Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas Cudbert Harington (1798–1863)

by Arthur McMartin

This article was published:

Thomas Cudbert Harington (1798-1863), public servant and company official, was the son of John Herbert Harington, orientalist, who became a member of the Supreme Council of Bengal after having served eleven years on the bench of the Supreme Court of Calcutta. Although educated for the legal profession, Thomas Harington decided to emigrate to Australia. Arriving in Sydney from Calcutta in June 1820 he received a grant of 600 acres (243 ha) from Governor Lachlan Macquarie and acquired control of Elderslie, one of John Oxley's grants in the Camden district, on which he spent twelve months. In 1822 he became a clerk in the Commissariat Department but after two years service, having received £6500 in cash from the sale of property in India, he resigned and applied for a grant of 6600 acres (2671 ha) which was provisionally approved by Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane. In the meantime, while waiting for official confirmation of the grant, Harington invested a large part of his funds in the purchase of additional land, with the result that he made himself ineligible for the original amount he had asked for.

In February 1825 he was made a magistrate and for a short time acted as secretary to the local committee of the newly-established Australian Agricultural Co., but resigned in May 1826 to rejoin the public service which, at the time, was undergoing extensive reforms at the hands of Governor (Sir) Ralph Darling. Impressed by Harington's energy and ability Darling appointed him to the new post of assistant colonial secretary. On seeking approval for the appointment Darling was informed by Goderich that, having given instructions for the reduction of similar offices in the other colonies, he could not sanction the creation of such an office in New South Wales, a decision which Darling, for fear of losing his services, concealed from Harington, who had stipulated that he should rank next after Alexander McLeay. Despite Sir George Murray's reaffirmation in 1829 of the Colonial Office's decision not to recognize Harington as assistant colonial secretary, he continued to be known locally by the proscribed title. During the administration of Governor Sir Richard Bourke, Harington became one of the most influential members of the official clique that continued to harry the governor until he broke it. Harington's own influence was strengthened by his marriage in June 1836 to Frances Leonora, daughter of Alexander McLeay, a union abruptly terminated by the young bride's death less than two months later.

Soon after the wedding Harington tried to secure the succession to McLeay's office on the grounds both of ability and seniority, but Bourke reported adversely on his application, pointing out that Harington had been the ringleader in the campaign to persuade the secretary of state to overrule the governor's decision not to reappoint a number of public servants, including Harington, to the new Commission of the Peace issued early in 1836. Harington took the setback in good spirit.

At the beginning of 1841, during an arrogant and injudicious attack on Judge John Willis, with whom he had previously been on friendly terms, Harington used words that reflected on the governor and was suspended from office. Ordered to apologize he did so, but in addition tendered his resignation. Soon afterwards he left the colony for England where he arrived in March 1842. His attempts to regain his office, which had been abolished, were fruitless but he was informed that he might return to Sydney where, if the governor thought fit to recommend him for re-employment, no objection would be offered by the Colonial Office. Harington refused the offer and soon afterwards joined the New Zealand Co. as its London secretary, a position which he held until the company's dissolution in 1852. He died at Hampstead on 1 February 1863, at the age of 64.

Harrington was both able and ambitious with a great capacity for hard work. He was a gifted organizer, energetic, thorough and conscientious, but unfortunately these talents were marred by serious defects of personality and character, particularly a haughty and dictatorial manner, defects which brought to an abrupt end a promising career in the colonial public service.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 11-22
  • J. Jervis, ‘Settlement at Narellan: With Notes on the Pioneers’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 22, part 5, 1936, pp 331-44
  • G. D. Richardson, Archives of the Colonial Secretary of New South Wales, 1788-1856 (M.A. thesis, University of Sydney, 1951).

Citation details

Arthur McMartin, 'Harington, Thomas Cudbert (1798–1863)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 23 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]




1 February, 1863 (aged ~ 65)
London, Middlesex, England

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