Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Eliza Hamilton Dunlop (1796–1880)

by Niel Gunson

This article was published:

Eliza Hamilton Dunlop (1796-1880), lyric writer and student of the Aboriginals, was born in County Armagh, Ireland, the daughter of Solomon Hamilton, sometime judge of the Supreme Court, India. She married James Sylvius Law, astronomer; they had a son and a daughter, Mary Sophia Georgina, who was born in 1816 at Coleraine, Ireland. At Portpatrick, Scotland, in 1823 Mrs Law married David Dunlop (1794-1863), a native of County Antrim, Ireland. They arrived at Port Jackson in February 1838 in the Superb with the four children of this marriage. After holding office at Penrith, in 1839 Dunlop was appointed police magistrate and protector of Aborigines at Wollombi and Macdonald River, and held office until 1847. He built a stone house, Mulla Villa, in Wollombi. As a minor poet Mrs Dunlop contributed to the literary life of the Hunter River circle. Her acquaintance with the European literary world gave her a place of prestige, and though neither as talented nor radical as, for example, Charles Harpur, her contribution was original.

Some of her early verse, mainly in the sentimental tradition of Mrs Hemans, was published in such magazines as the Dublin Penny Journal and she continued to publish in the Australian and the Maitland Mercury. Her Australian lyrics were set to music by Isaac Nathan, and from 1842 appeared in his Australian Melodies series. A volume of her collected works, The Vase comprising Songs for Music and Poems, remains in manuscript (Mitchell Library).

Mrs Dunlop took a great interest in the welfare and folk-lore of the Aboriginals in her husband's charge, and was one of the few people to appreciate the literary worth of Aboriginal songs and poetry. She won the confidence of the Aboriginal elders, particularly the chief Boni, and transliterated some of the verse of the poet Wullati into English. The poem 'Nung Ngnun' was much praised and widely published. She also wrote on Aboriginal themes. Outraged by the Myall Creek massacre in 1838, she wrote her lament, 'The Aboriginal Mother'. She also did valuable work in preserving Aboriginal vocabularies and was assisted by other members of her family, notably her daughter Rachael (1829-1908) who in 1853 married David, son of James Milson. Sketches of the Penrith district by her daughter Georgina Law, a governess in the Hassall family, who died at Wollombi in 1879, are in the Mitchell Library. David Dunlop died at Mulla Villa, Wollombi, on 24 March 1863. His wife survived him until 20 June 1880, but wrote little verse in this period. She was buried in the Church of England cemetery at Wollombi.

Select Bibliography

  • R. H. Goddard, The Life and Times of James Milson (Melb, 1955), 179
  • L. E. Threlkeld, ‘Reminiscences’, Christian Herald (Sydney), 11 Nov 1854, p 315
  • R. H. Goddard, ‘Aboriginal Poets as Historians’, Mankind (Sydney), vol 1, no 10, Oct 1934, pp 243-46
  • Australian, 20, 22 Jan, 19 Apr 1842
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 30 Aug 1842
  • manuscript catalogue under E. H. Dunlop (State Library of New South Wales).

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Citation details

Niel Gunson, 'Dunlop, Eliza Hamilton (1796–1880)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 25 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]

Alternative Names
  • Hamilton, Eliza
  • Law, Eliza Hamilton

Armagh, Ireland


20 June, 1880 (aged ~ 84)
Wollombi, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.