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John Stephen Hampton (1810–1869)

by Peter Boyce

This article was published:

John Stephen Hampton (1810?-1869), surgeon, comptroller-general of convicts and governor, was awarded a medical diploma at Edinburgh in 1828, and in January 1829 entered the navy as an assistant surgeon. He served in the Britannia and went to Mexico in the Sphinx. In May 1832 he successfully applied for three months leave to study and in June was awarded the Edinburgh certificate. He was then posted to Plymouth dockyard, where he distinguished himself in the prevention of cholera, but spent a month himself in hospital with ague and hepatitis. On his recovery he served in several ships and pleased the physician-general with 'his observations on the diseases of the West Indies'. He was promoted surgeon 'on account of merit' in December 1834 and surgeon-superintendent in March 1843, having filled several assignments in convict transports sailing to Van Diemen's Land. In May 1846 he was appointed comptroller-general of convicts in that colony, but did not arrive in Hobart Town until 27 October 1846, his commission dating from 28 October.

Although Hampton's nine years in charge of the Convict Department was acknowledged by Lieutenant-Governor Sir William Denison and the Colonial Office to have been vigorous and enlightened, he was not a popular figure with colonial politicians and was party to a bitter dispute with the Legislative Council during a select committee inquiry into convict administration begun in July 1855. Hampton refused to give evidence before the committee and was charged by the council with contempt. The Speaker issued a warrant for his arrest, but crown law officers doubted the legality of such a warrant, and the executive refused to apprehend him. The new lieutenant-governor, Sir Henry Young, prorogued the council on 20 October 1855, pending receipt of a judicial opinion on the warrant. Before the two colonial judges had pronounced against the Legislative Council's proceedings, Hampton obtained leave and left the colony. The Legislative Council carried the case on appeal to the Privy Council, which upheld the earlier judicial opinion, but the inquiry into convict administration proceeded. Its report alleged that Hampton had engaged in corrupt practices, including the employment of convict labour for personal profit. In 1857 Hampton was placed on half-pay and granted two years leave to go to Canada on urgent private affairs.

Despite the odium attached to his name in Van Diemen's Land, Hampton was appointed governor of Western Australia on 28 February 1862. His six year term coincided with the last phase of convict transportation to that colony, and his interference in convict management drew the hostility of Perth newspapers and many prominent citizens, including the Anglican bishop, Mathew Blagden Hale. After the expiry of Colonel Edmund Henderson's long and successful term as comptroller-general in December 1862, Hampton assumed direct control of the Convict Department until the arrival in 1863 of Captain Newland, whose resignation the governor had secured by 1866. Hampton thereupon appointed as acting-comptroller his son, G. E. Hampton, who retained several other salaried posts. In September 1867 the Howard Association condemned the convict system in Western Australia, particularly the governor's share in it. Hampton was exonerated from all personal charges, but Sir Frederic Rogers confessed to his Colonial Office colleagues that some of the allegations of cruelty could probably be substantiated. In 1866-67 many convicts attempted escape, and in March 1867 Hampton abolished the board of visiting magistrates, thus removing the prisoners' only means of redress against unjust treatment. Hampton nevertheless made more profitable use of convict labour for colonial public works than any of his predecessors, especially in the last three years of his term, when it became known that transportation would soon cease. Government House, Perth, and a vice-regal summer residence on Rottnest Island were completed and occupied in his time. From Governor Sir Arthur Kennedy Hampton had inherited an acutely embarrassed treasury, but he left the colony on 2 November 1868 with its revenue doubled and its budget balanced. Agitation for representative government increased through Hampton's term, and in May 1868 the British government announced preliminary arrangements for the introduction of representative government, which was to come in 1870 under Governor (Sir) Frederick Weld.

Hampton's wife Mary, née Essex, was a conscientious hostess, in spite of ill health, and took a special interest in Sunday schools. She died soon after returning to England, and Hampton died at Hastings on 1 December 1869, aged 59. Their only son, George Essex, who in 1868 had married Fanny, daughter of A. H. Stone of Perth, died in England in 1872, and their son Henry George served Western Australia as under-secretary for law from 1901 to 1935.

Hampton's financial and labour policies were quite beneficial to the colony, and were assisted by the expansion of the pastoral industry in the north, but his personal rule intensified the clamour for representative government and reform of convict management and weakened gubernatorial control over church appointments.

Select Bibliography

  • W. A. Townsley, The Struggle for Self-Government in Tasmania 1842-1856 (Hob, 1951)
  • A. Hasluck, Unwilling Immigrants (Melb, 1959)
  • C. Gertzel, The Convict System in Western Australia, 1850-70 (B.A. thesis, University of Western Australia, 1949)
  • P. J. Boyce, The Role of the Governor in Western Australia, 1829-90 (M.A. thesis, University of Western Australia, 1961)
  • F. I. Bray, Some Early Medical Men of Western Australia (typescript, 1933, Royal Western Australian Historical Society).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Peter Boyce, 'Hampton, John Stephen (1810–1869)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 18 July 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]




1 December, 1869 (aged ~ 59)
Hastings, East Sussex, England

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