Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William de Gillern (1787–1857)

by David Dilger

This article was published:

William de Gillern (1787-1857), by unknown artist (photographed by J. W. Beattie)

William de Gillern (1787-1857), by unknown artist (photographed by J. W. Beattie)

Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001125647198

William de Gillern (1787-1857), soldier and settler, was born Wilhelm von Gillern. He was commissioned captain in the Brunswick Oels Corps in 1807, attained the brevet rank of major in the Hanoverian army and, as aide-de-camp to the Duke of Brunswick, fought at Waterloo where he was decorated for services in the field. After the war he retired on half-pay as a captain in the British service, and married Harriet, an Englishwoman. He was naturalized in 1835. They arrived in Van Diemen's Land in December 1823 as cabin passengers in the Courier.

De Gillern intended to apply his substantial capital to the improvement of land and accordingly received 1500 acres (607 ha) which he located first in poor country at Jericho and later on the Lake River. However, encouraged by Governor Lachlan Macquarie's proclamation urging competent persons to engage in distilling from grain, de Gillern sank his capital of £3000 in building the Constantia distillery on New Town Rivulet. It began operating in September 1824, but failed when Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane's proclamation of January 1825 reduced the duty on imported spirits and raised excise on the locally distilled product. De Gillern promptly applied to Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur for help and was allowed to purchase a location order for 2000 acres (809 ha), without the usual restriction on its sale, in annual instalments of £50 which could be deducted from his captain's annual half-pay, a plan agreed to by the Colonial Office. By selling the Lake River grant which he had fenced and disposing of the 2000-acre (809 ha) location order, he was able to clear himself of debt and buy Glen Ayr, a property at Richmond. With a further £1200 raised by the sale of his captain's commission he improved this purchased farm. From it he supplied the barracks and commissariat in Hobart with vegetables and hay. As a farmer he was able to live with respectability if not with comfort until the next blow fell in August 1840, when fire destroyed the barn, stacks and wheat which he had not insured. Now insolvent, he turned from farming to government service.

He was appointed superintendent of the Rocky Hills probation station on the east coast in 1843, and while there was responsible for bridge-building on the coastal road. From 1848 he lived at Melrose in the Derwent valley until he moved to Longford in 1850, where the next year he was appointed summoning officer to the Longford Court of Requests and became a justice of the peace in 1856. He remained there until his return to Hobart in 1857 to take up duty as the first serjeant-at-arms when the Tasmanian House of Assembly met for the first time. His term of office was brief, for he died in Hobart on 2 November 1857 and was buried in St David's cemetery. His widow survived him for fifteen years. There were no children.

His portrait is in the possession of Count Ehrensvard, Sweden, and a copy is in Parliament House, Hobart.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 3, vol 5
  • A. McKay (ed), Journals of the Land Commissioners for Van Diemen's Land 1826-28 (Hob, 1962)
  • Parliamentary Papers (Legislative Council, Van Diemen's Land), 1842 (28)
  • Colonial Times (Hobart), 4 Aug 1840
  • Wood's Tasmanian Almanack, 1850-57
  • LSD 37/1 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • CSO 1 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

David Dilger, 'de Gillern, William (1787–1857)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 3 March 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

William de Gillern (1787-1857), by unknown artist (photographed by J. W. Beattie)

William de Gillern (1787-1857), by unknown artist (photographed by J. W. Beattie)

Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001125647198

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • von Gillern, Wilhelm



2 November, 1857 (aged ~ 70)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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