Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Augustus Theodore Alt (1731–1815)

by Bernard T. Dowd

This article was published:

Augustus Theodore Henry Alt (1731-1815), soldier and surveyor, was born probably in London, the son of Justice Heinrich Alt (1698?-1768), sometime ambassador for Hesse-Kassel, and his English wife Jeanetta. He began service in the British army in 1755 when he was appointed ensign in the 8th Regiment. As assistant quartermaster general he conducted Hanoverian troops from Chatham to their quarters in Canterbury, and thence to their encampment on Barham Downs, Kent. In 1757 he went with his regiment to the coast of France, under the command of Admiral Hawke and General Sir John Mordaunt. In 1760 the regiment joined the allied army in Germany under Prince Ferdinand. Alt remained as aide-de-camp to several generals until the conclusion of peace. In 1763 he went to build roads in the highlands of Scotland and next year was sent to be instructed by Major Hume in Russian exercises for the benefit of the regiments quartered at Montrose. In 1777 he helped to raise the Manchester Volunteers, and served with them in 1779 at the siege of Gibraltar, where he was made assistant engineer by General Eliott. In 1781, with Colonel J. F. Erskine, he helped to raise three battalions of Swiss chasseurs for East India; in 1785 he was about to embark for Madagascar, as engineer with Colonel Erskine, to join Count Bonisky, when the expedition was cancelled.

In May 1787 he was appointed to the new colony of New South Wales as its first surveyor of lands and as a member of its commission for trial of pirates and of its vice-admiralty court; on arrival at Port Jackson he was made a justice of the peace. He accompanied Governor Arthur Phillip in an excursion to establish settlement at the head of Parramatta River in November 1788. In October 1791 he sat on the board of magistrates which examined the master of the convict ship Queen about abuses which had taken place on the voyage, but next month because of ill health, he asked for relief as surveyor-general. Phillip supported his request, and while waiting for a replacement employed Lieutenant William Dawes and David Burton to survey settlers' farms; however, Alt continued to hold office and draw up the surveyor's returns. In 1794 Lieutenant-Governor Francis Grose ordered Charles Grimes of Norfolk Island to Sydney to act as deputy-surveyor, but Alt was not otherwise relieved and continued to act as magistrate. In 1797 he made over half his pay to Grimes, who in 1801 was appointed acting surveyor-general when Alt was officially invalided from the service and given a pension of half-pay for life. In February 1794 he was granted 100 acres (40 ha), Hermitage Farm, at Petersham, where in 1798 his house was burnt down, and 280 adjoining acres (113 ha) between the road to Parramatta and Ashfield in 1810. He does not appear to have cultivated his land very actively.

Alt had two children, Lucy (1790-1806) and Henry George (b.1799). Their mother was Ann George, a convict in the Lady Penrhyn in the First Fleet, who died in 1814. Alt died at Parramatta on 9 January 1815 and was buried in St John's churchyard. His son soon left for China in the Northampton. A table monument was erected to Augustus Alt's memory by his nephew Matthew Bowles Alt.

Select Bibliography

  • B. T. Dowd, 'Augustus Alt, First Surveyor-General of New South Wales', Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 48, part 5, 1962, pp 360-69.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Bernard T. Dowd, 'Alt, Augustus Theodore (1731–1815)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


26 August, 1731
London, Middlesex, England


9 January, 1815 (aged 83)
Parramatta, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

general debility

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