Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Howe (1777–1855)

by Vivienne Parsons

This article was published:

William Howe (1777-1855), settler, was born in Scotland, and on 21 September 1802 married Mary Twentyman at Annandale, Dumfriesshire, Scotland. In 1813 he joined the 1st Royal Scots Regiment as an ensign and took part in the Napoleonic wars. He left the army in 1815 and in July 1816 arrived in New South Wales as a free settler in the Atlas with his wife and four children. In January 1818 Lachlan Macquarie granted Howe 3000 acres (1214 ha) at Minto which he named Glenlee. Macquarie regarded Howe as factious and dissatisfied, but Samuel Marsden recommended him to Commissioner John Thomas Bigge as a man of honour and practical experience in agriculture, and Bigge later recommended Howe for the magistracy to which he was appointed in January 1820. When he gave evidence before Bigge he argued that agricultural pursuits were likely to reform the prisoners and urged that agriculture be encouraged by a better selection of persons to receive land grants and convicts.

In March 1822 Howe became involved in the dispute between Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane and Judge-Advocate (Sir) John Wylde, when he issued a warrant of distress to enforce payment of money owing to an artisan by his employer. The Governor's Court found that the Act 20 Geo. II, c. 19, in accordance with which Macquarie had issued his proclamation of 21 November 1818 giving magistrates power to make orders for payment in disputes between masters and servants where the sum did not exceed £10, did not apply in the colony because there was no appeal possible to Quarter Sessions as in England. The judge-advocate added that in his opinion the magistrates in New South Wales had no jurisdiction in civil cases. Brisbane, not wishing too much consternation, indemnified Howe's expenses and Bathurst upheld the governor's action though he agreed with Wylde that the Act did not apply to the colonies.

In January 1824 John Macarthur spoke of Howe as a favourite for nomination to the new Legislative Council, but he was not appointed. Macarthur also described him as being heavily in debt and knowing little about agriculture. Of the first claim there is something to be said, for Howe was in debt to the Riley brothers and was prosecuted for failing to pay for the building of his house at Glenlee; by 1828 his holdings of over 7000 acres (2833 ha) in the Liverpool area had dwindled to half. But Marsden praised his agricultural knowledge. He was a member of the Agricultural Society and the Agricultural Stock Club. He won prizes for a ewe and for cheese. Mrs Felton Mathew thought Glenlee notable for its English grasses, the quality of its hay and the English style of its grounds. Howe was also a keen horse-breeder, a foundation member of the Australian Racing Club, a member of the Philosophical Society and a supporter of the Presbyterian Church. From 1827 to 1831 he was superintendent of police at Campbelltown. Later he was a member of the Bourke memorial committee, a trustee of the Savings Bank, a subscriber to the Patriotic Fund in 1835 and a petitioner against the stoppage of transportation. In 1845 the gentlemen of the district presented Mr and Mrs Howe with portraits of themselves painted by Backler, in recognition of their work for the locality. Howe Street, Campbelltown, was named in his honour.

Howe died at Glenlee on 1 August 1855, aged 78, and was buried in the Presbyterian cemetery, Campbelltown. Mary Howe died at Dapto on 28 October 1859. They had eight sons and two daughters. Three sons were pioneers of the Burragorang Valley, and their daughter Jane married David Williamson Irving of Dapto.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 10-11
  • R. H. Cambage, ‘Biographical Sketches of Some of the Members of the Philosophical Society of Australia’, Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, 55 (1921)
  • Sydney Gazette, 17 Aug 1816, 26 Oct 1827
  • Bigge Report
  • evidence (Bonwick transcripts, State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Vivienne Parsons, 'Howe, William (1777–1855)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 24 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 Howe, n.d

William Howe, n.d

State Library of New South Wales, 187127

Life Summary [details]




1 August, 1855 (aged ~ 78)
Minto, New South Wales, Australia

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