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Charles Grimes (1772–1858)

by Bernard T. Dowd

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Charles Grimes (1772-1858), surveyor, was born on 24 February 1772 at Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England, son of Joseph Grimes, laceman, and his wife Esther. In 1790 he was appointed deputy-surveyor of roads, to be employed on Norfolk Island. He sailed to Sydney in the Gorgon next year and reached the island in November. He surveyed the land of the settlers from the Sirius, returned briefly to Sydney to report and went back to correct other surveys which had been made without proper instruments. He was appointed head constable on the island, and helped Lieutenant-Governor Philip Gidley King in his administration, until he went back to the mainland to assist Surveyor-General Augustus Alt who was in ill health. Arriving on 4 April 1794 he was stationed first at the Hawkesbury River and then at Toongabbie, where he received a grant of 100 acres (40 ha) which he called Hartwell Farm, but he never became an extensive farmer or landholder. In February 1795 he visited Port Stephens and reported unfavourably on it; he was then appointed a magistrate and superintendent of public concerns at Parramatta. Next year he was engaged in surveys at Concord, the Field of Mars, Prospect, Parramatta, Toongabbie, Hacking River, Portland Place, Hen and Chicken Bay and on the Hawkesbury road; he drew up a general plan of all the settlements, names and locations in the colony (Historical Records of NSW, 3, frontispiece). He virtually performed the work of Alt, receiving only ten extra convicts as recompense, until on 13 April 1801 King finally appointed him to Alt's place. The British government confirmed this in August 1802.

In July 1800 King sent Grimes as magistrate and superintendent of public works to the Hawkesbury; in November 1801 with Francis Barrallier, he explored Hunter's River; in 1802 he was back at Toongabbie and in November sailed in the Cumberland to examine King's Island and Port Phillip. He discovered the Yarra River on 2 February 1803 but reported unfavourably on the possibilities of settlement at both.

Granted leave, he sailed on 10 August 1803 in the Porpoise; after she was wrecked off Sandy Cape, 729 miles (1173 km) north of Sydney, he transferred to the Rolla which sailed by way of China and arrived in London in September 1804 after a naval engagement with the French. After this adventurous voyage he stayed in England for twelve months. He returned to Sydney in the Porpoise on 5 August 1806. He made another comprehensive map of the settlements in New South Wales, and in March 1807 departed for Port Dalrymple to survey the County of Cornwall and overland routes to Hobart Town. In Sydney at the end of the year he found the place 'a hell', with a bitter fight in progress between Governor William Bligh and his opponents.

Six years earlier Grimes had sided with John Macarthur in his disputes with Colonel William Paterson and King; now he was ready to support him again, according to Bligh, because he had been checked in bartering spirits. In January 1808 he joined the rebels in the deposition of the governor. He was appointed acting judge-advocate and notary public, and at once took part in the examination of the pro-Bligh officials and in the trial of Macarthur. On 3 April he resigned after George Johnston, who was acting as governor, had very properly criticized some extraordinary proceedings in the court over which he presided. Though these were partly due to his ignorance of the law or, as Johnston said, 'errors of judgment more than of design', the latter saw him as one of the opponents of his administration. He decided to get rid of him by sending him with dispatches to England, though apparently confident that he would relate satisfactorily to the secretary of state, 'any information you may wish respecting Governor Bligh'. Since the British government did not recognize Johnston's authority, Grimes was considered to be absent from duty without leave. Several applications for permission to return and for payment of his salary were unanswered; stranded in England, in July 1811 he resigned his post as surveyor-general. He had been an efficient administrator, highly praised for his meritorious services, and there seems little reason why he should have shared with Johnston the distinction of being the only government officers to lose their posts.

In April 1812 he was appointed paymaster of the 13th Regiment, and served with it in Canada, the West Indies and India. In 1833 he became paymaster at Maidstone Recruiting Depot and thereafter at the Chatham Infantry and Invalid Depot. In July 1815 at Woodford, Essex, he had married Cassandra Atkinson; they had four children. He retired on half-pay in July 1848 and died at Milton-next-Gravesend on 19 February 1858. He had two natural sons in New South Wales; John, a mariner, and George, who commanded the Woodlark, a frequent visitor in Sydney Harbour in the 1830s.

An obelisk to Grimes's memory, at Dight's Falls on the Yarra, marks his coming upon that river in 1803.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of New South Wales, vols 1-7
  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 1-7
  • B. T. Dowd, ‘Charles Grimes: The Second Surveyor-General of New South Wales’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 22, part 4, 1936, pp 247-88
  • WO 25/787.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Bernard T. Dowd, 'Grimes, Charles (1772–1858)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 16 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]


24 February, 1772
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England


19 February, 1858 (aged 85)
Milton-next-Gravesend, Kent, England

Cause of Death


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