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Edward Dumaresq (1802–1906)

by Roger Page

This article was published:

Edward Dumaresq (1802-1906), surveyor, public servant and landowner, was born on 16 June 1802 in Swansea, Wales, the youngest son of Colonel John Dumaresq, who fought in the American war of independence and could trace his family tree six centuries to Normandy. At 13 he entered the Royal Military College, Sandhurst; after three years study he accepted a cadetship in the East India Co.'s service.

Soon after his arrival in Bombay Dumaresq became a lieutenant in the Bombay Native Infantry, and also did some work with the Revenue and Topographical Survey Department of Gujarat. After four years in Indian villages his health broke down in 1823; granted sick leave, he recuperated first in Mauritius, then took a sea voyage in the Perseverance, which introduced him to Hobart Town and Sydney. Back in Bombay, doctors pronounced him unfit for further tropical duties, and he was invalided to England. His stay was brief. General (Sir) Ralph Darling, who had married Dumaresq's sister, had been appointed governor of New South Wales, and Edward, with his brothers, William John and Henry, accompanied the vice-regal party to Australia.

In October 1825 when the Catherine Stewart Forbes arrived at Hobart, Dumaresq disembarked, for he intended to make Van Diemen's Land his home. His decision was confirmed in 1827 when, after he had been promoted captain by the East India Co. for suppressing a rebellion, he was placed on half-pay and by his marriage in November to Frances Blanche Legge, the youngest daughter of a Dublin barrister.

Meanwhile Lieutenant-Governor Sir George Arthur had made him surveyor-general in 1825. The appointment was not ratified by Downing Street, but Dumaresq held office until replaced by George Frankland in March 1828. During his term the important survey and valuation of lands was almost completed under his guidance as chief commissioner. In 1828 he became collector of revenue and joined the Land Board, but found the salary inadequate and won appointment as police magistrate at New Norfolk. His duties, particularly with Aboriginals, proved damaging to his health and in February 1833 he obtained leave to go to New South Wales to recuperate. On medical advice he wisely decided to go on the land in 1835. He took over Illawarra, an estate near Longford, sections of which were rented to tenants, and by sage speculation on the mainland secured an adequate competence, if not wealth, for the rest of his life.

Dumaresq's most profitable deals were in Victoria, where the prices of June 1840 were inflated fifty-fold during the gold rushes in the 1850s. His Brisbane land also yielded handsome profits, but the Balmain allotments in Sydney, bought for £638 in 1850, realized less than £700 when he had to sell them in 1858.

In 1853 Dumaresq took his family to England, planning a long stay; before leaving Tasmania he sold his stock and farming implements and leased Illawarra. His chief aim was to buy an army commission for his eldest son, Edward John. The holiday, spent mainly at Malvern Wells, ended with the death of his wife. Dumaresq sailed for Australia and within a year committed what he termed 'the fatal act of a second marriage' to Mrs Charlotte Fogg. They lived together only a few months; after he settled on her £300 a year, about a third of his income, she drifted away. In private papers he denounced her as utterly selfish, hard-hearted, tyrannical and a swindler.

Amid this domestic upset Dumaresq stood in 1861 as a candidate for Devon in the House of Assembly. His prospects of defeating the sitting member, William Archer, were remote, and the election became so lively that he went to Melbourne to escape it. Despite this failure, Dumaresq retained a profound interest in politics. He advocated the annexation of Tasmania by Victoria, railway development, and a special tax to give state aid to all Tasmanian churches. In his last decades he made annual trips to Victoria and Queensland to inspect his investments, to escape the Tasmanian winter and to visit relations. As he aged Dumaresq marvelled at his improving health. He died at Illawarra on 23 April 1906, reputed the oldest justice of the peace in the world.

Deeply religious and a convinced Anglican, Dumaresq gave the property for Christ's College, and with rents from his New Norfolk farms financed the Dumaresq scholarship, held by his sons until the college collapsed under debt in 1856. He also built a stone church and rectory at Illawarra, and made generous contributions towards the cathedral in Hobart and to the Church of England in Victoria.

Select Bibliography

  • A. McKay (ed), Journals of the Land Commissioners for Van Diemen's Land 1826-1828 (Hob, 1962)
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Roger Page, 'Dumaresq, Edward (1802–1906)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 18 May 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]


16 June, 1802
Swansea, Glamorgan, Wales


23 April, 1906 (aged 103)
Illawarra, Longford district, Tasmania, Australia

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