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Adolarius William Henry Humphrey (1782–1829)

by G. H. Stancombe

This article was published:

Adolarius William Henry Humphrey (1782-1829), by George Prideaux Robert Harris

Adolarius William Henry Humphrey (1782-1829), by George Prideaux Robert Harris

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an7890477

Adolarius William Henry Humphrey (1782?-1829), public servant, was the son of George Humphrey (1739?-1826) of Westminster, London, and his wife Sarah, née Hamilton (d.1821). He sailed as mineralogist with David Collins from England in 1803 to found a colony on the southern coast of Australia. Collins, dissatisfied with Port Phillip, sent William Collins and Humphrey to Port Dalrymple at the mouth of the Tamar River, with a view to settling there. They searched especially for fresh water, so much lacking at Port Phillip, but apart from the South Esk, found only a little stream which they named the Supply River. Here Humphrey carved with his hammer and chisel the legend, 'A.H.1804', deep into the dolerite rock, where it is still legible.

Having returned to Port Phillip, Humphrey sailed with the rest of Collins's expedition to the Derwent where he was soon at work searching for minerals. He made several journeys of exploration with the botanist, Robert Brown, and Jorgen Jorgenson. They ascended the Derwent at least as far as the River Clyde and made two excursions over Mount Wellington to reach the Huon River. In 1805 Humphrey moved to New South Wales where he worked for two years on both Norfolk Island and the mainland, chiefly engaged in examining iron deposits, samples of which were sent to Sir Joseph Banks. In 1807 he accompanied Surveyor Charles Grimes to Launceston and discovered near Tunbridge the salt pans which proved a great boon to the early settlers. From Launceston he walked to Hobart Town in three days. He resigned in 1812 as mineralogist, pleading that he was worn out by the privations endured in his explorations in both colonies, but it seems that he was no longer interested in his profession. However, he maintained his interest in scientific subjects by becoming a corresponding member of the Horticultural Society of London. He also corresponded with Sir William Hooker.

In 1814 his appointment as a magistrate, held temporarily for the previous four years, was confirmed though Governor Lachlan Macquarie did not at first approve of him. Because of punishments he had meted out, he was hated by the convicts. Michael Howe and his fellow bandits burned down his stacks and barn and ransacked his house at Pittwater. In 1815 he sought compensation for his losses. Three years later he was appointed coroner, superintendent of police and chief magistrate at Hobart. This made him the most powerful man in the colony next to Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell, being the chief executive officer in the capital. He was the most important witness called by Commissioner John Thomas Bigge, supplied him with much information about his control of licensing, the convicts, the police and weights and measures, and gave a comprehensive report on transportation.

When Van Diemen's Land was made a separate colony Humphrey was appointed a member of the newly-established Legislative Council and in 1825 of the Executive Council. An important assignment for him in 1826 was to sit with two others on a board of inquiry into the conduct of the attorney-general, Joseph Gellibrand. As a result of their finding Gellibrand was dismissed. The same year Humphrey was highly commended for his service against the bushrangers led by Matthew Brady who attacked his farm at Plenty in the Derwent valley. In 1828 he retired from his official duties owing to ill health, receiving a pension of £400. He retained his seat on the councils until his death the following year. (Sir) George Arthur, like Sorell before him, praised highly the work of his chief magistrate who with a modest salary had in no way enriched himself while holding public office.

Humphrey also played a large part in the growth of agriculture in the island, supplying the commissariat with meat, breeding stud pigs and Saxon merino sheep, a number of which were slaughtered by Brady's gang. The land commissioner, Roderic O'Connor, thought Humphrey's farm Humphreyville at the Plenty River was 'one of the most gratifying Sights in the Colony'. It was managed by his wife, formerly Harriet Sutton of Sydney, a convict whom he had married in 1813 rather than obey Macquarie's request to return her to her father in Sydney. He left the property to his widow, and the government bought grain from her, to save her from financial embarrassment. She later married John Kerr.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 3, vols 1-6
  • R. W. Giblin, The Early History of Tasmania, vol 2 (Melb, 1939)
  • Hobart Town Gazette, 24 Jan 1818, 6 May 1826, 30 Aug 1828
  • Colonial Times (Hobart), 15 Mar 1829
  • CSO 1/312/7534, 1/397/8994 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

G. H. Stancombe, 'Humphrey, Adolarius William Henry (1782–1829)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 13 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

Adolarius William Henry Humphrey (1782-1829), by George Prideaux Robert Harris

Adolarius William Henry Humphrey (1782-1829), by George Prideaux Robert Harris

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an7890477

Life Summary [details]




1829 (aged ~ 47)
Tasmania, Australia

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Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.