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Sir Adye Douglas (1815–1906)

by F. C. Green and P. T. McKay

This article was published:

Adye Douglas (1815-1906), by unknown photographer, 1898

Adye Douglas (1815-1906), by unknown photographer, 1898

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an21399820-26

Sir Adye Douglas (1815-1906), lawyer and politician, was born on 31 May 1815 at Thorpe-next-Norwich, England, son of Captain Henry Osborne Douglas and his wife Eleanor, née Crabtree; his grandfather was Admiral Billy Douglas. Educated at schools in Hampshire and Normandy, he served articles with a legal firm in Southampton. He decided to migrate to Van Diemen's Land, sailed from London in the Louisa Campbell and arrived at Launceston in January 1839. He was admitted to practice in the Supreme Court in February but soon went to Port Phillip, where he ran sheep with his brother Henry near Mount Macedon. Late in 1842 he returned to Launceston where he founded a legal firm which still operates. Over the years he had several partners; the last, George Thomas Collins (1839-1926), had been articled by him. Douglas built up a flourishing local practice and acted for many important clients in Victoria. Deeply interested in the colony's welfare, he realized that no progress was possible while convicts were sent to Tasmania. He became one of the founders of the Anti-Transportation League. He was elected one of the first aldermen in the Launceston Municipal Council, established in 1852 and held office until 1884, serving as mayor in 1865-66 and 1880-82.

Douglas was defeated at the elections for the first part-elective Legislative Council in 1851 but won a Launceston seat in 1855. He was prominent in the council's action against John Hampton, moving his arrest and the appeal to the Privy Council in defence of the Speaker, Michael Fenton. Under the new Constitution in 1856 he represented Launceston in the first House of Assembly where he succeeded in introducing a bill to provide a water supply for Launceston but failed to win support for a preliminary survey of the Hobart-Launceston railway. In 1857 he resigned and travelled in America, France and England. He became even more impressed by the need for railways. On his return he began to advocate the Launceston-Deloraine railway and in 1865 carried the bill for it against strong opposition; the first sod was turned by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1868.

In the House of Assembly Douglas represented Westbury in 1862-71, Norfolk Plains in 1871-72 and Fingal in 1872-84. He then became premier and chief secretary and was elected for South Esk to the Legislative Council, where in 1885 he carried a bill for the appointment of an agent-general in London. He had represented Tasmania at the Sydney convention from which the Federal Council of Australasia was evolved. In 1886 at its first session in Hobart, Douglas predicted a 'United States of Australasia … independent of the little island in the Northern Hemisphere'. Called to order, he reminded members of the toasts of forty years ago to the 'Australian Republic'. In March he resigned as premier after appointing himself the first Tasmanian agent-general in London. He attended the Colonial Conference in 1887 but was recalled because his negotiations with the Tasmanian Main Line Railway Co. had failed. He represented Launceston in the Legislative Council in 1890-1904 and was its president in 1894-1904. As an active delegate to the federal conventions in 1891 and 1897-98 he won praise for his physical endurance; to (Sir) Isaac Isaacs, 'he looked like a Hebrew prophet with his long locks and long beard, speaking with kindly wisdom to his people'. Douglas was knighted in 1902, ranked by the governor as 'the first among living Tasmanians'. He died at his home, Ryehope, Hobart, on 10 April 1906 and was buried at Cornelian Bay cemetery.

Douglas had three sons and a daughter in the 1840s. On 10 July 1858 in London as a widower he married a widow Martha Matilda Collins, née Rolls. At Launceston on 18 January 1873 he married Charlotte Richards, by whom he had a daughter Eleanor before she died aged 22 on 23 July 1876. On 6 October 1877 in Adelaide he married Charlotte's sister Ida; they had four sons and four daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • W. A. Townsley, The Struggle for Self-Government in Tasmania 1842-1856 (Hob, 1951)
  • F. C. Green (ed), A Century of Responsible Government 1856-1956 (Hob, 1956)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 1 Feb 1886
  • Examiner (Launceston), 11 Apr 1906
  • Van Diemen's Land Co, letters, 280 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • CSO 24/137, 208 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

F. C. Green and P. T. McKay, 'Douglas, Sir Adye (1815–1906)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 19 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

Adye Douglas (1815-1906), by unknown photographer, 1898

Adye Douglas (1815-1906), by unknown photographer, 1898

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an21399820-26

Life Summary [details]


31 May, 1815
Thorpe-next-Norwich, Norfolk, England


10 April, 1906 (aged 90)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

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