Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Cuthbertson (?–1823)

by E. R. Pretyman

This article was published:

John Cuthbertson (d.1823), commandant of convicts, is believed to have lived in the parish of Strabane, Tyrone, Ireland. His War Office records are missing, but an epitaph indicates that he probably joined the army in 1804.

The 48th Regiment, in which he was given a lieutenancy in January 1808, reached New South Wales from Ireland at the end of 1817 and detachments were sent to Van Diemen's Land early in 1818. His prompt action in pursuing a government launch seized in the Derwent by convicts and in capturing all but one of them at the Western River caused Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell in May 1818 to seek approbation from Governor Lachlan Macquarie, who in September conveyed his thanks to Cuthbertson with an assurance that at a favourable opportunity he would offer any little service in his power. In December Cuthbertson was informed of a pending transfer from Port Dalrymple, where he was then stationed, and he reached Hobart Town in March 1819. In December he controlled a considerable road-gang near Coal River and Pittwater (Sorell). The establishment of a penal station at Macquarie Harbour was decided upon, and Cuthbertson's appointments as its commandant, magistrate and justice of the peace were confirmed on 8 December 1821. Four days later he left Hobart with Captain James Kelly, harbourmaster, Surveyor George Evans and Surgeon Spence in the Sophia, accompanied by some 16 soldiers, their wives and children and 66 male and 8 female convicts in the Prince Leopold. Advice of his arrival and of the choice of Sarah Island for the headquarters of the new settlement was sent on 23 January 1822. In July he reported successful progress: the completion of quarters for himself and the surgeon, barracks, hospital and an adequate building for the convicts, and the planting of wheat and potatoes. Boat-building was begun and at the end of 1823 a schooner was launched. On 24 December this vessel, moored near the entrance to Gordon River, was seen to be drifting in a gale to the shore. Cuthbertson set out with others in his boat to attempt a recovery. They were successful, but on their return the boat was overset in a heavy sea; he and all except one of his crew were drowned. His body was recovered and later removed to Hobart where with due ceremony it was reinterred on 19 April 1824. Lieutenant-Governor Sorell expressed deep grief and regret at the disastrous fate of an old and valued officer whose military services entitled him to much respect and who, on the point of being relieved, was to have rejoined his corps with prospect of immediate promotion. He was survived by his mother, a sister and brothers.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 3, vols 2-4
  • Hobart Town Gazette, 13 July 1822, 2 Jan, 27 Feb, 23 Apr 1824.

Citation details

E. R. Pretyman, 'Cuthbertson, John (?–1823)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 18 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

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