Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Alexander Black (1827–1897)

by H. W. Nunn

This article was published:

Alexander Black (1827-1897), surveyor, was born on 25 May 1827 at Arndilly, Banffshire, Scotland, son of James Black and Isabella Middleton, née Riach. After education as a land surveyor in Aberdeen and completing his articles, he acted for some time as assistant factor on several estates, gaining much experience in the improvement and management of landed property. In the Oriental he left London and arrived in Port Phillip on 10 December 1852 at the height of the Victorian gold rushes. He went to the Castlemaine goldfields but returned to Melbourne late in 1853 and practised as a surveyor. On 18 April 1854 he was appointed to the staff of the Victorian government survey office on trial. On 1 August 1854 he became temporary assistant surveyor with a salary of £300 and allowances. His first duty was to survey the township of Lancefield. Later he worked in the Heathcote area and in central and northern Victoria.

In 1860 when the geodetic survey commenced under Robert Ellery, Black was appointed as one of the surveyors. His work, chiefly in northern and eastern Victoria, ended with the survey of the boundary between Victoria and New South Wales, and received high praise from Ellery. In 1871 Black was appointed acting district surveyor at Bairnsdale (confirmed 1 November 1872), where he was also lands officer and collector of imposts. On 21 January 1873 he was transferred to Sale and on 16 September became district surveyor at Sandhurst where in January 1875 he was also collector of imposts. Although his services were nominally dispensed with on Black Wednesday, 8 January 1878, at the request of James Grant he continued his daily work until officially restored to his post. Promoted district surveyor third class on 5 April and second class on 1 January 1879, he was appointed assistant surveyor-general. He succeeded Alexander Skene as surveyor-general on 1 July 1886, holding that post until his retirement in May 1892. Among other appointments he had been elected in 1877 a member of the Victorian Institute of Surveyors, became its president in 1879-80 and served on its council at various times; in 1880 he was appointed to the Water Conservancy Board and later with George Gordon reported on water problems and irrigation. He served on two royal commissions, the first on water supply in 1884; at the second, on the working of the Transfer of Land Act, he also gave evidence on the accuracy of surveys. In 1870 and 1882 he was deputy electoral officer; on 1 January 1890 he became deputy-chairman and, after four months, chairman of the Tender Board on which he served until 1892. In 1886-93 he was a member of the Board of Land and Works and commissioner of land tax. Sober and cautious in outlook, he never failed to win commendation for his thorough methods, energy and competence.

On 14 August 1886 Black married Agnese Constance (b.1859), daughter of Michael Guilfoyle of Sydney and his wife Charlotte Delafosse, née Austin. Although Black was an Anglican the ceremony took place at the home of the bride's brother, director of the Melbourne Botanical Gardens; they had no children. Black died at his home, Hammerdale, Alma Road, St Kilda, on 13 March 1897 and was buried at the St Kilda cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 15 Mar 1897
  • Lands Dept, Victoria, records
  • Chief Secretary, records (Public Record Office Victoria)
  • shipping records (Public Record Office Victoria).

Citation details

H. W. Nunn, 'Black, Alexander (1827–1897)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 26 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]


25 May, 1827
Arndilly, Banffshire, Scotland


13 March, 1897 (aged 69)
St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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