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Joseph Archer (1795–1853)

by G. T. Stilwell

This article was published:

Joseph Archer (1795-1853), landowner, was born on 17 May 1795 at Hertford, England, the seventh but fifth surviving son of William Archer (1754-1833), later of Van Diemen's Land, and Martha (1757?-1816), daughter of John Kensey of Hertford. In 1817-19 he and his brother Edward (1793-1862) were in the United States. Joseph, encouraged by the success of another brother, Thomas, decided to emigrate to Van Diemen's Land and on 14 August 1820 obtained a letter of recommendation from Downing Street. In partnership with George Meredith he chartered the Emerald and sailed from Gravesend on 3 November. He brought with him goods and cash worth £3250; he had a flock of pure merino sheep which he later claimed were the first imported to the colony direct from Europe. Archer at once took up 2000 acres (809 ha) on the Lake River adjoining his brother Thomas's estate. On leaving, William Sorell wrote to (Sir) George Arthur, 'There is no Person in the Colony whom I can recommend to you as better entitled to consideration than Mr Joseph Archer, from his Capital, his Improvements in Land & Stock', but Sorell's proposal that Joseph be appointed a magistrate was not acted upon. Because of his importations of stock Joseph soon received an additional grant of equal size to his first. By 1831 he valued his estates and stock at over £32,000. Few settlers spent so much time or capital in developing their land and fewer reaped a greater reward.

On 11 March 1824 Joseph Archer was married to Elinor Binfield (1802?-1876), partner of Hannah Maria Davice, later Mrs George Carr Clark, in a school at Hobart Town. They had no issue.

In the early 1830s his prosperity enabled Archer to build the present elegant mansion at Panshanger which Professor B. Lewis has called the finest colonial house in Tasmania. Here from the four-pillared portico the prospect was of another England: the park, the hedged fields and the tower glimpsed through the trees.

Archer and his wife made several lengthy tours abroad. Viscount Melbourne was the patron of the Archer family and it was probably through him that in 1836 Joseph travelled in Scotland with Sir John Franklin the lieutenant-governor elect. Certainly he had fallen out with Arthur's administration over land in Launceston and doubtless wanted to protect his interests. In 1840 he was made a justice of the peace, and with his brothers joined L. W. Gilles to form the banking firm of Archers, Gilles & Co. It did not survive the depression and closed its doors in 1844; the family was left to pay debts amounting to £70,000. George Thomas Boyes claimed they exceeded this by over £30,000 and that Joseph had offered to hand over all his assets if the creditors would acquit him and allow him £2000 to begin anew. The family, however, eventually managed to pay the debts and he retained his estates. In 1847 he was on the committee of the London Agency for Van Diemen's Land. Four years later Joseph, who was an active opponent of transportation, became the first member for Longford in the first part-elective Legislative Council. He died suddenly at the Cornwall Hotel, Launceston, on 28 June 1853 and was buried in the family vault at Christ Church, Longford. On Panshanger a monolith was erected to his memory. The estates passed to his nephew and namesake, the fourth son of his brother Thomas. Archer's widow returned to England where on 25 April 1871 she married John Little of Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire.

At Archer's death an obituary in the Launceston Examiner claimed, 'The removal of such a man is a public calamity. Intelligent and possessing considerable experience, he has devoted his influence, wealth, and energies to the welfare of his adopted land'. Yet some years earlier Lady Franklin had written that he was of genial but not genteel manners and was unpopular with his equals. The convict records reveal him to have been a hard master.

Select Bibliography

  • A. McKay (ed), Journals of the Land Commissioners for Van Diemen's Land, 1826-28 (Hob, 1962)
  • Wood's Tasmanian Almanack, 1847
  • Hobart Town Courier, 9 Sept 1836
  • Franklin papers (Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge)
  • H. W. A. Kilgour, Notes on Archer family (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • correspondence file on Archer J. (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • private information.

Citation details

G. T. Stilwell, 'Archer, Joseph (1795–1853)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 23 June 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]


17 May, 1795
Hertford, Hertfordshire, England


28 June, 1853 (aged 58)
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia

Cause of Death


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