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William Neate Chapman (c. 1773–1838)

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William Neate Chapman (1773?-1838), public servant, was the son of Henry Chapman, a prosperous merchant, and his wife Christina, daughter of another well-to-do merchant, William Neate. Henry Chapman was an old friend of Governor Arthur Phillip, who offered to take the boy with him to New South Wales in the First Fleet. William Chapman was interested in a naval career and his father was anxious for him to go, but his mother thought him too young and successfully opposed the idea; however, she let him go with Lieutenant-Governor Philip Gidley King in 1791 when he was setting out in H.M.S. Gorgon for his command at Norfolk Island. On the voyage William got on extremely well with King and his wife and when he reached Port Jackson on 21 September he found Phillip 'very good to me'. He sailed to Norfolk Island with King next month and on 10 December was appointed a store-keeper there at Phillipsburgh. Although this post was on the far side of the island, visits between Chapman and the Kings were constant. Mrs King, wrote Chapman, treated him as if she were his sister and the lieutenant-governor treated the young man like a father. Chapman was godfather to the Kings' second child, accompanied King to New Zealand in the Britannia in 1793 and gradually became his right-hand man. When King sailed for England in 1796 Chapman found the parting 'very afflicting', though he consoled himself with the assurance that in due course he would see King 'once more in the Colony'.

Chapman's official promotion was not rapid, but by the beginning of 1800 he was acting as deputy-commissary at Norfolk Island, when Z. Clark was on leave. After King succeeded Governor John Hunter at Sydney, Chapman was appointed deputy-commissary there in December, and on 2 April 1801 became secretary to the governor as well. He was allotted a cottage close to Government House and returned to King's family circle. As might be expected he gave the governor loyal support and friendship in the quarrels and troubles that beset him, and played an active part in entertaining Nicolas Baudin and his party when they visited Sydney. In October 1802 he was appointed Naval Officer, but next May became embroiled in a petty quarrel with Captain Colnett of H.M.S. Glatton, over the question whether her papers were in order and she could sail. When Colnett demanded Chapman's trial by court martial, Judge-Advocate Richard Atkins held that no charge was cognizable and, as Colnett refused to bring a civil action, King restored Chapman, whom he had suspended, to his position. A year later he went on leave, sailing in the Calcutta in March 1804, accompanied by King's very warm testimony to his 'long tried honesty and integrity, which sends him home poor and pennyless, except for the savings of his pay'. Unlike most of his contemporaries he had not engaged in trade and, except for running a few sheep at Norfolk Island, which he sold to the government for £158 10s. in 1802, he took no part in agriculture and made no effort to stock or cultivate the 1300 acres (526 ha) of land he held while in the colony.

Chapman never returned to New South Wales, but went first to Madras to engage in trade with Port Jackson and, after six years without success, to Java, which was then under British rule. There he remained as a planter, but when he died on 5 December 1838 he was no better off than when he had first worked on Norfolk Island at a salary of £1 a week.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of New South Wales, vols 1-5
  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 1-5
  • G. Mackaness, Admiral Arthur Phillip (Syd, 1937)
  • M. Bassett, The Governor's Lady, Mrs Philip Gidley King (Melb, 1961)
  • Chapman letters (National Library of New Zealand and State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

'Chapman, William Neate (c. 1773–1838)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 17 April 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]


c. 1773


5 December, 1838 (aged ~ 65)
Kedeo, Isle of Java, Indonesia

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