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Young, Sir Henry Edward Fox (1803–1870)

by H. J. Gibbney

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

Sir Henry Edward Fox Young (1803-1870), colonial administrator, was born on 23 April 1803 at Bradborne, Kent, England, third son of (Sir) Aretas William Young (1778?-1835), sometime governor of Prince Edward Island, and his wife Sarah, née Cox, of Coolcliffe, Wexford, Ireland. He was named after his godfather General Henry Edward Fox, brother of the Whig statesman. Educated at Dean's School, Bromley, in July 1827 he was entered as a student at the Inner Temple, but probably was not admitted for he joined his father in Trinidad. By 1830 Young had moved to Demerara, British Guiana, where he became a confidential clerk in the colonial secretary's office, aide-de-camp to the governor and acting recorder of the Orphan Chamber. Next year he deputized as protector of slaves while his father was on leave. In November 1833 Young was appointed treasurer at St Lucia and arrived there next March. He served as a member of the Council, as acting colonial secretary and puisne judge. In March 1835 he was promoted government secretary in British Guiana. In 1846 he returned to England, and in February 1847 was knighted and appointed lieutenant-governor of the eastern districts of the Cape Colony, but transferred in June to South Australia. He returned to England, where on 15 April 1848 he married Augusta Sophia (d.1913), daughter of Charles Marryat of Park Field, Potters Bar, Middlesex. They had two sons and five daughters.

On 1 August 1848 in the Forfarshire the Youngs arrived in Adelaide, where his courtesy and professed liberalism made him popular. He was fortunate in being authorized to suspend the hated mineral royalties but made some enemies by his neutrality over state aid to Churches. In 1852 he alleviated the economic crisis caused by the Victorian gold discoveries, and risked an invasion of the royal prerogative by assenting to a bill for a limited local use of gold ingots as currency. Also, the assay office in Adelaide was authorized to pay more than the prevailing Victorian rate for gold dust; this policy, backed by a police escort, ensured that most South Australians' gold earnings were brought to Adelaide. In 1850 Young examined the lower reaches of the Murray River and in 1853 accompanied Francis Cadell on the voyage of his steamer, Lady Augusta, sending a glowing dispatch to the Colonial Office from Swan Hill. His eagerness for the development of the Murray trade led in 1854 to the building of a railway from Goolwa to the coast but the choice of Port Elliot as a terminal later proved mistaken.

In 1853 the part-elective Legislative Council drafted a bill for a constitution for responsible government. Young manoeuvred to secure a nominated Upper House. Relevant dispatches were withheld from the council, and the bill was passed as he wished. London returned it in 1854 in response to a monster petition, and Young went to Van Diemen's Land as governor.

He reached Hobart Town in the City of Hobart with his family on 6 January 1855 to find the colonists resentful of limits to their self-government. In July the Tasmanian Daily News alleged corruption in the Convict Department. The Executive Council investigated and censured the comptroller Dr J. S. Hampton so mildly that Legislative Council radicals set up a select committee to probe further. Young denied the council's right to review the executive's decisions on an imperially controlled department. The committee summoned Hampton and when he refused to appear the Speaker issued a warrant for his arrest and insisted he appear at the bar of the House. On Executive Council advice Young prorogued the Legislative Council on 18 September on the grounds that its refusal to test its case in the Supreme Court constituted 'the supremacy of tyranny over law'. The Colonial Office upheld the prorogation but criticized Young for restricting the council's right of inquiry; the Supreme Court and the Privy Council both decided in Hampton's favour.

At the opening of the first session under the new Constitution Young attempted conciliation with a bill to grant the rights claimed in the Hampton case, but was rebuffed. He withdrew from politics, content to be a figurehead and to complete Government House at a cost of £120,000. He resigned in 1861 and returned to London, where he had many interests in the city and was an original director, and chairman in 1866-68, of the Australian Mercantile Land & Finance Co. An Anglican, he died of albuminuria on 18 September 1870, and his estate was sworn for probate at £7000.

Young was an efficient civil servant, trusted by the Colonial Office and very friendly with its senior permanent staff. Although opposed by turbulent local politicians in South Australia and Tasmania he was always able to command support. His readiness to lean on others and his enthusiasm for favourite projects sometimes provoked trouble, but he regained popularity by completing desirable measures initiated by others.

Select Bibliography

  • W. A. Townsley, The Struggle for Self-Government in Tasmania 1842-1856 (Hob, 1951)
  • J. D. Bailey, A Hundred Years of Pastoral Banking (Oxford, 1966)
  • D. Pike, Paradise of Dissent (Melb, 1967)
  • S. J. Butlin, ‘The South Australian devaluation of 1852’, Business Archives and History, 3 (1963)
  • Register (Adelaide), 2 Aug 1848
  • Observer (Adelaide), 2 Dec 1854
  • Examiner (Launceston), 9 Jan 1855
  • E. R. Denehey, The Development of Responsible Government in Van Diemen's Land (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Tasmania, 1961)
  • CO 13/60-88, 111/70-72, 253/46-47, 280/325-353.

Citation details

H. J. Gibbney, 'Young, Sir Henry Edward Fox (1803–1870)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/young-sir-henry-edward-fox-4902/text8207, published in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 21 August 2014.

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

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