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Philip Francis Adams (1828–1901)

by Joanna McIntyre

This article was published:

Philip Francis Adams (1828-1901), surveyor, viticulturist and astronomer, was born at Wamill Hall, near Mildenhall, Suffolk, England, son of Walter (?) Adams, of independent means, and his wife Laura, née Bucke. In 1838 his family moved to Strangford, County Down, Ireland, and he was educated partly by a private tutor and partly at the Belfast Academical and Collegiate Institution. In 1848 he was appointed a land surveyor. Three years later he emigrated to Canada and thence to the United States where he worked as a surveyor for two years. He then tried his luck on the Californian goldfields without success, and in 1854 arrived in Sydney. In July he was appointed district surveyor for Maitland. In 1857 he was transferred to the southern district, with his headquarters at Albury. There he devoted much time to wine-growing at Ettamogah where he planted a vineyard which later gained high repute. In 1859 at Newcastle he married Harriet Burnet, second daughter of Captain Biddulph, R.N.; they had five children.

In 1862 Adams was appointed acting deputy surveyor general. In administering Robertson's Land Acts he was hampered by the old, costly and time-consuming survey system based on haphazard measurement of individual allotments. In 1865 he reported on the necessity of a trigonometrical survey. Two years later work began on measuring the base line at Lake George and in 1870 Adams took charge of the trigonometrical survey. He was a very competent surveyor and an enthusiastic administrator. In 1864 he was appointed deputy surveyor general and on 17 March 1868 surveyor-general. In reorganizing his department his most notable achievement was the introduction of competitive examinations for surveyors. In the next decade he gave evidence to select committees on a wide range of subjects, including the Land Acts, his own department, the City of Sydney boundaries, the public service and diseases in grape-vines. He became a member of the Royal Society of New South Wales in 1864 and of the New South Wales Commission for the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in 1886. Keenly interested in astronomy, he was one of the official observers of the transit of Venus in 1874 at Woodford in the Blue Mountains and in 1882 at Lord Howe Island.

Adams retired on a pension on 31 December 1887. He bought Casula, a property near Liverpool, where he established a successful vineyard. He attended conferences of wine-growers and fruit-growers, judged at wine shows and published several articles on private wine-growing and bottling, some of them in the Agricultural Gazette of New South Wales. He took part in many local public and charitable activities and was a member of the local Public School Board. Early in 1901 he moved to Sydney where on 22 June, aged 73, he died of pneumonia. Survived by his wife and five children, he was buried in the Church of England section of the Waverley cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £12,000.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1857-86
  • 'Mr. Philip Francis Adams', Surveyor (Sydney), vol 14, no 5, Oct 1901, p 90
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24 June 1901
  • B. A. Harvey, A History of the Functions of the Department of Lands (M.A. thesis, University of Sydney, 1956).

Citation details

Joanna McIntyre, 'Adams, Philip Francis (1828–1901)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 24 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Mildenhall, Suffolk, England


22 June, 1901 (aged ~ 73)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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