Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Bisdee (1796–1862)

by Ida McAulay

This article was published:

John Bisdee (1796-1862), farmer and public servant, was born on 17 April 1796 at Oldmixon, the eldest son of Thomas Bisdee, farmer, of Oldmixon, Somerset, England, and his wife Elizabeth, née Bishop, of Worle, Somerset. He eloped with his first wife Ann, née Green, in 1819, and sailed with her to Van Diemen's Land in the Westmoreland, arriving at Hobart Town in May 1821. He was granted 700 acres (283 ha) (Thorpe) on the Clyde at Bothwell, which he exchanged for better land at White Hills near Jericho. Within a year he was appointed governor of the Hobart Town gaol, chief constable for the district of Murray, and keeper of the Hobart pound. In Campbell Street he ran a nursery garden where he propagated and sold many kinds of fruit trees. He made his brother Edward manager at White Hills (Hutton Park), and continued to increase his holdings by grants, purchases and leases, at the same time building up a fine merino flock. In 1829 he was complimented on this work and his public service by Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur. In 1833 he resigned as governor of the gaol. During his term of eleven years he was both respected and liked: only one prisoner escaped and there were no complaints of harsh treatment. Upon resigning he was made a justice of the peace and Hutton Park became his permanent home.

In 1835 he went to England and returned in April 1840. Within seven years he was occupying 10,000 acres (4047 ha) of pasture land. He was again in England, where in May 1847 he told a select committee of the House of Lords on transportation that the system of assignment was more humanitarian and successful than the probation gangs which caused the moral deterioration of convicts. He recommended that the number of overseers should be increased by sending free men especially for that duty from England, thereby avoiding the undesirable use of ex-convicts and local men. He estimated that 2000 convicts a year were all that the colony could conveniently take unless the British government undertook extensive road and bridge building and dammed the lakes of the interior for irrigation much needed in dry country.

In 1848 his wife Ann died; they had two sons and four daughters. On 25 August 1853 in Hobart he married Henrietta Charlotte Miller. By her he had three daughters and one son who died in infancy. He eventually returned to England where he died on 18 November 1862 at Moorland Cottage, near Hutton. His son John stayed in the colony and inherited Hutton Park. One grandson was Lieutenant-Colonel John Hutton Bisdee who, as a trooper, won the V.C. in the South African war.

John Bisdee was known as a just and humane man who helped convicts and others he considered unfortunate. He was highly thought of by the governors of his time, and helped to put the stamp of England on the Tasmanian landscape by planting English trees, importing the first fallow deer, and raising pheasants at Hutton Park. Church of England by faith, he left descendants who strongly supported that church; they also continued his work of improving lands and growing fine wools. A portrait of him is in the possession of B. H. Bisdee of Hutton Park.

Select Bibliography

  • P. L. Brown (ed), Clyde Company Papers, vol 1 (Lond, 1941)
  • Hobart Town Courier, 17 May 1833, 25 Dec 1847.

Citation details

Ida McAulay, 'Bisdee, John (1796–1862)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 24 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]


17 April, 1796
Oldmixon, Somerset, England


18 November, 1862 (aged 66)
Hutton, Essex, England

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