Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Alexander Campbell (1805–1890)

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Alexander Campbell (1805-1890), farmer and mariner, was born at Sunipol, Mull, Scotland, the son of a farming tenant of the Duke of Argyll. In October 1825 he arrived in the Triton in Van Diemen's Land where his brother Donald had already settled. For some time he worked on shares on Donald's grant at White Hills and then managed Simeon Lord's Bona Vista estate near Launceston. He was granted 320 acres (130 ha) at Avoca and in 1829 also rented Donald's farm while he visited Scotland. Next year Campbell took an active part in the 'war' against the Aboriginals.

In 1831 he went to Sydney where he met a shipping agent who interested him in whaling. Campbell returned to Launceston, leased his land and later sold it for £120. In 1832 he was asked by Captain John Griffiths to take charge of his whaling station at Portland Bay, but Campbell was more attracted by sperm fishing and went to Sydney to join a ship. After two years of deep sea whaling with little success, he accepted Griffiths's offer in 1836. He had a profitable season at Portland for Griffiths and his partner Connolly, and after visits to Launceston and Sydney went to Port Fairy where he settled in 1837. A whaling base was established on the island, Griffiths and his men building a 'government house' for Campbell, huts for the men, and sheds for the fishing gear. In 1838, when the Children was wrecked thirty miles (48 km) east of Port Fairy, Campbell was largely responsible for saving eighteen lives. In 1841 he built a house for his sisters at Port Fairy, and visited Adelaide. Next year Griffiths and Connolly failed, and as Campbell had become their partner he lost all his savings. His only remaining asset was a pastoral lease from the Hopkins River to the Merai, including the site of Warrnambool; here he had been the first to introduce sheep and begin farming, but now he sold it for £80.

Campbell returned to whaling when Griffiths reopened his station, and in off seasons traded as master of various ships between Sydney, Launceston, Port Fairy and Melbourne. In 1844 he married and built a house at Port Fairy, and soon afterwards built another house and a mill at Rosebrook. When bay whaling ceased to be profitable in 1847, he bought and repaired the Clarence, washed ashore at the Hopkins River, and sold her in Sydney. In 1849 he spent an unfruitful season in the Pet on his last whaling expedition. Next year he bought a share in the coastal trader Margaret and Agnes, but through an old friend, J. H. N. Cassell, collector of customs, he was appointed the first harbourmaster in the port of Melbourne. In 1869 he retired on a pension and, after three years of rest, became a pastoralist at Fulham, Gippsland. He prospered, visited Scotland with his wife and daughter in 1877, and after two years at Fulham made his home in Caroline Street, South Yarra. Here he died on 25 May 1890, and was buried in Brighton cemetery.

Powerful in body and spirit, Campbell was a strong swimmer, keen sportsman and fine shot. He kept up duck shooting until he was 80, and as harbourmaster made a point of walking ten miles (16 km) each day. He became a legend among whalers and seafarers as 'Port Fairy Campbell', and according to Rolf Boldrewood, 'bore rule over all the land and … on those who disliked him, laid a strong hand'.

Select Bibliography

  • Argus (Melbourne), 27 May 1890.

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Citation details

'Campbell, Alexander (1805–1890)', 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]


Mull, Argyll, Scotland


25 May, 1890 (aged ~ 85)
South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

general debility

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.

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