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James Grove (1769–1810)

by John Earnshaw

This article was published:

James Grove (1769-1810), engraver, was established by 1801 in Birmingham, England, as a skilled die-sinker and engraver; his wife Susannah had modest expectations and their only child, Daniel, was aged 4. Early in 1802 he was induced to engrave a set of plates to counterfeit Bank of England notes. Arrested with these in his possession, he was sent to Newgate prison and interrogated by bank officials about plans which he then brought forward for the manufacture of a bank-note paper proof against forgery; by this disclosure he vainly hoped to escape punishment.

While in Newgate he was befriended by Thomas Bensley, a notable London printer, with whom he entered into a long correspondence. These letters were preserved and later edited by Bensley's son Benjamin and published in London in 1859 in a rare work entitled Lost and Found; or Light in the Prison. The last letter in this series was dated Hobart, August 1804, but other later letters were lost by fire. Grove was brought before the Warwick Assizes in March 1802 where he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to death. This was later commuted to transportation for life through the intercession of influential friends. After some months in the hulk Captivity, he was transferred in April 1803 to H.M.S. Calcutta, then about to sail with the expedition under Lieutenant-Colonel David Collins to establish a new settlement at Port Phillip. His wife and son were allowed to accompany him into exile.

From the outset of the voyage Grove was in the position of a privileged and trusted prisoner, a status he increasingly held in the years to come, while his superior bearing gained him the lasting friendship of both Collins and the chaplain, Robert Knopwood. On arrival at Port Phillip he was appointed to the night watch, and on the transfer to the Derwent in 1804 his name appeared as a stockholder, while his designation on official lists was altered from prisoner to settler. At the special request of Collins who described him as 'a very ingenious, useful, and well behaved man', Grove was granted a conditional pardon in February 1806 and given the responsible post of government storekeeper two years later.

He had considerable natural talent and his knowledge of many useful trades doubtless sprang from his industrial Midlands background. At the short-lived Port Phillip settlement he made two tons of alkali from seaweed gathered on the nearby beaches. This was intended for a soap manufactory he planned to set up, having bought tallow at the Cape of Good Hope for this purpose. Later at the Derwent, he carried on this trade at great profit. Quick to appreciate the advantage to his undertaking of the whales that frequented the estuary, he urged Collins to build several small boats for their capture. In other directions he turned his skills to drawing charts of the adjoining coasts for Captain Mertho of the transport Ocean, cutting stamps for the issue of government bills and supervising the building of the Government House in which Collins lived until his death in March 1810. It is also said that he made with his own hands the coffin in which the governor was buried and engraved its silver memorial plate. He appears to have had some ability as an artist and made views during the outward voyage and at the Derwent, but found little profit in that occupation; except for the earliest known view of Hobart, 'Sullivan's Cove 1804', now in the Dixson Gallery, Sydney, once attributed to John Bowen, but now generally ascribed to Grove, nothing of his work is known.

A man of good education and strong religious conviction he was one of the most useful and notable pioneer settlers on the Derwent. His house, near the western corner of the present Collins and Harrington Streets, was one of the best in the settlement and provided with many comforts by his own industry and the private means of an amiable wife. Here, according to Knopwood's diaries, he frequently entertained both the governor and the chaplain and was equally received at Government House. He died on 17 April 1810, thirty-seven days after his friend and benefactor David Collins, near whom he was buried. Next year his widow returned to England.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 3, vols 1- 2
  • R. and T. Rienits, Early Artists of Australia (Syd, 1963)
  • ‘A Piece of Blood-Money’, All the Year Round, 20 Aug 1859, pp 394-96
  • ‘The Diary of Rev. Robert Knopwood, 1805-1808’, Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania, 1946, pp 51-124
  • J. Earnshaw, ‘Select Letters of James Grove, Convict, Port Phillip and the Derwent, 1803-4’, Papers and Proceedings (Tasmanian Historical Research Association), vol 8, no 1, Aug 1959, pp 12-18 and vol 8, no 2, Oct 1959, pp 30-41.

Citation details

John Earnshaw, 'Grove, James (1769–1810)', 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

Life Summary [details]




17 April, 1810 (aged ~ 41)
Tasmania, Australia

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: forgery
Sentence: life