Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Brumby (1771–1838)

by A. W. Campbell

This article was published:

James Brumby (1771-1838), soldier and pastoralist, was born at Scotton, Lincolnshire, England, the son of William and Rebecca Brumby. He was a private in the New South Wales Corps at least as early as 1794, when he held 25 acres (10 ha) at Hunter's Hill; this grant was later cancelled and in 1797 he was granted 100 acres (40 ha) at Mulgrave Place. While still serving in the corps he grazed stock on this land and on government land as well. According to family tradition he left horses which he was unable to muster or dispose of when he sailed for Van Diemen's Land; these were known as Brumby's horses and later as 'brumbies', hence the name for wild horses, though others have suggested that the word was of much later origin.

In 1804, as a sergeant in the New South Wales Corps, he sailed with Colonel William Paterson to found the settlement at Port Dalrymple on the River Tamar. When the regiment returned to England he took his discharge and remained as a settler in Van Diemen's Land where he had established himself as a landholder. By 1807 Brumby must have had some success as a farmer, for he received £92 15s. as payment for produce issued to the troops instead of the usual rations. In 1808-09 the government gave him livestock and, on 9 May 1809, 100 acres (40 ha) of land on the banks of the North Esk River in the district called Brumby's Plains until renamed Breadalbane in 1811 by Governor Lachlan Macquarie. He apparently took an active part in local affairs, and helped in the struggle against the bushrangers in 1815. In 1818 he was made a constable to supervise carts going to Port Dalrymple, in the hope of stopping 'a most nefarious traffic in stolen property'. In 1819 he signed a petition for a yearly circuit of the Lieutenant-Governor's Court to be held at Launceston, and next year was one of the signatories of an address of appreciation to Lieutenant-Colonel Gilbert Cimitiere.

By this time he was well set up in the colony. The 1819 General Muster shows him as having 50 acres (20 ha) sown with wheat and 570 acres (231 ha) under pasture, 5 horses, 341 cattle, 1300 sheep, a wife and three children; he had a grazing licence for Queen's Bay Bluff at Port Dalrymple and seven convict servants, and next year bought five of the stud merino rams which William Sorell had purchased from New South Wales. By 1824 he had a punt service over the South Esk, and as a reward was granted more land across the river.

James Brumby through his own efforts progressed from a private soldier to a well-to-do landowner. He was always ready to help others. In 1813 he successfully prosecuted a man for cruelty to cattle, and there are instances of his kindness to the Aboriginals. A fine judge of cattle and horses, he bred and raced horses and was interested in the importation of blood-stock from England. He died on 14 September 1838, leaving a widow, formerly Elizabeth Annesley (Hainsley, Ainsley, Ainslie), (b.1770 in Lincolnshire, d. 12 March 1846), whom he had married on 18 March 1811. One son, John, had died but two others survived him to become prosperous landowners in the Longford district.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 3, vols 1-3
  • Macarthur papers, 102A (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Bonwick transcripts, box 88 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • CSO 1/44/831 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

A. W. Campbell, 'Brumby, James (1771–1838)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 23 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]


Scotton, Lincolnshire, England


14 September, 1838 (aged ~ 67)
Longford, Tasmania, Australia

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Military Service