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William Rose Falconer (1818–1869)

by R. L. Wettenhall

This article was published:

William Rose Falconer (1818-1869), engineer and civil servant, was born on 27 November 1818 at Muirkirk, Ayrshire, Scotland, the youngest son of William Falconer, ironworks manager, and his wife Helen, née Gillies. William senior was a member of a respected Presbyterian family. He first migrated to Canada, where he gained engineering experience in the building of gas works in Montreal, Quebec and Toronto. In Canada he negotiated with Bogle, Kerr & Co. of Glasgow and through their agency was appointed engineer-manager of the new Hobart Town Gas Co. for three years from 1 September 1855. Travelling via Liverpool and Melbourne, he arrived in December at Hobart Town where other unrelated Falconers were already active in banking and real estate.

The directors soon accepted his plans for erecting plant and buildings on the site of the present Hobart Gas Works. The project developed smoothly and the first gas-lighting of Hobart streets on 9 March 1857 was a gala occasion. The company had allowed Falconer to accept outside engagements and in 1856 the Launceston Municipal Council retained him to amend and execute the St Patrick's River water scheme. Later when the Launceston Gas Co. was formed he became consulting engineer in charge of building its gas works. He resigned from the Hobart company when his original appointment ended and for a few months devoted his efforts to the Launceston project, which was completed during 1859. Falconer thus brought to Tasmania the benefits of what was then an advanced technology: the gas works he established have remained from that time as the only two operating in the State. He also played a small part in the development of coal mining in the Fingal Valley, and his appointment to the directorship of Public Works, gazetted on 3 January 1859, was widely acclaimed. That post carried with it the offices of inspector of telegraphs and director of roads and bridges; he was also appointed a member of the Bridgewater (Bridge) Commission and the Committee of Management of St Mary's Hospital in Davey Street, Hobart.

At New Town, on 14 September 1864 Falconer married Harriet, daughter of John James; they had one daughter. Four years later he was paralysed after a fall from his horse and was thereafter confined to his New Town home until he died aged 50 on 26 May 1869. He was buried at St John's Church, New Town, and the pall-bearers included the premier and other leading public figures; the government offices closed at 2 p.m. and many civil servants were among the two hundred mourners. In tribute the Mercury noted that he was 'highly respected and esteemed by all who knew him, and throughout his civil service career enjoyed the reputation of an upright official'; the Examiner added that he 'had the happy knack of attaching persons to him by the general amiability of his manners'.

By coincidence his mother also died on 26 May 1869 in Glasgow. His widow married William Bone of Richmond, she died on 14 March 1913 aged 74, and was buried in the Falconer family grave: the tombstone was later moved to the Cornelian Bay cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Tasmanian Mail, 1, 17 June 1869, 23 Mar 1907
  • minute books, 1854-58 (Hobart Gas Co.).

Citation details

R. L. Wettenhall, 'Falconer, William Rose (1818–1869)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 20 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

Life Summary [details]


27 November, 1818
Muirkirk, Ayrshire, Scotland


26 May, 1869 (aged 50)
New Town, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

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