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Henry Baylis (1826–1905)

by K. J. Swan

This article was published:

Henry Baylis (1826-1905), police magistrate, was born on 17 April 1826 at Edinburgh, the second son of Thomas Henry Baylis, lieutenant in the 17th Regiment, and his wife Julia Dorothea, née Bartels. On 27 June 1832 he arrived in the City of Edinburgh at Sydney where his father continued his military career. Henry was one of the earliest pupils at The King's School, Parramatta, and then trained for four years in the legal office of the Fitzhardinge family of Sydney. He worked briefly on a pastoral property near Bathurst, joined a party which overlanded horses to Adelaide in 1849 and after gold was discovered tried his luck in the Mudgee district.

Baylis entered the public service as clerk of Petty Sessions at Hartley on 9 August 1852. On 1 January 1858 he became the first police magistrate at Wagga Wagga. This small village had developed by 1896 into a thriving municipality of some five thousand inhabitants, and its district, at first pastoral and sparsely populated, had become important for wheat-growing. Baylis played an important part in these developments. As magistrate he presided from 1862 in the courts at Wagga Wagga and each month and sometimes more often at Urana and Narrandera, usually travelling on horseback. Contemporary newspapers reveal the 'busyness' of the bench in those turbulent days. Of necessity Baylis was often assisted by another resident magistrate or justice of the peace, a practice which gave the police magistrate added responsibility, yet his leadership on the bench was sound. A contemporary recorded in 1888 that 'very few of his judgments have been altered on appeal, and many of those appealed against and carried to the Supreme Court have been sustained, and are published in Wilkinson's “Australian Magistrate” for the guidance of the magistrates of the Colony'.

As a citizen Baylis contributed greatly to the development of Wagga Wagga as an urban centre. He was well placed, as the senior local officer, to approach the government; for example, on 2 December 1858 he wrote to the commissioners of the National Board of Education for help in establishing a National school, and was chosen by several citizens to call the public meeting of 31 March 1869 which petitioned the governor to declare Wagga Wagga a municipal borough under the 1867 Municipalities Act. He was also prominent in many civic enterprises. On 21 June 1859 he laid the foundation stone of St John's Church of England of which he was always a leading layman. He was a founder of the Murrumbidgee Turf Club in 1860 and secretary of the Murrumbidgee Pastoral Association, formed in 1865, until it was firmly established. His activity was vital in hospital affairs and he was a director of the Wagga Wagga Permanent Building and Investment Society, established in 1870, and shared in many other duties. In the early 1870s he was the main butt for criticism by a group led by William Willans, solicitor, and Samuel Hawkins, proprietor of the Wagga Express, partly because he was a director of the Wagga Wagga Bridge Co. whose bridge over the Murrumbidgee had been opened for traffic in 1862 and whose tolls were fiercely resented, and partly because of his commanding, direct personality. Nevertheless, he was highly respected throughout the district.

Baylis had two colourful episodes in his professional life. The first began on 21 August 1863 when he was caught by the bushrangers, Dan Morgan and Clarke. After searching his valise and finding only a cheque, they let him go and suggested that the meeting be forgotten; Baylis replied that he would do his duty. A few days later, accompanied by police, he found the bushrangers' camp; the party lay in wait outside the mia-mia, but soon moved inside to shelter from the rain. After dusk stealthy footsteps were heard so Baylis went out and exchanged shots with the bushrangers. He and Clarke were wounded while Morgan was apparently unhurt. Clarke is thought to have died from the wound, for a body like his was found next year. Baylis was dangerously ill for some time, and later suffered from the effects of the injury. He was greatly attached to the bullet which he wore in a gold locket on his watch chain. In 1875 the government gave him a gold medal for his 'gallant and faithful service'.

The second episode was part of the struggle between the Pastoralists' and Shearers' Unions in the late 1880s and early 1890s. At shearing in 1888 a large contingent of unionists camped on Brookong station, about fifty miles (80 km) from Wagga Wagga, and tried to prevent the owner, William Halliday, from hiring non-union labour. After some clashes, Halliday called in Baylis, who read the Riot Act; the incident closed with the conviction and imprisonment of several shearers.

Baylis retired as police magistrate in July 1896 on a pension. In 1901 he became a member of the Parramatta Pensions Board. While walking across the railway tracks at Homebush station he was struck by a train and died soon afterwards on 5 July 1905. He was predeceased by his wife Sybella, née Murray, whom he had married at Warrawong, Mount Lambie, on 29 January 1857; their daughter and eight sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • W. F. Morrison, The Aldine Centennial History of New South Wales, vol 2 (Syd, 1888)
  • K. J. Swan, Centenary of Public Education in Wagga Wagga, 1861-1961 (Wagga, 1961)
  • K. J. Swan, A Century of Shows in Wagga Wagga (Wagga, 1965)
  • J. J. Baylis, ‘The Murrumbidgee and Wagga Wagga’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 13, part 4, 1927, pp 253-56 and vol 13, part 5, 1927, pp 294-304
  • Wagga Express, 21 June 1859
  • Yass Courier, 8 Aug 1860
  • Wagga Wagga Advertiser, 27 Mar, 21 Apr 1869, 15 Jan, 19 Feb, 20 Apr 1870
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 July 1905
  • Baylis papers (Wagga Wagga Historical Society Archives)
  • Murrumbidgee Pastoral Assn minutes (Wagga Show Society)
  • Henry Parkes papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

K. J. Swan, 'Baylis, Henry (1826–1905)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 19 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


17 April, 1826
Edinburgh, Mid-Lothian, Scotland


5 July, 1905 (aged 79)
Homebush, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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