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Alexander Imlay (1800–1847)

by H. P. Wellings

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IMLAY BROTHERS: Peter (1797?-1881), George (1794-1846), and Alexander (1800?-1847), landowners and speculators, were baptized on 22 January 1797, 1 August 1794 and 30 March 1800 at Aberdeen, Scotland, sons of Alexander Imlay, farmer and merchant, and his wife Agnes, née Bron. Young Alexander, an army surgeon, arrived in Sydney in December 1829 in the Elizabeth and was appointed to the colony's medical staff in March. Peter, a naval surgeon, reached Hobart Town in the Greenock in February 1830. George arrived in Sydney as surgeon superintendent of convicts in the Roslyn Castle in February 1833 and joined Alexander on the staff of the Sydney Infirmary.

In 1832 Alexander toured the south coast and the County of Argyle with Governor (Sir) Richard Bourke and next year was holding 1280 acres (518 ha) on the Breadalbane plains. In that year Peter also called at Twofold Bay, where he was impressed by the possibilities of shore-based whaling and stock-raising. He soon made his home at Twofold Bay and in 1835 was joined by George, who, although a pastoralist, continued to hold his navy posting until 1841. Alexander resigned from his army medical post in 1833 after ten years service. He went to Hobart in January 1833 and thereafter was chiefly responsible for the brothers' Van Diemen's Land properties. In 1834 he sought and received support from Bourke and Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur for his plans to build up trade in cattle and salted provisions between Twofold Bay and Van Diemen's Land. Alexander also promised to introduce steam navigation and develop trade in wool from the Minarro (Monaro) district. The brothers acquired several properties in Van Diemen's Land, including one of 2560 acres (1036 ha), the only grant on Forestier Peninsula. This was the site of one of their whaling stations. Despite government objections to their use of convict labour on and near whale-boats, by 1837 the Imlays were among the six leading producers of whale products. Alexander bored for coal on his New Town property near Hobart in 1841, but this attempt at further diversification of his interests was unsuccessful.

In January 1838 Alexander took 120 cows to Adelaide by sea from Twofold Bay. Four days after his arrival with a servant and an Aboriginal, he made a journey across the Mount Lofty Ranges to the Murray River. His diary of the journey was published in the Adelaide Register in June and July 1838. David McLaren, manager of the South Australian Co., was so impressed with the importance of the journey that he sent a dispatch about it to his London headquarters.

The Imlay brothers' biggest interests were in the Bega district, where George and Peter controlled the pastoral and whaling activities. Peter also opened up trade with New Zealand where he had acquired land at New Plymouth. Although he and his brothers held 1500 sq miles (3885 km²) of the colony's best land, their fortunes declined disastrously. By the end of 1844 they had surrendered to their creditors all their land except four runs totalling 37,400 acres (15,135 ha) round Bega and Cobargo. In November Alexander tried to sell his Forestier Peninsula property to the government, but Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Eardley-Wilmot was not interested. A year later all the brothers' Van Diemen's Land properties were offered for sale as Alexander was going to join his brothers at Bega. A few months later in July 1846 Peter was shipwrecked when his chartered vessel, the Breeze, out of Hobart, was wrecked at Upolu on her way from Tahiti to New Zealand. He had been looking for oil.

On 26 December 1846 George, who had contracted an incurable disease, shot himself on top of the mountain overlooking Bega, now known as Dr George Mountain. He was unmarried. Alexander had married Sophia Atkins in Hobart, and a son was born to them at New Town on 2 September 1843. Alexander died in March 1847. On 23 February 1853 Peter married Jane Maguire with Presbyterian forms at St Andrew's Church, Sydney. He had migrated to New Zealand in 1851 and in 1857 settled at Wanganui, whence he controlled trading interests in the south-west Pacific. He died at Wanganui on 8 March 1881, survived by Jane and three of their daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • H. P. Wellings, ‘The Brothers Imlay: Pioneers of Eden District’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 17, part 4, 1931, pp 209-14
  • True Colonist (Hobart), 24 Feb 1835, 11 Aug 1837
  • Colonial Times (Hobart), 2 Nov 1841, 30 Mar 1847
  • Hobart Town Courier, 15 Nov 1845
  • correspondence file under Imlay (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

H. P. Wellings, 'Imlay, Alexander (1800–1847)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 13 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




March, 1847 (aged ~ 47)

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