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Francis Louis Barrallier (1773–1853)

by Vivienne Parsons

This article was published:

Francis Louis Barrallier (1773-1853), engineer and explorer, was the son of a French naval surveyor, who after the capture of Toulon in 1793 was employed by the British. Barrallier came under the patronage of Charles Greville (1749-1809), relative of the Duke of Portland, who in April 1799 sought for him the post of deputy surveyor general of New South Wales. The secretary of state refused to make this appointment, but gave Barrallier permission to go out with the new governor, Philip Gidley King. This he did, arriving in Sydney on 15 April 1800. King at once employed him as an architect, and Barrallier drew the plans for the Orphan Asylum at Parramatta; in July, because of the lack of commissioned officers available for duty, the governor appointed him an ensign in the New South Wales Corps, 'until His Majesty's pleasure be known', However, before this recommendation reached London, he had already been appointed on 14 August 1800, though King does not seem to have been informed of this for a year, and before that time Barrallier had begun to make his name as an explorer. In March 1801 he accompanied Lieutenant James Grant in the Lady Nelson on a survey of the southern coast, and mapped it between Wilson's Promontory and Western Port. He was honoured by having a small island in the latter named after him. In July he made another trip, this time to the Coal River (Newcastle) where he surveyed the harbour. On 23 August 1801 King appointed him acting engineer and artillery officer in place of Captain Edward Abbott who had resigned. His military duties involved the maintenance and improvement of Sydney's defences and his work won high praise. He designed the citadel, Fort Phillip, which King planned to build on the highest windmill hill in Sydney. He is also reputed to have designed the King George, 185 tons, the first ship built in the yards of James Underwood in Sydney.

At this moment disputes between King and the New South Wales Corps caused Colonel William Paterson to demand Barrallier's return to regimental duty. London did not confirm Barrallier's appointment as engineer until August 1802, and the approval did not reach Sydney until March 1803; so, in deference to Paterson's protest, the governor relieved Barrallier of his extra-regimental duties on 8 October 1802, and in a General Order publicly gave him high praise for his work in 'discharging the duties of Military Engineer and Artillery Officer, superintending the Military Defences, Batteries and Canon of this Settlement, in addition to which he has most arduously and voluntarily executed the duties of Civil Engineer and Surveyor to the advancement of the Geography and Natural History of the Territory'. However, ten days after thus ordering Barrallier back to the regiment, King appointed him his aide-de-camp, and so made it possible for him to be sent exploring again.

Barrallier first made a short journey westward to find a depot for a later attempt to cross the Blue Mountains; on this he discovered the Nattai River and brought back specimens of limestone and iron ore which King sent to Sir Joseph Banks. Then Barrallier set off on an embassy for the governor to 'the King of the Mountains', leaving Prospect on 5 November on the most important journey of his career in New South Wales, and the most important of the early attempts to penetrate the Blue Mountains barrier. With four soldiers and five convicts, he first established a depot on the Nattai to which they twice returned to replenish their provisions, and thence penetrated about a hundred miles (161 km) into the mountains. They discovered Byrne's Gap and the Tonalli and Burragorang valleys, but were stopped from reaching the Great Dividing Range by a waterfall which seemed impassable. Barrallier turned back as his provisions were running low and his men were becoming despondent, though he was then very close to the Kanagra Plateau, from which a day's march would have taken him across the main divide between Oberon and the Jenolan Caves. This failure did much to deter further attempts on the mountain barrier for some years, and Barrallier's hearing on this trip of the word 'coo-ee', which the Aboriginals used as a bush call, was hardly an adequate compensation.

Soon after this expedition Barrallier fell out with King, who accused him of falsely asserting that the governor had forbidden his wife to visit Colonel Paterson's house. The upshot was that Barrallier was given leave in April 1803; he left Sydney in May, having submitted his resignation; but this was not accepted and, angry as King was at his protégé's behaviour, he wrote to Banks recommending him as a young man of considerable talent.

This early promise was not unfounded, for Barrallier's future military career was successful. In May 1805 he was appointed lieutenant in the 90th Regiment, and served at St Vincent in 1806, where he improved the defences. In 1809 he became a captain in the 101st Regiment, and as assistant engineer was present at the capture of Martinique. He was appointed aide-de-camp to the commander-in-chief in 1809, participated in the invasion of Guadeloupe in 1810, and in 1812 was ordered to make a military map of Barbados, which took him five years to complete. In 1813 he was appointed deputy assistant quartermaster general under Sir James Leith, next year was present at the second attack on Guadeloupe, which led to its capture, and then was appointed surveyor-general of Guadeloupe. In 1817 he returned to London and, after various periods of service in the 33rd Regiment and 25th Light Dragoons on and off half-pay, he became a brevet major in 1830 and a brevet lieutenant-colonel in 1846. On 31 July 1819 he had married Isobel Skyrme at St Mary's, Lambeth, Surrey. He died on 11 June 1853 at his home in London, at the age of 80.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of New South Wales, vols 4, 5, 7
  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 3, 4
  • R. Else Mitchell, ‘Barrallier's Blue Mountains Explorations, 1802’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 24, part 4, 1938, pp 291-313
  • M. Austin, ‘The Early Defences of Australia’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 49, part 3, 1963, pp 189-204
  • manuscript catalogue under F. L. Barrallier (State Library of New South Wales).

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Citation details

Vivienne Parsons, 'Barrallier, Francis Louis (1773–1853)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 21 July 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]




11 June, 1853 (aged ~ 80)
London, Middlesex, England

Cause of Death


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