Australian Dictionary of Biography

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George Poynter Heath (1830–1921)

by H. J. Gibbney

This article was published:

George Poynter Heath (1830-1921), naval officer and public servant, was born on 19 June 1830 at Hanworth, Norfolk, England, the second son of Rev. Charles Heath and his wife Mary Anne, née Poynter. Educated at Cheltenham College he joined the navy as a cadet in 1845. In 1846-53 he served in H.M.S. Rattlesnake (under Owen Stanley till 1850) and in the Fantome and the Calliope on the Australian station. He then returned to England where he worked at the Admiralty drawing charts of areas surveyed by the Rattlesnake. Late in 1859 as a lieutenant he applied for the government post of marine surveyor in the new colony of Queensland and was appointed. On 23 February 1860, before sailing, he married Elizabeth Jane, sister of Joseph George Long Innes; they had three sons and six daughters.

In his thirty-year tenure of office in what became the subdepartment of harbours, lighthouses and pilots, Heath was responsible for supervising the opening of 13 new ports, establishing 33 lighthouses, 6 lightships and 150 small lights and marking 450 miles (724 km) of the inner route through the Barrier Reef. In 1862 he was appointed portmaster of Brisbane and was also a member of the Immigration Board and the Marine Board of which he became chairman in 1869 when he retired as a naval commander. A prominent Anglican he served in 1876-89 as chairman of committees in synod. His large home at Norman Creek was the venue for many gay social activities. In November 1887 he retired from the public service because of ill health and later returned to England. He lived quietly on his pension at South Kensington, London, and died on 26 March 1921, predeceased by his wife in 1893.

Select Bibliography

  • R. S. Browne, A Journalist's Memories (Brisb, 1927)
  • J. H. Thorburn, ‘Major Lighthouses of Queensland: Part 2’, Queensland Heritage, vol 1, no 7, Nov 1967, pp 15-24
  • Colonial Secretary's letters, COL 1 (Queensland State Archives)
  • Treasury registers (Queensland State Archives)
  • CO 234/1/123, 2/586, 55/420, 237/2.

Citation details

H. J. Gibbney, 'Heath, George Poynter (1830–1921)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


19 June, 1830
Hanworth, Norfolk, England


26 March, 1921 (aged 90)
London, Middlesex, England

Cultural Heritage

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