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William Dutton (1811–1878)

by John S. Cumpston

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William Dutton (1811-1878), by unknown photographer

William Dutton (1811-1878), by unknown photographer

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H12362

William Dutton (1811-1878), sea-captain and farmer, was born on 31 August 1811 in Sydney, the son of Henry and Margaret Dutton. He was not related to William Hampden Dutton. In a declaration made in 1873 Dutton said that his parents emigrated to Sydney from England and that he moved with them about 1813 to Hobart Town, where he was brought up until he took to the sea.

In 1828 he appears to have joined Captain M'Meekan who had left Sydney in the schooner Madeira Packet on a sealing trip to King George Sound. In December Dutton was landed among a boat's crew at Blacknose Point, Portland Bay, where they remained until January. In 1829-42 Dutton was employed by John Griffiths of Launceston. From Griffiths's schooner Henry he was again landed, this time as captain of a boat's crew, in July 1829 at Portland Bay where he built a house. In January 1830 he embarked once more in the Henry 'and went away sealing'. Dutton's declaration says that in March 1831 Griffiths returned him to his house at Portland Bay, and picked him up again a year later in the Elizabeth. In May 1832 Griffiths, using the Henry, began whaling at Kangaroo Island and Dutton may have spent part of the year there. In November both the Elizabeth, Captain John Hart, and the Henry, Captain John Jones, cleared for Kangaroo Island. Hart landed Dutton at Portland Bay for the sealing season and picked him up on the return journey in March 1833.

Back in Launceston Dutton was sent in the Henry to Portland Bay to establish a whale fishery. Very successful he returned there in 1834, when another station was set up by James Hewitt and Captain James Kelly. In November Edward Henty arrived to settle at Portland Bay and was assisted by Dutton, who was waiting to load oil in the Camilla, the Henry having been wrecked in a gale. After arrival at Launceston in January 1835 Dutton became master of the Thistle, visited Portland Bay and Kangaroo Island and then returned to Portland Bay.

In 1835 Connolly of Hewitt, Gore & Co., J. Sinclair, Penny and Griffiths formed a joint whaling concern. Dutton was placed in charge of the whaling party which had killed 20 whales by July and had 300 tuns of oil. Next summer, in Griffiths's bark Socrates, Dutton became the first Launceston captain to take sperm whales. He returned to Portland Bay for the winter whaling and then spent August and September at Recherche Bay, Van Diemen's Land. A similar routine was followed in 1837, and again in 1838 when Dutton took 23 tuns of sperm oil and, with 14 boats at Portland Bay, Port Fairy and the Schouten Islands, took 725 tuns of black oil and 34 tons of bone. In 1839 he was given command of the Africaine; in her he visited the whaling grounds off the New Zealand coast in 1840, returning to Launceston with a full ship. On 27 October 1841 Dutton was married to Mary Saggers, aged 20, in the schoolhouse at Evandale, near Launceston; she was his second wife.

Portland was growing and in the first six months of 1842 Dutton, as master of the Essington, ran a regular service between Launceston, Portland and Port Fairy. In 1843-44 he was headsman of a whaling boat operating for the Hentys. He then took the Lady Mary Pelham on a six-month whaling voyage off New Zealand and back to Portland Bay in time for the season there. When it ended he ferried in two trips a total of 121 passengers from Launceston to Portland. In 1845 the Lady Mary Pelham was whaling in Portland Bay from June to October. Dutton, after landing the oil, left for Hobart with a mixed cargo. After his return to Portland he took up 640 acres (259 ha) at Narrawong, at the mouth of the Surry River. They were gazetted in his name on 8 March 1850 and form the present parish of Bolwarra. He died on 19 July 1878 after a long and painful illness and was buried at Narrawong. His widow survived him by some years, living in Portland. Childless, he adopted his niece Ada and nephew Edwin, children of Edwin McIntosh, a boatbuilder who was accidentally killed.

A splendid seaman, Dutton was considered the most expert whaler on the coast.

Later research, drawing on information provided to George Augustus Robinson, reveals that Dutton took possession of Kalloongoo, a Kaurna woman abducted from the Fleurieu Peninsula region, and fathered a child with her.

Select Bibliography

  • Amery, Rob. 'Kaurna in Tasmania: A Case of Mistaken Identity.' Aboriginal History 20 (1996): 24-50
  • N. F. Learmonth, The Portland Bay Settlement: Being the History of Portland, Victoria from 1800-1851 (Melb, 1934).

Citation details

John S. Cumpston, 'Dutton, William (1811–1878)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 24 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

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