Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

John Grant (1776–?)

by N. S. Lynravn

This article was published:

John Grant (b.1776), agitator and minor poet, was the son of John Grant of Langley, Buckinghamshire, England, and his French wife. He was educated at Christ's Hospital and was probably a contemporary there of Coleridge and Lamb. He was sentenced to death for firing at a family solicitor who frustrated his attempts to woo the daughter of Lord Dudley and Ward but, after a petition by his sister to the daughters of George III, he was reprieved at the last moment and sent to New South Wales for life, arriving there in the Coromandel in May 1804. He had difficulty in reconciling himself to the fact that he was a convict but was liberally treated until he fell under the influence of Sir Henry Browne Hayes. In May 1805 he wrote attacking Governor Philip Gidley King for his lack of justice and was deported to Norfolk Island next month. With Hayes, who joined him briefly in exile on the island that year, he made an abortive attempt to escape, but it was for his outspoken criticism of Captain John Piper that, after other drastic punishments failed to curb him, he was finally banished to the uninhabited neighbouring Phillip Island. Here, after four months of isolation and near starvation, he broke down physically and mentally, and was brought back to Norfolk Island. He was returned to Sydney in 1808 completely subdued and with his health restored; for a period he obtained a post as chaplain in Newcastle. He was later pardoned by Lachlan Macquarie and in 1811 he left for England in the Spring Grove.

Grant's persistent championing of his fellow sufferers was courageous and praiseworthy but it was done recklessly and with an entire lack of finesse, and the punishments he incurred were severe. His utter foolhardiness suggests an unbalanced mind.

Grant was possibly the first exile to write serious verse in Australia, though only one poem, Panegyric on an Eminent Artist written in admiration of John Lewin, the entomologist, appears to have been published in his time. He wrote several birthday odes and occasional pieces, but his poetry was erratic in quality and often tinged with bitterness. Probably his best poetry was his translation of Racine's Bérénice. Grant's letters and journals were discovered by W. S. Hill-Reid, a banking historian, in the vaults of a London bank in 1955, where they had lain for some 150 years. They contain first-hand descriptions of prominent identities and of the harsh conditions in the colony between 1804 and 1811. They provide an interesting commentary by a convict on colonial life at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Select Bibliography

  • W. S. Hill-Reid, John Grant's Journey (Lond, 1957)
  • John Grant journal and letters, 1803-11 (National Library of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

N. S. Lynravn, 'Grant, John (1776–?)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 21 February 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]



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.

Passenger Ship
Convict Record

Crime: menacing
Sentence: life