Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Edward Albert Counsel (1849–1939)

by Ann Elias

This article was published:

Edward Albert Counsel (1849-1939), surveyor and administrator, was born at Piper's River, north-east Tasmania, son of Lawrence Counsel, farmer, who had migrated from County Louth, Ireland, in 1832, and his wife Zillah, née Jones. Counsel, educated at home, assisted on his father's selection near Ulverstone until, aged 20, he was articled to a local surveyor. An outstanding student, he qualified in 1872, and spent the next eight years on government mining and exploration surveys in the west and north-east of the colony, gaining much practical experience in track-cutting and bush field-work, and first-hand knowledge of the physical resources of Tasmania, and of the lives of the settlers. On 23 July 1879 at Hobart he married Mary Stuart Simson (d.1933).

In 1889 Counsel became the career head of the Surveys Department with his appointment as deputy surveyor-general for Tasmania. His recommendations on the Crown Lands Act (1890) were incorporated in an amending Act of 1894, which encouraged the disposal of crown land to industrious bona fide settlers without capital, and provided for the amalgamation of the Lands and Surveys departments. That year Counsel was appointed to the new position of surveyor-general and secretary for lands.

Throughout his long term of office he advocated an interventionist policy. He saw the prosperity of Tasmania as dependent on the stability of the small landholder, whom he believed the government should aid by extending credit, by developing roads and by undertaking exploration, with guaranteed titles established through accurate survey. Counsel's credit system substantially reduced the inherited departmental arrears, but met with only limited success in extending settlement owing to the scarcity of good agricultural land and the high cost of public works. The policy led, however, to State Advances Act (1907) and to the establishment of several institutions—the Closer Settlement Board (1906), the Agricultural Bank of Tasmania (1907), the Scenery Preservation Board (1915) and the Forestry Department (1920)—with all of which Counsel was closely associated.

A popular departmental head who believed in the efficacy of administrative action in resolving disputes over land use, Counsel was a foundation member in 1897 of the Civil Service Association and a member of the nominated Civil Service Board in 1900-05. He successfully defended his department against twenty charges investigated by a royal commission in 1910. As president of the Institute of Surveyors, Tasmania, in 1898-1923, and chairman of the Surveyors' Board in 1909-24, he worked for the achievement of high standards in his profession and for reciprocity with other States.

A fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and of the Royal Society of Tasmania, he served on the Council of the University of Tasmania in 1907-11 and 1915-27. In 1911 he represented the Commonwealth and New Zealand at the London conference of surveyors-general of the Empire, and was appointed Companion of the Imperial Service Order in 1921. After his retirement in 1924 he was retained by the government as a consultant. He died, aged 90, on 9 August 1939 in Hobart and was buried in the Roman Catholic section of Cornelian Bay cemetery, survived by two sons and two daughters. Six physical features in Tasmania are named for him.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of Tasmania, vol 1 (Hob, 1900)
  • Australian Surveyor, Dec 1939, Sept 1967
  • Tasmanian Mail, 9 June 1921
  • Examiner (Launceston), and Mercury (Hobart), 10 Aug 1939
  • Advocate (Burnie), 11 Aug 1939
  • CUS 30 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Ann Elias, 'Counsel, Edward Albert (1849–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 29 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Pipers River, Tasmania, Australia


9 August, 1939 (aged ~ 90)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

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