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Joseph Docker (1793–1865)

by H. J. Samuel

This article was published:

Joseph Docker (1793-1865), Church of England clergyman and settler, was born at Newby Head, Westmorland, England, the youngest son of William Docker and his wife Jane, née Betham. He was educated at Appleby Grammar School in Westmorland and at Oxford, was ordained deacon in 1817 and priest in 1818 by the bishop of Carlisle, and appointed curate at North Meols, Lancashire. In September 1823 he became assistant curate to his brother William, who held a living in Southport, Lancashire. He married Sarah Bristow of Liverpool and in 1828 sailed with her for Sydney. Their first child, Mary Jane, was born on the voyage. They arrived in November 1828, and next June Joseph Docker became rector of St Matthew's Church, Windsor.

He resigned in March 1833 and bought Clifton, an estate near Windsor, which he farmed for four years. Encouraged by accounts of Major (Sir) Thomas Mitchell's explorations, he decided to move to the Port Phillip District and take up a run. In February 1838 he set out with his wife, five children, servants, a flock of sheep, some cattle and a boat. The party travelled in covered bullock-wagons and carts through Goulburn and Yass, and crossed the Murray at the Crossing-Place (Albury). In September 1838 he arrived at the Ovens River where he heard of a hut and a run on plains called Bontharambo by the Aboriginals. The run had been deserted by George Faithful, whose shepherds had been murdered by Aboriginals. Docker took possession of the hut and obtained the squatting rights. His kind and understanding attitude to the Aboriginals was rewarded by their friendship and help, and for many years they held corroborees on the island in the lagoon not far from the house. Depression and drought in 1842 did not affect Bontharambo as severely as they did some other stations in the district. By 1844 a larger slab house with bark roof was built to provide more comfort for Docker's growing family. He prospered and within a few years began building a large stone mansion; 400 tons of granite, carted from Beechworth by bullock-wagon, were used in the foundations. By that time he had ten children.

In 1851 he visited England with his wife. Bontharambo remained in the possession of the Docker family and became famous for its stud of Aberdeen Angus cattle. The house has been preserved in almost its original state, but the pioneer's vineyard, orangery and other features have disappeared. He died on 10 April 1865, survived by six of his eleven children.

Joseph Docker was a man of wide education, a classical scholar, an enterprising and successful farmer and pastoralist, well known in the Wangaratta district as a just and kindly man and a respected pioneer.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Andrews, First Settlement of the Upper Murray, 1835-1845 (Syd, 1920)
  • family papers (privately held).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

H. J. Samuel, 'Docker, Joseph (1793–1865)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 20 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]


Newby, Westmorland, England


10 April, 1865 (aged ~ 72)

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