Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Samuel Charles (1818–1909)

by A. L. Lougheed

This article was published:

Samuel Charles (1818-1909), mariner, dairy farmer and politician, known to contemporaries as Captain Charles, was born at Ballyronan, County Londonderry, Ireland, and baptized on 2 August 1818, son of Richard Charles, sergeant-major in the 5th Dragoons who served in the Peninsular war and at Waterloo, and his wife Margaret, née Hull. Samuel had a commercial education but was early attracted by the sea. He became a shipwright and served on coastal ships. In the early 1840s the Irish contractor, William Dargan, appointed him master of the Ulster Canal and Railway Co.'s steamer and manager of its dockyards.

Charles arrived in Sydney from Ireland in 1844, resumed his seafaring career in the coastal trade until 1846 when he finished building a brigantine. He then engaged in trading in the Pacific and in 1849 established an export trade in coal with the United States, carrying the first shipment from Newcastle to San Francisco. In 1853 he went to Britain to procure a steamer for the Kiama Steam Navigation Co. to operate in the coastal trade. Whilst fitting out the ship in Glasgow Charles offered his services to the British government for an expedition into the White Sea but was not chosen. He returned to Sydney in 1855 his seafaring days over; he resolved to seek his fortune on the land.

At Gerringong on 30 May 1855 Charles married Sarah Ann, daughter of James Mackay Gray, J.P., of Omega Retreat, near Kiama. He was thus attracted to the Kiama district and on 28 February 1855 paid £31 for half an acre (0.2 ha) in the town. Soon afterwards he bought for £60 the Eureka estate, overlooking the ocean at North Kiama, and began dairy farming. The combination of seafaring and dairying inspired him to consider the export potential of dairy products to England. Through his initiative the first shipment of butter, 5 tons worth £500, was dispatched to London in 1864, although the trade was not firmly established until 1871. In the 1870s Charles began to amass a modest fortune, not primarily from his dairying activities or his occasional speculations in land, but from the sale of metal on his property to the Sydney City Council for paving streets. He received £1000 annually from his quarry for several years.

In 1868-70 Charles was an alderman in the Kiama Municipal Council. On 27 January 1875 he entered the Legislative Assembly as the member for Kiama. Throughout his political career his main attributes were his independence, consistency, sincerity and violent opposition to Sir Henry Parkes. He resigned on 17 June 1880 and made a long visit to Britain, Europe and America. On his return Sir Alexander Stuart, a contemporary of Charles in the assembly, appointed him a life member of the Legislative Council in 1885. Until 1909 he was active in debates in the council and retained an agile mind. He violently opposed the payment of salaries to members of parliament and fought for Federation of all the Australian colonies.

Charles was a foundation member of the League of Ancient Mariners. In his later years he lived at Cliff Towers, Wolseley Road, Point Piper. There he died at 91 of heart failure on 23 September 1909 and was buried in the family vault at the Eureka private cemetery, Minnamurra, near Kiama. He was survived by four sons and a daughter. His estate was sworn for probate at more than £18,500.

Select Bibliography

  • W. F. Morrison, The Aldine Centennial History of New South Wales, vol 2 (Syd, 1888)
  • E. Digby (ed), Australian Men of Mark, vol 1 (Syd, 1889)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24 Sept 1909.

Citation details

A. L. Lougheed, 'Charles, Samuel (1818–1909)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 23 April 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

Samuel Charles, n.d.

Samuel Charles, n.d.

Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society, P03\P03780

Life Summary [details]


Ballyronan, Londonderry, Ireland


23 September, 1909 (aged ~ 91)
Point Piper, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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