Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Arthur Davies (1786–1853)

This article was published:

Arthur Davies (1786?-1853), naval officer and landowner, joined the navy as a first-class volunteer in June 1800 and served in various ships in the Channel Islands, Baltic and the East and West Indies. He was twice wounded, and warmly recommended for his good services, especially for destroying pirates at Jamaica in 1804. He was promoted lieutenant in 1807 and returned to England in the Belliqueux in 1811. After three years in European waters, he went to the Newfoundland Station and in 1816 was invalided home from the West Indies. In 1817-23 he served in the Water Guard service against smugglers. On 6 May 1824 at St Pancras New Church he married Elizabeth, second daughter of George Matcham (1754?-1833) of Ashfold Lodge, Slaugham, Sussex, and Catherine, sister of Lord Nelson.

Hoping to improve his fortune in order to retire with respectable comfort, Davies decided to emigrate. Through his wife his thoughts turned to Australia where her relations in the Matcham, Pitt and Wilshire families were already growing in number and her brother Charles Horatio Nelson Matcham (1805-1844) was about to take up a maximum grant in New South Wales. Armed with strong testimonials from several admirals and captains, he was given a letter of recommendation by the Colonial Office, and arrived in Hobart Town with his wife and two children in the Lang in December 1828. His naval service entitled him to a maximum grant, but so great an area of good land was not available near Hobart, and his own and his wife's health made residence in the interior inadvisable. He agreed to accept a smaller grant located on an isolated tract of rich land on the Derwent five miles (8 km) from New Norfolk near Mount Dromedary, and called it The Lawn. Improvements to his farm entitled him within six months to another 1000 acres (405 ha), but the order for this was revoked on the report of a surveyor that Davies should be made to accept the full 2560 acres (1036 ha) of the original order at that place, taking good and bad land alike, and not to select only the small area of rich land. For eight years Davies contested the withdrawal with great pertinacity and occasional abusiveness, and on the strength of his influence, colonial investment and naval service he succeeded in obtaining appointment of a commission to inquire into his case. Independent appraisers supported his claim to the limited amount of useful land available, and he was awarded 2000 acres (809 ha) both as compensation and as a reward for the large capital he had spent in improvements at The Lawn. It must have been with some relief that he finally received the title deeds to his several properties in 1839. These he added to judiciously, so that by 1840 he had nearly 8000 acres (3238 ha) in the new country at the River Nive. This estate he called Bronti (later Bronte) reputedly after the dukedom which had been bestowed on Nelson. After an initial start with sheep, he found that his properties combined well for the fattening and sale of prime cattle, an enterprise little affected by the shortage of labour. Limestone was quarried on the Derwent property, kilns were erected, and with water carriage available his ventures flourished, and his fortunes were boosted in October 1834 when he inherited money from his father-in-law.

At the end of 1840 the claims of a grown-up family made a move to Hobart expedient, and in June 1841 he took the position of immigration agent for Van Diemen's Land there. Two years later he was given leave to return to England where parliament had granted £10,000 to Nelson's two sisters and their heirs. Davies did not return to Australia. In 1848 he was promoted commander and in 1851 his eldest daughter, Catherine Elizabeth, married the son of Captain Charles Swanston at Calcutta. Davies died on 13 July 1853 in London, aged 67. His wife had predeceased him in November 1851.

Select Bibliography

  • W. R. O'Byrne, A Naval Biographical Dictionary (Lond, 1849)
  • Colonial Times (Hobart), 20 Oct 1840
  • Hobart Town Courier, 16 Feb 1838, 21 June 1841
  • GO 33/18/406, 33/24/1147 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • Matcham letters (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

'Davies, Arthur (1786–1853)', 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

Life Summary [details]




13 July, 1853 (aged ~ 67)
London, Middlesex, England

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.