successfully for permanent appointment, which he held until 1835. His journal in the possession of the Royal Society of Tasmania gives a vivid picture of medical conditions in a young colony. As well as serving the hospital and the civil establishment he was permitted to engage in private practice, said to be worth £2000 a year.

Scott became a magistrate in 1824 and soon had to inquire into the escape of two convicts from a transport at Rio de Janeiro. He also joined other justices in complaints about the extreme unfitness of the buildings used as a police office and as a female factory. When as a public servant he added his name to a petition for repeal of the Press Licensing Act, Lieutenant-Governor Sir George Arthur reported him to Downing Street for behaviour 'long considered very improper'. On 25 June 1821 Scott married Lucy, the only child of Lieutenant-Governor Thomas Davey. Governor Lachlan Macquarie attended the wedding and gave Lucy a grant of 1000 acres (405 ha) for her own exclusive use; it was located at Bothwell and named Rothiemay. Scott held an estate at Scottsdale near New Norfolk, extensive property at Bothwell, land at New Town on which he built Boa Vista and Roseway, and the Constantia brewery. He was an original proprietor of the Bank of Van Diemen's Land, and he joined the committee of the first Presbyterian church in Hobart. He was also keen on natural history and collected specimens and wrote articles on his work. For a time he had in his employ the convict artist, William Gould. He died on 26 July 1837 and was buried in the old St David's cemetery, leaving four sons and two daughters. His wife survived him for ten years.

Scott was a confident surgeon and a sound physician. By nature autocratic, he quarrelled both with medical officers in his department and also independent practitioners and at one time refused their students entry to his operations. He was, however, an able administrator and highly respected by his colleagues.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vol 10, series 3, vols 3-4
  • R. W. Giblin, The Early History of Tasmania, vol 2 (Melb, 1939)
  • A. McKay (ed), Journals of the Land Commissioners for Van Diemen's Land, 1826-28 (Hob, 1962)
  • W. E. L. H. Crowther, ‘Practice and Personalities at Hobart Town, 1828-1832, as Indicated by the Day Book of James Scott, M.D., R.N., Senior Colonial Surgeon’, Medical Journal of Australia, 20 Mar 1954, pp 421-30
  • CSO 1/606/14062 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

G. H. Stancombe, 'Scott, James (1790–1837)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/scott-james-2641/text3671, published in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 24 September 2014.

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

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