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Charles Campbell (1810–1888)

by C. E. T. Newman

This article was published:

Charles Campbell

Charles Campbell

State Library of New South Wales

Charles Campbell (1810-1888), pastoralist and politician, was born at sea on 20 September 1810, the third son of Robert Campbell, merchant of Campbell's Wharf, Sydney, and his wife Sophia, née Palmer. He was a precocious child and was taught by classical tutors in Sydney before entering Thomas Reddall's and then Rev. F. Wilkinson's schools. Afterwards he studied at home until he went to Europe about 1829. He had a phenomenal memory, and an outstanding knowledge of Latin, Greek and comparative religions.

After returning to Sydney in 1835 he decided on a country life at Limestone Plains. He bought land and managed Duntroon for his father and Ginninderra for his cousin, George Thomas Palmer. In 1837, having arranged to buy Ginninderra and paid a deposit on it, he married Catherine Irene, Palmer's daughter; they had five children and lived at Ginninderra.

Charles took a leading part in the Southern Association's efforts to stop cattle stealing. He soon found that, except for a few convicts, labour was very scarce, so he placed at the disposal of John McDonald, afterwards manager of The Times, funds to provide passages for shepherds from Scotland. He arranged for others to come out in ships trading for Campbell & Co.

Charles lost almost all his property in the prolonged drought of 1837-39 and the plague of scab that followed. The low prices of 1842 made property almost unsaleable. He was unable to continue to pay instalments on Ginninderra, so Palmer foreclosed and took over the property. Charles and his family moved to Duntroon where he greatly improved the lot of the employees, built groups of cottages as village communities, and gave the heads of families two acres (.8 ha) on which to grow fruit and vegetables and keep a cow. He wished to see small prosperous landowners established in the country. On his father's behalf, he provided a school and a schoolmaster and organized the building of the Church of St John the Baptist, Canberra, as well as a church at Queanbeyan. In 1841 and 1842 Charles addressed political meetings in Sydney, and in 1846 was the principal speaker at a mass meeting in protest against the reintroduction of transportation. As a candidate for the South Coast district, he stood for the Legislative Council election in 1851 but was defeated.

His father died in 1846, bequeathing his estates in equal shares to his six children. Charles managed Duntroon as its prospective owner but, when he left it in 1853, his father's estates had not been divided. Before sailing for England in 1854 he discussed with his brothers the need for a bishop for the Southern District. Later his elder brothers offered to endow the see of Goulburn, but Bishop Frederic Barker thought it unnecessary and would not subscribe towards it. In England Charles obtained the approval of the Colonial Bishops' Committee for the new see and the promise of at least £1000 towards its endowment. As arranged, the new bishop was appointed by the archbishop of Canterbury but Charles disapproved his religious activities and threatened to withdraw the family's endowments if the appointment were not rescinded. It was not rescinded and the family's endowments were not withdrawn. In 1864 when Bishop Mesac Thomas was inducted in Goulburn, Charles was one of the welcoming committee. Later he won the bishop's eulogies for his work and advice as chancellor of the diocese and for his accurate and detailed knowledge of the laws and customs of the Church of England.

While in England he had become a barrister, and later was an examiner for the New South Wales Bar. After 1864 he twice stood for election as representative for Queanbeyan and was defeated each time by a small margin. In 1868, with his brother John's financial backing, he caused the resuscitation of The King's School, which had been closed for nearly four years. He later became one of its governors. In 1870 he was nominated to the Legislative Council and took an active part in its debates. He died at Inverness, Scotland, in 1888.

Charles Campbell was an austere pioneer with a quick but short-lived temper and a biting tongue. Impatient with men less intelligent than himself, he admitted no shades of opinion between right and wrong. Although eloquent in his hatred of deceit and cruelty, he was not popular, but his industry and vision matched his integrity.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 18, 26
  • S. M. Johnstone, The History of The King's School, Parramatta (Syd, 1932)
  • R. Border, Founding of the See of Goulburn (Canberra, 1956)
  • Macarthur papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • F. Campbell, notes (privately held).

Related Thematic Essay

Citation details

C. E. T. Newman, 'Campbell, Charles (1810–1888)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 22 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

Charles Campbell

Charles Campbell

State Library of New South Wales

Life Summary [details]


20 September, 1810
at sea


17 August, 1888 (aged 77)
Dores, Inverness-shire, Scotland

Cause of Death


Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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