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Donald Cameron (1780–1857)

by Donald Cameron

This article was published:

Donald Cameron (1780-1857), surgeon and landowner, was born on 10 January 1780 at Edinburgh, the second son of John Cameron (d.1794), merchant and sole male survivor of his family after the 1745 rebellion, and his first wife Mary (d.1785), daughter of John Richardson, also an Edinburgh merchant. His father's second wife was Elizabeth, née MacDonald. Donald attended the High School and studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh. After his father died he fell out with his stepmother, joined the East India Co. and never returned home again. In 1798 he sailed as surgeon's mate in the Good Hope for Madras, where he joined the navy and became surgeon's mate in H.M.S. Suffolk (Captain Pulteney Malcolm). He served on several ships on the Indian coast, Persian Gulf and Red Sea, was in the French prize, La Forte, when she was wrecked at Jedda and then transferred to the Adam Smith transporting troops to Egypt. In 1802 he returned to England as surgeon in H.M.S. Lion and was paid off. He began a private practice in Edinburgh and on 21 May 1803 at St. Giles's Cathedral married Margaret Ann, daughter of Robert Still, merchant.

In 1806 Cameron joined his wife's cousin, Alexander Still, a Greenock ship-owner who was fitting out a ship to follow Lieutenant-General John Whitelocke's expedition to Buenos Aires, where they hoped to settle. With his wife and child Cameron was put ashore but lost everything when the expedition failed. He rejoined the navy as assistant surgeon in H.M.S. Archer. He was discharged at his own request on 12 July 1810 and took up a practice at Lerwick, Shetland Islands. In 1812 he returned to the mainland and in 1814 was recommended to Drummond of Drumtochty, near Fordoun, Kincardineshire, as his private physician. He held this post until he sailed with his wife and five children from Leith in the Skelton (Captain James Dixon). He arrived at Sydney on 16 January 1821 with an Aberdeen M.D., professorial letters of recommendation and capital valued at £1400.

Governor Lachlan Macquarie offered him a government post or a 1000-acre (405 ha) grant. Cameron chose the land and while negotiating to locate it in Van Diemen's Land he practised in Sydney. He left on 11 April 1822 for Launceston where he was granted a town allotment, site of the later General Post Office.

He declined recommendation for a magistracy but built 'at great expense and trouble two commodious brick dwellings which add much to the appearance and respectability of the Town'; one of them was exchanged for £400 and for a 1000-acre (405 ha) grant near Quamby which he later traded with Richard Dry for four hundred sheep. In June 1823 his own original grant was located on the Nile River and named Fordon. Later he bought more land near by and received another grant, Lundavra, at Break O'Day (St Marys). In 1827 his eldest son, John (b.Lerwick 1810), died suddenly, assumedly from drinking the water of New Plains Creek. Because of a flood he was buried in the bush but in 1844 Cameron ordered '60 ft (18 m) of iron rails and fasteners for our burying ground at Evandale' and John's remains were moved there.

Cameron managed his properties with the help of his sons. In the mid-1840s he suffered serious stock losses, and crime in the area was prevalent, including two murders. In 1848 he retired to Launceston where he died on 19 February 1857; he was buried at Evandale. His wife disliked town life; her interests were in the country and she was largely responsible for the water-race at Fordon. There she died on 17 June 1860 and was buried with her husband. Their youngest son Robert inherited the properties at Lundavra and Clairville. He had married his cousin, Maria Sefton, daughter of Alexander Still, who after the South American venture settled in Sydney.

The second son Donald Cameron, born in 1814 at Fordoun, Scotland, early showed great industry and ability, became his father's partner in 1838 and by 1840 was virtually managing their livestock. He bought rams from Norfolk Plains and from the Forlonges and was said to have been called in to arbitrate when the Taylors acquired Kenilworth from the Forlonges. In 1844-47 Donald toured the Continent and Britain, visited his birthplace and on 8 June 1847 married Mary Isabella, daughter of James Morrison, a banker of Stirling. He returned to Tasmania early in 1848 with his wife, a piano and a billiard table and settled at Fordon, which he later inherited. In 1863 he bought Burnside and, because he suffered from asthma, moved about a mile (1.6 km) to the higher ground. His business prospered and he bought more properties. He improved his flocks with rams from James Gibson of Belle Vue estate and ewes from W. Taylor of Patterdale. In 1868-86 he represented North Esk in the Legislative Council and in 1871 bought for £3500 the property of Lowestoft (now part of Chigwell suburb), Hobart. When he died on 31 October 1890, an obituarist in the Colonist claimed that he was ultra-conservative in politics but always had the courage of his opinions and expressed them fearlessly. His wife survived him by twenty-three years and travelled extensively between Tasmania and Europe. She is credited with the introduction of Jersey cattle into Tasmania and in 1904 became the first president of the local branch of the Victoria League. Their three sons and a daughter all gained distinction in their chosen spheres.

Select Bibliography

  • W. James, The Naval History of Great Britain (Lond, 1822)
  • A. MacKenzie, History of the Camerons (Inverness, 1881)
  • manuscript catalogue under Donald Cameron (State Library of New South Wales)
  • correspondence file under Donald Cameron (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • Cameron papers (privately held).

Citation details

Donald Cameron, 'Cameron, Donald (1780–1857)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 18 July 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]


10 January, 1780
Edinburgh, Mid-Lothian, Scotland


19 February, 1857 (aged 77)
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia

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