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John Hutt (1795–1880)

by A. C. Staples

This article was published:

John Hutt (1795-1880), public servant and governor, was born in London, eldest son of the thirteen children of Richard Hutt and Gilly, the daughter of John and Anne Flower. He was educated at Christ's Hospital and in 1815 inherited Appley House, Ryde, Isle of Wight. By 1813 he was a clerk in the service of the East India Co. in the presidency of Madras, where he soon became register (registrar) of the district court at Nellore, and from 1818 to 1821 registrar of one of the four provincial courts at Chittoor in North Arcot. He then returned to England and retired from service in 1826.

In 1829 his brother William (1801-1882) became closely associated with Edward Gibbon Wakefield and other theorists of systematic colonization. As M.P. for Hull, William gave powerful parliamentary support, served on the 1836 select committee on the disposal of colonial lands and took a prominent part in all the proposals that led to the foundation of South Australia. John Hutt was also drawn into these movements, and was appointed superintendent of emigration for the South Australian Colonization Commission, of which William was a member. In 1838 both brothers applied unsuccessfully for appointment in South Australia in place of Governor (Sir) John Hindmarsh, but John was rewarded with the governorship of Western Australia.

An eligible bachelor, he arrived at Swan River in the Brothers on 1 January 1839. He found the colonists suspicious of his close association with the Wakefield critics of their early settlement. Some of this hostility was disarmed when he promptly made the overdue appointment of four non-officials as members of the Legislative Council. However, he also brought unpopular orders to insist on the surrender of land grants which had not been improved within the time limit imposed by the Colonial Office regulations of 1829-31. Governor (Sir) James Stirling had attempted half-heartedly to deal with absentees and other defaulters but Hutt, by proclamation ten days after his arrival, called for full satisfaction of the regulations. Although like all systematic colonizers he was opposed to dispersed settlement, he was so impressed by the unfulfilled hopes and long privations of settlers that he adopted a plan which allowed the retention of a quarter of an unimproved grant and, for the surrendered portion, the gift of a remission certificate at 1s. 6d. an acre, to be used for buying crown land elsewhere. Grantees of town lands were allowed to avoid resumption by payment of a fine in fixed proportion to the sum required for a clear title. Hutt also hesitated to apply his permissive instructions to raise the price of crown land from 5s. to 12s. an acre, until the British government forced his hand in 1840. During the boom of 1841 he raised the price to £1 an acre. Rural acres continued to sell and land revenue increased, though a large portion of it came from fines on town land. Land revenues collapsed in 1842, the small areas sold being paid for by remission certificates.

Hutt was far from popular, for few colonists seemed to realize that he was acting on instructions from London. Nevertheless his plans worked well. By 1846 he could note with some satisfaction that more than one million acres (404,690 ha) were held by clear titles, that three-quarters of the deeds carried his signature and that the area under cultivation had doubled. Although dwindling land revenue reduced the funds for assisted immigration the population had made its first forward move since the early settlement, and risen from 2000 in 1839 to 4500 in 1846, mostly by immigration.

One source of migration was the Western Australian Co., founded in London with William Hutt and Wakefield among its directors. It planned a settlement, Australind, on some 190,000 acres (76,891 ha) at Port Leschenault bought for 5s. 3d. an acre in July 1839 from Stirling and Colonel Peter Lautour. The plans advanced in October when the Colonial Office published bounty regulations which provided compensation to land buyers who took out their own labourers. Shares sold freely; Marshall Waller Clifton, retired secretary of the Admiralty Victualling Board, was appointed chief commissioner; surveyors were sent to Australind in the Island Queen, and settlers prepared to follow in the Parkfield. All was thrown into disorder when news arrived that Governor Hutt had resumed Lautour's grant for failure to satisfy the improvement conditions. Hope was restored when the crown law officers, despite Hutt's vigorous protests, ruled that the resumption was in error, a decision which was soon reversed in favour of Hutt's opinion. Further panic arose in September 1840 when George Grey reached London with a proposal to establish Australind 300 miles (483 km) north of Perth on pastoral country found in his 1839 exploration. Many of the company's shareholders withdrew their investments and many settlers cancelled their agreements, but Clifton and a large party sailed in the Parkfield and arrived at Port Leschenault in May 1841. Clifton went immediately to Perth to consult Hutt. They both decided against the northern site, but the uncertainty created by Grey had caused fatal delays. Instead of the anticipated 1000 immigrants a year, only 476 were brought out before applications dried up in 1842. Although the company was compensated for spending some £6000 on introducing these immigrants, it ceased operations in 1844, dismissed Clifton and engaged one of his sons to sell its land.

When the Land and Emigration Commission was established in 1840, Hutt persuaded it to permit an agent in Britain to act on behalf of settlers who wanted to take advantage of the bounty regulations. As a result the Ganges left Liverpool in 1841 with 110 passengers for Fremantle. When land revenue increased in 1840-41 Hutt was able to transmit £3500 to the commission, which sent out 219 migrants in the Simon Taylor in April 1842 and 135 in the Success in November. The British government also sent 73 delinquent boys from Parkhurst Prison to be pardoned and indentured on arrival. During 1841 and 1842 nearly 950 assisted immigrants, mostly labourers, were introduced into the tiny colony. Their unplanned dispatch caused much anxiety to Hutt, who agreed with local opinion that the colonial employers could only absorb 300 a year. The scheme for assisted immigration collapsed with the onset of economic depression in the early 1840s. Hutt was pleased to note that the wholesale bankruptcies of other Australian colonies were not repeated in Western Australia, although falling prices caused local distress. Though commended by British officials for his handling of financial problems Hutt was too optimistic about an early end to the colony's troubles, while settlers insisted that the major cause of distress was the high price of land.

Hutt gained general support in the colony for his treatment of Aboriginals. He opposed segregation although he insisted that they should be permitted to observe their own code when not directly in contact with settlers. For the protection, education, training and reformation of Aboriginals he initiated schemes which later failed for want of sufficient finance, of competent officials and of patient understanding. Hutt was also responsible for placing religious organizations on a firmer foundation with grants for Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Wesleyans and Independents. Small education grants were made to pay the rent for schoolrooms. He also attempted, by a bargain with the Bank of Western Australia, to reduce reliance on the credit notes of individuals but was not very successful.

When his term ended on 19 February 1846 Hutt returned to London, where he became an active member of the Western Australian group. Like his brother William, he retained a lively interest in systematic colonization and invested freely in South Australia and New Zealand. Wakefield's A View of the Art of Colonization (London, 1849) was dedicated to him with protestations of affection and admiration, but in 1850 Hutt, because of his inertia, was displaced as chairman of the managing committee of the Canterbury Association. He died unmarried in 1880 at Chelsea Hospital, where he had resided with his brother, Sir George, who was its secretary.

Hutt seems never to have pursued any occupation earnestly enough to gain the public recognition accorded to his brothers, who were both knighted. Although a radical idealist, he was singularly capable of learning by experience, to the embarrassment of his colleagues and the relief of his opponents. As governor he bowed neither to the Colonial Office nor to the colonists unless their demands seemed reasonable to him. After he left, the Swan River settlers remembered him with respect echoing the opinion of his private secretary, 'I cannot but admire the Governor's unwearied attention to every department of the colony from the most minute to the highest, and I may say the strict impartiality of his conduct looking to the well being of the community and disregarding individual interest, but at the same time he is too austere a turn of mind, brought on by too much solitude and study, wanting the kindlier feelings, sympathies of our nature and as he himself has stated without generosity he is too much inclined to stretch the law to the utmost'.

Select Bibliography

  • J. S. Battye, The Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vols 1-2 (Adelaide, 1912, 1913)
  • J. S. Battye, Western Australia (Oxford, 1924)
  • A. Burton and P. U. Henn (eds), Wollaston's Picton Journal (Perth, 1948)
  • West Australian, 17 Apr 1937
  • Western Australian Historical Society, file 678 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • CO 18/22-42.

Citation details

A. C. Staples, 'Hutt, John (1795–1880)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 25 May 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]


London, Middlesex, England


1880 (aged ~ 85)
London, Middlesex, England

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