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Pieter Laurentz Campbell (1809–1848)

by Hazel King

This article was published:

Pieter Laurentz Campbell (1809-1848), public servant, son of Ronald Campbell and his wife Charlotte, née Cloeté, as a young man became private secretary to Major-General (Sir) Richard Bourke, acting-governor of the Cape of Good Hope in 1826-28. He remained at the Cape after Bourke left, as assistant clerk to the council. In June 1830 he became an ensign in the 55th Regiment, transferred to the 89th in November, and thence as a second lieutenant in 1832 to the 21st Regiment, which had been ordered to New South Wales, so that he might once again serve under Bourke, now governor of that colony.

On arrival in New South Wales, Campbell became extra aide-de-camp to the governor and also assisted in the private secretary's office. On 1 October 1834 Bourke appointed him police magistrate at Maitland, where he was the government's principal agent in the district. Among many duties he was responsible for receiving and distributing stores to the upper districts of the Hunter, for adjudicating under the Licensing, Slaughtering, Road and Impounding Acts, and for various matters relating to crown lands. He also had to take the preliminary steps in dealing with felonies and misdemeanours, to preside over the bench of magistrates, and to superintend the constabulary in the Maitland and Paterson districts.

Bourke had become unpopular with many large landholders in the Hunter River district chiefly because they believed that their authority over their convict servants was dangerously weakened by the Act, amended on his initiative, for the punishment of offenders (3 Wm IV, no 3 NSW). Campbell had to reconcile the settlers to the new Act by firm and impartial administration of its provisions. He also reported confidentially to the governor on the state of public opinion in the district, and on the activities of those who were working for his recall. Campbell appears to have discharged his varied duties with zeal and ability and, in spite of his known allegiance to Bourke, to have given satisfaction to the magistrates and the local propertied classes. He was presented with a flattering address and a piece of plate when he left in 1836 to take up duty as police magistrate at Parramatta; in 1837 he also became visiting magistrate at the Female Factory. In 1838 he prepared the draft upon which the Country Towns Police Act (2 Vic. no 2 NSW) was based.

Campbell was an important witness before select committees of the Legislative Council on police and gaols in 1835 and 1839. The latter committee commended him for his efficiency as a police magistrate, and he placed before it a detailed plan for reorganizing the police of New South Wales on similar lines to those of the Royal Irish Constabulary with a commissioner in central control of all its activities. The proposal was adopted in principle by the committee, but Governor Sir George Gipps thought it too costly. Campbell had recommended a salary of £1000 for the proposed commissioner, and had 'jumped the gun' by applying for the post, claiming that, as the colony's senior police magistrate, he would lose all self-respect by accepting any lesser police office. In forwarding this application to London, Gipps gave Campbell credit only for being an active magistrate and a competent businessman.

On 1 March 1839 Campbell took over the duties of the colonial treasurer. Campbell Riddell who had nominated him before going on leave, had been one of Bourke's chief antagonists, whereas Campbell as his protégé seemed able to make the best of both worlds. When securities of £30,000 were given, Campbell was permitted to act for Riddell, but Gipps made it clear that he was not to take Riddell's seat in the Executive Council, as he was 'acting for the Colonial Treasurer', not 'Acting Colonial Treasurer'. In spite of this stipulation, Campbell twice asserted his right to occupy Riddell's seat, and further angered Gipps by publishing official correspondence without permission. The secretary of state, to whom the matter was referred, agreed with Gipps and instructed him to rebuke Campbell. On 8 May 1841 Campbell gave up his work at the Treasury on medical advice, and sailed for Cape Colony, and thence to London. He applied to the Colonial Office for half-salary as police magistrate at Parramatta while on sick leave, but Gipps denied his claim to an office which he had given up in order to act for the colonial treasurer. He did not obtain another post in the public service in New South Wales. He died in London on 4 October 1848.

Campbell acquired much land in the colony, was a shareholder and director of the Bank of Australia, and an early member of the Australian Club, Sydney. He married Barbara Isabella, daughter of Alexander McLeay, on 10 September 1834.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 17-25
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21 Apr, 28 Aug 1834, 16 Apr, 1, 2 May 1844
  • Bourke papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Hazel King, 'Campbell, Pieter Laurentz (1809–1848)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 12 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]




4 October, 1848 (aged ~ 39)
London, Middlesex, England

Cause of Death


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