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Thomas Anstey (1777–1851)

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Thomas Anstey (1777-1851), pastoralist, was born on 31 December 1777 at Highercombe near Dulverton, Somerset, England, the son of John Anstey and his wife Elizabeth, née Branscombe. Although bred to the law, he was not attracted to it. He married Mary Turnbull at Edinburgh on 12 March 1811, and then became a partner in a Bond Street house for the sale of printed calicoes. When the firm dissolved, he decided to emigrate and practise agriculture on a large scale. With letters of recommendation from the Colonial Office and influential friends, and with implements, furniture and goods worth more than £8000, he sailed in the Berwick with his wife and three children, arriving at Hobart Town in June 1823. He was given a maximum grant of 2560 acres (1036 ha) which he selected on a tributary of the River Jordan near Oatlands and called Anstey Park. Next year he imported fifty pure bred merinos from the flock of Sir Thomas Seabright, and claimed another maximum grant. He also bought much land and by 1836 had more than 20,000 acres (8094 ha), including some choice pastures that he later planned to irrigate. His fine hospitable home, Anstey Barton, knew no want, but he had much trouble with sheep stealers, Aboriginals and convict servants.

Appointed a justice of the peace in 1824, Anstey shared in the ambush and capture of the bushranger William Priest. In 1826 he became coroner and next year police magistrate at Oatlands where he was largely responsible for building a township. To complaints that he used his office as a cloak for malice, he retorted that he had only contempt for ne'er-do-wells and always sought to suit punishment to the crime. Anguish came to his own home when his six-year-old daughter was debauched by assigned servants; in great distress, he and his wife had to give evidence at the trial in Launceston, where the three guilty men were sentenced to death.

In 1829 Anstey proposed to Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur that civilian parties be organized for the pursuit and capture of stock thieves and other marauders. The plan was successful, the parties being placed under Anstey's command, four of them based on Oatlands under his constable and clerk, Jorgen Jorgenson. In 1825 Anstey had suggested to Arthur that the Aboriginals be transported to the southern coast of New Holland, somewhere near the present Fowler's Bay, where there was little chance of contact with Europeans; if left to their own operations in Van Diemen's Land, he predicted 'something like a maroon war'. When it came in 1831 Anstey Barton was the headquarters for the central districts. After he resigned as police magistrate in 1833 Anstey offered to raise a public subscription for George Augustus Robinson for 'unparalleled and successful exertions' in conciliating the Aboriginals.

Anstey was prominent in petitioning for the continuance of William Sorell's administration in 1824, and was nominated to the Legislative Council in 1827, with one short break through ill health continuing as a member until 1844. He sometimes complained that land was granted to doubtful characters, but usually acquiesced in Arthur's policy. Under Sir John Franklin he supported the introduction of undenominational education in the British and Foreign Schools system, and deplored the 'cumbrous machinery' of alternative proposals. His dislike of sectarian rivalry for state aid never weakened, but he was never averse to state aid for rural employers. When the supply of assigned labour was reduced by the probation system he declared that masters were paralysed by the loss of their convict servants and merited compensation 'like the slave-owners'. He also spoke darkly of resisting the 'fearful doings of the Colonial Office'.

After retirement from the Legislative Council, in 1845-46 Anstey visited South Australia, whence in 1849 Judge (Sir) Charles Cooper came to recuperate for three months at Anstey Barton. As a leading settler Anstey espoused many good causes and helped to promote agricultural associations and country fairs with vice-regal support. He was a founding shareholder of the Bank of Van Diemen's Land and a director of the Derwent Bank. As a devout Anglican he subscribed to the first church at Jericho in 1831 and, because no ordained clergyman was available, he succeeded in having William Pike appointed as stipendiary catechist. Later he was largely responsible for obtaining Rev. George Morris for Oatlands, and for the building there of St Peter's Church; tradition credits him with donating the site and much of the funds on condition that the tower was visible from Anstey Barton.

His declining years were saddened by the dispersion of his family, but he remained widely respected and an acknowledged leader, outstanding among the enterprising private settlers for his livestock and efficient management as well as for his urbanity, humour and wise counsels. He died at Anstey Barton on 23 March 1851 and was buried in the family vault in the Anglican churchyard at Oatlands. His wife returned to England where she died in 1862, aged 85. In 1860 Anstey Park had been subdivided and sold, and its hospitable homestead passed from the family's hands.

Of Anstey's three daughters, the eldest, Ellen Lucy, was born in 1812 in London and died in Paris; the second, Clara, was born in 1817 in London and died in 1836; the youngest, Julia Capper, was born in 1824 at Anstey Barton, married Dr John Doughty on 17 November 1842 and had three children; after her death at Oatlands on 3 June 1850, aged 25, she was buried in the family vault in St Peter's churchyard.

The eldest son, George Alexander (1814-1895), was born at Kentish Town, London, and arrived at Hobart with his next brother in the Admiral Cockburn in February 1827. At 16 he led one of his father's roving parties and captured a small tribe of Aboriginals, winning a 500-acre (202 ha) land grant and official praise for his 'humanity and kindness'. He took his sister to England in 1834 and on his return was shipwrecked in D'Entrecasteaux Channel. Early in 1837 he took sheep to Port Phillip, sold them to the Learmonths and returned to Oatlands. He then took sheep to South Australia, but could not sell them and had to pay dearly for having them shepherded in places unlikely to be selected for special surveys. By 1840 he had 150 acres (61 ha) at Highercombe and, with 9000 sheep, was one of the colony's biggest stock-holders. His flocks grew and by 1851 he had extensive pastoral leases. The produce of his orchard and vineyard at Highercombe was also winning a wide reputation. Although a 'true liberal' he was defeated in two successive polls at Yatala in the first elections for the Legislative Council. Nominated to the first vacancy, he soon resigned, despairing of 'a reasonable constitution for the people'. On 12 September 1837 he had married Harriet Kingham, daughter of W. J. Ruffy, sometime editor of the Farmers' Journal in London; they had nine children. After his father's death he returned to Van Diemen's Land with his wife and two sons, but soon went to England where, after years of constant travel, he died in 1895.

Anstey's second son, Thomas Chisholm (1816-1873), was born in Kentish Town, London, and arrived in Hobart with his elder brother in 1827. 'A singular creature', he studied Hebrew under a tutor Rev. James Garrett at Bothwell and was said to have learnt shorthand from Jorgenson. After some uncertainty, 'Chiz' decided to make law his profession, returned to London, entered University College and in 1839 was called to the Bar at the Middle Temple. Influenced by the Oxford Movement he became a Roman Catholic, and on 25 September 1839 he married Harriet, daughter of J. E. Strickland of Loughlinn, County Roscommon, Ireland. He returned with her next year to Hobart where they made their home at Loyola and their first child was born. He also assumed political leadership of the Catholics. In his successful defence of John Espie on an assault charge he was eulogized for brilliant oratory. After three months as commissioner of insolvent estates he was dismissed for eccentric conduct. He returned to England to become professor of law and jurisprudence in the Catholic College at Prior Park, near Bath. Among his many legal tracts, one of the most important was A Guide to the Laws of England Affecting Roman Catholics (London, 1842). He was made a knight of St Gregory by Pius IX. In 1847-52 he was member for Youghal in the House of Commons, 'a malcontent of the highest bore-power', often caricatured by Punch. In 1854-59 as attorney-general at Hong Kong he again failed to control his restlessness. He settled at last in a successful practice at Bombay, where he died on 12 August 1873.

The third son, Arthur Oliphant (1819-1838), born at Lympton, Devon, was his mother's favourite. As a boy his head was injured by an exploding powder flask. In 1834 he was sent to Robert Walond's school in Hobart and three years later to London for further study. After serious illness in Edinburgh, he died on 21 October 1838, and was buried with Roman Catholic rites.

The youngest son, Henry Frampton (1822-1862), was born at Lympton, Devon, and educated at Longford Hall Academy in Tasmania. He visited England in 1845 and returned to Anstey Barton. He became a justice of the peace and was elected to the Legislative Council for the Oatlands district in 1851. After responsible government he represented Oatlands in the House of Assembly in 1856-59 and was secretary for lands and works in the Champ ministry in 1856-57. On 19 November 1853 at St Joseph's Catholic Church and afterwards at St David's Cathedral he married Adelaide, the second daughter of Peter Roberts, deputy commissary general, of Ashgrove, Oatlands. He died a papal knight at Rome in 1862.

Select Bibliography

  • correspondence file under Anstey (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • personal papers (privately held).

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Anstey, Thomas (1777–1851)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 14 April 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]


31 December, 1777
Highercombe, Somerset, England


23 March, 1851 (aged 73)
Oatlands, Tasmania, Australia

Cause of Death


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