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Andrew Dempster (1843–1909)

by Wendy Birman

This article was published:

Andrew Dempster is a minor entry in this article

DEMPSTER, JAMES McLean (1810-1890), mariner and grazier, was born in June 1810 in Scotland, on his father's estate, Muresk. At 14 he ran away to sea and gained his master's ticket ten years later. In 1829 he was engaged by Captain Charles Pratt to skipper his Eagle, in which the Pratt family migrated to the Swan River settlement, arriving in January 1830. A few years later, despite parental opposition, Dempster married Pratt's daughter, Anne Ellen; they had seven children.

A colourful character with a liking for adventure, Dempster had a varied career. Soon after he arrived at Fremantle he bought the schooner Mary Ann, 120 tons, in which he traded between Australia and Mauritius and then tried pearling on the north-west coast. After his marriage Dempster took up land on Rottnest Island where he grew hay and bred horses with some success and probably supervised the construction of some of the first buildings. He received much publicity in September 1838 when he took a whaleboat and Aboriginal crew to rescue the complement of the Lancier wrecked on Straggler Reefs. He was duly rewarded by the government of Mauritius despite the accidental loss of a chest with 5000 sovereigns. From Rottnest he moved to the Beverley district, where he established the property Addington. He had some trouble with Aboriginals and was reputed to have shot Turkey Cock, a notorious fellow who was chasing him with spear poised.

Dempster managed Buckland, his father-in-law's 8000-acre (3238 ha) estate near Northam, but soon fell out with Pratt, returned to the sea and took sheep and the bloodhorse Sonnambulist to Mauritius. The venture was unsuccessful and Dempster went to Rottnest as superintendent of the penal settlement in April 1850. He became reconciled with Pratt and on 2 April 1853 returned to Buckland, where he died in May 1890. His wife had died on 6 August 1880 and on 31 December he married Hester Frances Shaw.

Two sons of Dempster's first marriage, Charles Edward (b. Fremantle, 19 December 1839) and Andrew (b. 2 February 1843), achieved distinction for their explorations, pioneering and community work. Their first expedition, thirty miles (48 km) east of John Roe's 1836 expedition, resulted in a grant from the government for further exploration. In 1861 with Charles Harper and D. Clarkson the brothers pushed east, through rough scrub and salt-lake country to the Georgina Range. For their report on gold-bearing country near Yilgarn they received a reward of £500. In 1863 with government and private sponsorship the Dempster brothers chartered the Emelia and explored the south coast to Israelite Bay. Leaving the main party to return by sea, Charles and Andrew went by land to Esperance and thence to Perth, thus opening up a stock route. In August the Dempster brothers leased 304,000 acres (123,026 ha) at Esperance and stocked it with sheep, cattle and horses. With great ability and sound bushcraft the brothers took their stock overland with very slight loss. Charles farmed at Esperance until 1866 when he went to manage Buckland, which he later inherited. On 17 March 1867 he married Mary Margaret, daughter of Patrick Taylor, farmer of Albany, and his wife Mary Yates, née Bussell. He severed his connexion with Buckland in 1877 and went into business as a miller and store-keeper at Toodyay until he moved to Springfield, near Northam, in 1886.

He was nominated to the Legislative Council by Governor (Sir) Frederick Weld, and represented Toodyay in 1873-74 and Eastern Province in 1894-1907. According to the press, he was a politician who 'never aspired to high places, yet as a man, his rugged individuality has won him a host of friends and admirers'. He was a justice of the peace, member of the Northam Roads Board and Agricultural Society, and a keen sportsman with an active interest in the turf, owning several notable race-horses. He died at Sydney on 22 July 1907 and was buried at Northam.

Andrew continued his pioneering activities at Esperance. He employed many ticket-of-leave men as shepherds and as builders of his beautiful limestone house, designed by his brother James and built for his bride Mary Emily Marsden whom Andrew married on 28 August 1867; she was a step-daughter of Rev. Charles Clay and a descendant of Samuel Marsden. Although farming had been reasonably profitable in the initial stages the sheep were soon affected with coast disease because the soil lacked cobalt. Dempster sought new pastures, first in the Dundas Hills, and in 1866 he established a property in the Fraser Range. He also acquired the cutter Gypsy, 20 tons, in which he took his wool to Adelaide, fetched stores from Fremantle, carried sheep to the islands round Esperance and hunted seals, their skins selling for 30s. each. In 1875 he moved to Toodyay, but returned to Esperance in 1878 with a contract to build the police station. His interest in Esperance waned after his wife died on 12 October 1888, and near Northam he acquired a property which he named Muresk. He represented Eastern Province in the Legislative Council in 1903-04. He married a widow, Sarah Roe, née Clarkson, on 21 January 1891 and died on 6 March 1909.

Select Bibliography

  • The Avon Valley (Northam, 1905)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Western Australia), 1907, 31, 355
  • Perth Gazette, 20 July 1860
  • Northam Advertiser, 24 July 1907
  • Western Mail (Perth), 27 July 1907
  • West Australian, 8 Aug 1907
  • Muresk Magazine, Sept 1928
  • Dempster family papers (State Library of Western Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Wendy Birman, 'Dempster, Andrew (1843–1909)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 16 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


2 February, 1843


6 March, 1909 (aged 66)