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William Romaine Govett (1807–1848)

by Vivienne Parsons

This article was published:

William Romaine Govett (1807-1848), by unknown artist

William Romaine Govett (1807-1848), by unknown artist

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 18552

William Romaine Govett (1807-1848), surveyor, was born on 3 October 1807 at Tiverton, Devon, England, the third son of John Govett, surgeon, and his wife Susanna Price, née Owen. He was at Blundell's School, Tiverton, from 1817 to 1820. He was appointed assistant surveyor in the Surveyor-General's Department of New South Wales on 10 July 1827 at £240 a year, reached Sydney in the Asia next December and began work on (Sir) Thomas Mitchell's staff. Part of his work included surveying on the old Bathurst road, during which he discovered Govett's Leap in the Blue Mountains, which was named by Mitchell in his honour. Mitchell was pleased with Govett and described him in a report on the department in 1832 as a wild young man who needed control, who had come to the colony ignorant of surveying but with much natural talent had become perhaps the ablest delineator of ground in the department, and who was remarkably clever at dealing with unexplored country.

In February 1829 Govett was sent to the Hawkesbury River, where many farms required measurement, but in 1833 his career ended abruptly when the department was reduced. Govett returned to England in the Ann in March 1834 with a letter of recommendation from Mitchell to the British government. After his return to England Govett lived at Tiverton, where he wrote several articles on New South Wales which were published in the Saturday Magazine between 7 May 1836 and 2 September 1837 under the title 'Sketches of New South Wales'. They dealt with such topics as the nature of the country he had helped to survey, the habits of the Aboriginals, and life in Sydney; they were illustrated with twelve paintings by Govett, which were later advertised for sale by G. Michelmore & Co.

Govett appears to have undergone a personal crisis after his return and repented of his wild early life, but although he considered going abroad again and making a fresh beginning he did not live long and died on 22 August 1848 in London.

Select Bibliography

  • Gentleman's Magazine, 1848
  • Sydney Gazette, 17 Sept, 28 Dec 1827
  • Australian, 7 Mar 1834
  • Truth (Sydney), 2 Feb 1919, 10 Apr 1927
  • W. R. Govett, Scrapiana (State Library of New South Wales)
  • W. R. Govett, notes and sketches (State Library of New South Wales)
  • manuscript catalogue under Govett (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Vivienne Parsons, 'Govett, William Romaine (1807–1848)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 13 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

William Romaine Govett (1807-1848), by unknown artist

William Romaine Govett (1807-1848), by unknown artist

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 18552

Life Summary [details]


3 October, 1807
Tiverton, Devon, England


22 August, 1848 (aged 40)
London, Middlesex, England

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