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Garnham Blaxcell (1778–1817)

by E. W. Dunlop

This article was published:

Garnham Blaxcell (1778-1817), merchant and trader, was baptized on 27 May 1778, the sixth son of John Blaxcell of Kelsale, near Saxmundham, Suffolk, England, and his wife Ann, née Groom. He joined the navy in May 1801 and served in H.M.S. Rattlesnake on the Cape of Good Hope Station, before he transferred to H.M.S. Buffalo, in which he arrived in Sydney as acting purser on 16 October 1802. He quickly won favour with Governor Philip Gidley King who appointed him to several official positions (deputy-commissary, 6 May 1803; acting provost-marshal, 20 December 1804; secretary 1804-06) and in 1806 granted him 1125 acres (455 ha) at Granville, on the Dog Trap Road, known as the Drainwell estate, in addition to 100 acres (40 ha) he had received soon after his arrival. However, Blaxcell was more interested in commerce than in farming. 'The grain delivered in by him [to the government store], must proceed from traffic only, he not growing a single grain', the deposed commissary, John Palmer, told William Bligh in February 1809, and he alleged other instances of favoured treatment to this partner of John Macarthur.

Blaxcell took an active part in the Bligh rebellion, and was one of the committee that examined the governor's papers after his arrest. During the interregnum he was appointed a magistrate and became the sole auctioneer of the colony. By this time he was one of Sydney's richest merchants, his extensive establishments including a farm at Petersham, a windmill at Pyrmont, a warehouse in George Street, and a 'fine house' in Sydney. At various times he owned several small trading vessels: the Hope, Halcyon, Northumberland, Cyclops, Favourite, Elizabeth and (with John Macarthur) Governor Macquarie.

In 1810 Governor Lachlan Macquarie gave him, with Alexander Riley and D'Arcy Wentworth, a contract to build a general hospital in Sydney, in return for the right to import 45,000 gallons (204,574 litres) of spirits over the next three years. The building, completed in 1816, was severely criticized for its defects and brought no great profit to the contractors. In 1815 Blaxcell proposed another grandiose scheme to form a chartered company to establish settlements and factories in New Zealand. Over-ambitious ventures, however, led to his undoing. As early as 1809 unsuccessful speculation in trading had obliged him to assign his Drainwell estate to Surgeon Thomas Jamison. In 1810 he became further involved in debts to John Macarthur and other leading colonists, and by 1812 he was unable to meet liabilities for import duties. His finances steadily worsened, but for some years no action could be taken against him because the Civil Court did not sit during the dispute between the governor and Jeffery Hart Bent. By 1817 Blaxcell's liabilities were said to be £6373, and his assets £5255; he had also defaulted to the government for £2385 in import duties. Finding that the Crown was preparing to recover these debts through the Supreme Court, on 9 April 1817 Blaxcell secretly left for England in the Kangaroo with the improper connivance of her commander, Lieutenant Charles Jeffreys. Blaxcell's stated intention of recovering money owed to him in London was never realized, for he died at Batavia on 3 October 1817, his death hastened by drink.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 4-9
  • Sydney Gazette, 15 May, 10 June 1803, 22 Apr, 30 Dec 1804, 30 July, 5 Nov 1809, 5 June 1811, 18, 25 June 1814, 25 June 1818
  • J. M. Forde, newspaper cuttings (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Wentworth, Blaxcell and Riley joint correspondence, Wentworth papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Hassall papers and correspondence (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

E. W. Dunlop, 'Blaxcell, Garnham (1778–1817)', 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]




3 October, 1817 (aged ~ 39)
Jakarta, Indonesia

Cause of Death


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