Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Gunn (1800–1868)

by K. L. Read

This article was published:

William Gunn, copy of original painting, believed to be by Thomas Wainewright, n.d.

William Gunn, copy of original painting, believed to be by Thomas Wainewright, n.d.

photo provided by the Historical Society of Sorell, Tasmania

William Gunn (1800-1868), police magistrate, was born on 6 September 1800 at Newry, Ireland, the eldest child of Lieutenant William Gunn and his wife Margaret, née Wilson. His brother was Ronald Campbell Gunn. He bought a commission as a second lieutenant in the Bourbon Regiment in 1815, but next year was placed on half-pay. In 1822 he obtained a letter of recommendation from the Colonial Office, intending to settle in New South Wales until he could be re-employed in the army. His ship called at Hobart Town on 24 December 1822; at church on Christmas Day he was recognized by Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell and induced to remain in Van Diemen's Land, receiving a grant of 400 acres (162 ha) in the Sorell district which he called Bourbon. Although Gunn was not given a government post on his arrival, he was twice placed in command of soldiers in actions against the bushrangers and won himself much distinction. In November 1825 he was badly wounded by a shot from one of Matthew Brady's gang. His right arm had to be amputated, and he received a colonial pension of £70 and a public subscription of £341 to mark his 'patriotic exertions'.

In January 1826 Gunn was appointed superintendent of the Prisoners' Barracks, Hobart, and in 1832 he was also placed in charge of the Male House of Correction. In 1846 he opposed internal changes at the Prisoners' Barracks ordered by the comptroller-general of convicts, Dr John Hampton, and despite a petition to Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Eardley-Wilmot for his retention in Hobart, Hampton removed him to Launceston as superintendent and visiting magistrate of the convict establishments. In August 1850 the duties of police magistrate at Launceston were added to his other offices. His employment in the Convict Department ended with the cessation of transportation. In 1859 he was granted leave to visit Scotland, and on returning resumed the office of police magistrate until his death on 10 June 1868.

Gunn had married on 1 August 1829 at Sorell, Frances Hannah, youngest daughter of Dr Thomas Arndell; they had six daughters and three sons, of whom William was warden of Brighton for thirty-three years and James Arndell represented Sorell in the House of Assembly in 1872-82.

In public life Gunn's conduct and character were exemplary. Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur testified that his bravery made him pre-eminent among those who were engaged against the bushrangers. On the bench and in his many government positions, his clear thinking and accurate memory were invaluable. Utterly fearless in saying and doing what he thought just and right, he was honoured and respected by all classes. An elder of St Andrew's Church, Hobart, and later of Chalmers Church, Launceston, he was also active in the Van Diemen's Land Missionary Society. He gave both land and money for the Anglican and Congregational churches at Broadmarsh. His home in Launceston, Glen Dhu, was noted for its lawns and gardens; the rose garden was claimed to be the best in Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • correspondence file under Gunn (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

K. L. Read, 'Gunn, William (1800–1868)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 21 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 Gunn, copy of original painting, believed to be by Thomas Wainewright, n.d.

William Gunn, copy of original painting, believed to be by Thomas Wainewright, n.d.

photo provided by the Historical Society of Sorell, Tasmania

Life Summary [details]


6 September, 1800
Newry, Down, Ireland


10 June, 1868 (aged 67)
Tasmania, Australia

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