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Ranulph Dacre (1797–1884)

by D. Shineberg

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Ranulph Dacre (1797-1884), master mariner and merchant, was born in London on 23 April 1797, the son of George and Julia Dacre of Marwell Hall, Hampshire. His father was a colonel of the Hampshire Militia and a sheriff of the county in 1790. Ranulph entered the navy at 13, served for six years and rose to the rank of lieutenant. In 1816 he joined the mercantile marine and traded to the West Indies. He first visited New South Wales in August 1823 as commander of the Elizabeth for Robert Brooks of London. He traded with the Society Islands and New Zealand in the schooner Endeavour of which he was part-owner. On one of these voyages, in 1824, he carried the missionaries Tyerman and Bennet on their celebrated visit to the South Seas stations. Between 1825 and 1831 he traded along the east coast of Australia, to New Zealand, and made two more voyages between London and Sydney for Brooks in the Surry. About 1830 he decided to settle in New South Wales. He disposed of his property in England and applied for a grant of land in the colony, which was refused. He settled in Sydney in August 1831 and married Margaret Sea at Maitland in September.

Dacre made early efforts to establish a trade in masts and flax between New Zealand and Europe. In 1831 he won a contract to supply 100 masts to the Admiralty. He bought the Darling in Sydney and sent Captain Skelton with men from Sydney to prepare the spars. Skelton bought land on his behalf at Mangonui and Mercury Bay, but the settlements were attacked and destroyed by Maoris and the men forced to flee. Dacre then came to an agreement with Gordon D. Browne to fulfil the navy contract, and in 1832 left Sydney for New Zealand in the Bolina with Browne and fifteen other men. They formed a spar station at Mahurangi, but disaster again attended the venture in the form of native wars, robbery by a rival, and, according to Dacre, expropriation of his trees by H.M.S. Buffalo in 1834. In 1835 Dacre set up a mercantile and shipping agency in Sydney in partnership with William Wilks; the association lasted until 1838, after which he continued the business alone. By 1840 Dacre was one of the leading merchants of Sydney: he owned a wharf in Sydney harbour, was a director of several businesses including the Union Bank of Australia and the Sydney Alliance Assurance Co., and a sharebroker in many others. He was appointed a magistrate in 1840, and an assessor of the Supreme Court in the following year. His trading activities had extended to Hawaii and to South Seas whaling. He was the owner of several ships, including the Julia, the Diana, the Wave and, with Alexander Fotheringham, the whaler Proteus. In 1841, with Richard Jones and Henry Elgar he organized the first expedition to the Isle of Pines for sandalwood. Soon afterwards he bought land in the Port Phillip district.

Dacre became insolvent in the depression of 1842-44 and lost all his ships and estates. He undertook several more sea voyages, to New Zealand, the Society Islands and to Hawaii, apparently to collect debts and wind up his affairs. In 1841 he had begun a long battle for the title of the New Zealand land bought during his spar venture, and in 1844 he went to New Zealand to pursue this claim. Here he began to prosper once more as merchant and shipowner. From this time he appears to have divided his time between Auckland and Sydney until 1859, when he finally settled his large family at Auckland and became one of its best-known and respected citizens. About 1878 he and his wife returned to England, where he died at Clapham, Surrey, on 27 June 1884. They had at least one daughter and seven sons.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vol 17
  • The Cyclopedia of New Zealand, vol 2 (Christchurch, 1902)
  • R. Dacre letterbook, 1831-33, in Towns papers (State Library of New South Wales).

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Citation details

D. Shineberg, 'Dacre, Ranulph (1797–1884)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 23 June 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]


23 April, 1797
London, Middlesex, England


27 June, 1884 (aged 87)
Clapham, Surrey, England

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