Australian Dictionary of Biography

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David Beveridge Adamson (1823–1891)

by Julie Evans

This article was published:

David Beveridge Adamson (1823-1891), wheelwright, carpenter and astronomer, was born on 22 March 1823 at Scaw Mill, Hawick, Roxburghshire, Scotland, second son of James Adamson, carpenter, and his wife Elizabeth, née Beveridge. The family later moved to Edinburgh, then to Crossgates, near Dunfermline. On 19 September 1839 James, Elizabeth and their seven surviving children arrived in South Australia in the Recovery; David, his father and brother Adam (1821-1898) were described as carpenters and wheelwrights.  

In 1840 James established an agricultural implement manufacturing business in Adelaide. About 1855 it became Adamson Brothers, with David, Adam, John Beveridge (1827-1915) and James Hazel (1829-1902) as principals; branches were established at Kapunda, Auburn and Laura. The brothers retired from business about 1882. Their wheat harvesters and strippers (based on John Ridley's invention) had won a high reputation—'Adamson's machines', it was said, 'never gave the country blacksmith a living for repairs'. On 6 November 1849 at Tenterden Cottage, Adelaide, with Congregational rites David had married 18-year-old Emma Golding La Vence from England. Following her death in 1880 he married 26-year-old, native-born Mary Ann Humphris at Stow Memorial Church on 7 December 1882.

Adamson had attended school at Dunfermline but thereafter was self-educated in a wide field of knowledge, with an insatiable interest in science and mechanics. He built furniture and musical instruments, claiming (in 1876) to have made the first violin in the colony in 1841. Known locally as a mechanical genius, he designed and built a valuable collection of scientific instruments, mechanical appliances and toys used to illustrate his public lectures and demonstrations. He was an ardent student of astronomy: pre-eminent among his constructions were a Gregorian and a Newtonian telescope, a beautifully produced orrery (made about 1870, now held by the Royal Astronomical Society of South Australia) and a Foucault's gyroscope. Elected a fellow of the Philosophical Society (later Royal Society) of South Australia in 1867, Adamson was a council-member from 1879 until his death. He published three papers in the society's Transactions and Proceedings.

A founding member of Chalmers Church, Adamson was later a member of Stow Memorial Church. He became a supporter of societies for improvement such as the Young Men's Christian Association. David's siblings shared the strong commitment of their parents to church and community. Adam was an office-bearer or promoter of such public bodies as the Chamber of Manufactures and the Destitute Board. James, an artist and photographer as well as machinery maker and inventor, tried—ultimately unsuccessfully—to establish a harvester machinery business in California, United States of America.

Survived by his second wife, and by thirteen of the fifteen children of his first marriage, David Adamson died of rheumatic heart disease on 23 June 1891 at his residence in Adelaide and was buried in West Terrace cemetery. He was an important member of a small group who helped to influence Adelaide's social and intellectual life before the establishment of the university. The family holds a painting of him from about 1850, probably by his brother James.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Adamson and B. Evans, Dunfermline to Down Under (Adel, 1994)
  • Royal Society of South Australia, Annual Report, 1891
  • South Australia Register, 13 May 1879
  • Chronicle (Adelaide), 24 June 1882, 9 Oct 1886
  • Observer (Adelaide), 27 June 1891, p 31.

Citation details

Julie Evans, 'Adamson, David Beveridge (1823–1891)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

David Adamson, c1875

David Adamson, c1875

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B54102

Life Summary [details]


22 March, 1823
Hawick, Roxburghshire, Scotland


23 June, 1891 (aged 68)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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