Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Joseph Fossey (1788–1851)

by E. R. Pretyman

This article was published:

Joseph Fossey (1788-1851), land surveyor, was born on 17 September 1788 at Baldock, Hertfordshire, England, the son of Thomas Fossey, a small landholder in Clothall parish and a maltster by trade, and his wife Mary. On 23 August 1825 at a salary of £100 Joseph was appointed assistant surveyor in the newly-formed Van Diemen's Land Co. With other officers he sailed from Cowes in the Cape Packet and reached Hobart Town on 4 March 1826. Transferred to Launceston, he was instructed to proceed westward to a district reserved for the company. He reached the Second Western River (Mersey) where he became associated with Alexander Goldie; in a whale-boat with a crew of six he left in July for Circular Head. After inspecting this peninsula and ordering the crew to take the boat to Cape Grim, Fossey and Goldie walked overland to the cape to examine the soil and inspect an area southwards on the western coast. From Circular Head they returned to the Mersey. Early in April 1827 Fossey set out from Launceston to find a land route to Surrey Hills, an area in the north-west selected by Henry Hellyer for the company's occupation. Naming features and overcoming difficulties, Fossey reached his destination on 12 May. Later under his supervision this track was formed for seventy miles (113 km) and met the one completed to Circular Head in February 1828. For his preparatory work on this 'Great Western Road' and for his assets of £1300 Fossey received a grant of 2000 acres (809 ha) near Ben Lomond Rivulet.

In January 1830 Edward Curr wrote of him, 'Surveyor Fossey, now in charge of the establishment at Woolnorth, is a compound of many discordant qualities. He is not a man of talent … but is quite conversant with the principles of his profession, is exceedingly slow in practice arising from too great an attention to minutiae … In his general character he is made up of peculiarities, affecting to think and act on all subjects differently from everyone else … yet altogether he is a man of worth and a conscientious servant of the Company and I am sorry to part with him because I know that I can place dependence upon him'. Fossey, his contract completed, sailed for England but returned in the Forth in April 1832. In May he offered his services to the government and on 30 June was appointed assistant surveyor in northern Tasmania but resigned in November. On 30 May 1835 at St John's Church, Launceston, he married Eliza Wood, late of White Haven, Cumberland. After living for some time on his grant they moved to Victoria where in July 1844 he became licensee of the Angel Inn, Lonsdale Street, Melbourne. A year later this licence was transferred elsewhere to William Collins. Fossey then had a general store at St Kilda, but soon left his wife to manage it while he went north as a surveyor. He died at Gostwyck, New England, on 28 August 1851.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Bischoff, A Sketch of the History of Van Diemen's Land and an Account of the Van Diemen's Land Company (Lond, 1832)
  • Parliamentary Papers (House of Assembly, Tasmania), 1861 (16)
  • Hobart Town Gazette, 11 Mar 1826
  • Launceston Advertiser, 4 June 1835
  • Port Phillip Patriot, 30 July 1840
  • Port Phillip Gazette, 13 July 1844
  • CSO 1/10826 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • Van Diemen's Land Co papers (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

E. R. Pretyman, 'Fossey, Joseph (1788–1851)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 23 June 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]


17 September, 1788
Baldock, Hertfordshire, England


28 August, 1851 (aged 62)
Gostwyck, New South Wales, Australia

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