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Frederick Maitland Innes (1816–1882)

by C. M. Sullivan

This article was published:

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Frederick Innes, by J. W. Beattie

Frederick Innes, by J. W. Beattie

State Library of Tasmania, 617095

Frederick Maitland Innes (1816-1882), journalist, lay preacher, farmer and politician, was born on 11 August 1816 at Edinburgh, son of Francis Innes and his wife Prudence, née Edgerley. Educated at Heriot's, Edinburgh, and Kelso Grammar School, he worked for his uncle, manager of estates for his relation, the Duke of Roxburgh. In 1836 Innes sailed in the Derwent and arrived in Hobart Town in 1837. He joined the Hobart Town Courier and was prominent in reviving the Mechanics' Institute. In 1838 he married Sarah Elizabeth, youngest child of Humphrey Grey, a prosperous free settler who had migrated from Ireland in 1829.

Innes transferred to the Tasmanian but resigned in 1839 and went to England. There he published Secondary Punishments (1841), a pamphlet on prison discipline, and became secretary to the British and Foreign Aborigines' Protection Society. With his wife and family he returned in the Mandarin to Hobart in 1843, acting as superintendent of Parkhurst boys on the voyage. He rejoined the Courier but left in 1845 to edit the Observer; he resigned next year, moved to Launceston, became a lay preacher in the Presbyterian Church and worked for the Cornwall Chronicle. After a short but stormy term as co-editor with D'Arcy Wentworth Murray, Innes retired to his wife's property, Mona Vale, at Evandale. He lived there for six years in comparative obscurity. In 1856 he was appointed justice of the peace and coroner and elected unopposed for Morven in the new House of Assembly. After five months in the Opposition he became colonial treasurer and held office until November 1862.

In 1859 the colony was reputedly run by a triumvirate, (Sir) Francis Villeneuve Smith, W. Henty and Innes, respectively called Seedy, Greedy and Needy. In that year he also tried to create a ministry of lands and works, but the attempt was not successful until 1869. Increasingly Innes undertook such public responsibilities as postmaster-general, minister for immigration, acting colonial secretary and chairman of the Board of Education. Although re-elected for Morven in 1861, he represented South Esk in the Legislative Council in 1862-72. He was appointed to the Library Committee, became chairman of committees in 1864 and president of the Legislative Council in 1868. He was elected for Selby to the House of Assembly in November 1872 and formed a ministry, acting as premier and colonial treasurer. This alliance with old political enemies failed and in August 1873 Innes became leader of the Opposition. In 1875 he crossed the floor to replace (Sir) Philip Fysh as treasurer, and was elected for North Launceston but by July 1876 was again in the Opposition. In 1877 he lost North Launceston but won South Esk in the Legislative Council and in 1880 became president. Despite chronic illness he attended every session he could until he died at Launceston on 11 May 1882. He was survived by his wife, seven sons and five daughters to whom he left an estate of £10,700.

Innes as a journalist was particularly concerned with education and prison reform. His 1837 Mechanics' Institute lecture was published as On the Advantages of the General Dissemination of Knowledge. In 1838 he advocated a colonial university and was later instrumental in founding the Tasmanian associate of arts. He bitterly attacked sectarian teaching in government schools. He generally supported Alexander Maconochie's prison reform theories, agreeing that the fundamental problem was 'how to punish so as to do good; to punish with a just measure of severity so as to reform the criminal and prevent the repetition of the crime'. Maconochie had given a large sum to the Tasmanian in 1837 and this may have influenced Innes in his attitude. He was never an ardent anti-transportationist but advocated a gradual cessation of transportation and maintained that the assignment system was economically sound. Although he could see no improvement for colonist or convict under the probation scheme, he praised Lord Stanley's proposals for female convicts. Regretfully he saw that self-government would not be granted while transportation continued, and signed the anti-transportation petition to Lieutenant-Governor Sir William Denison.

Concerned by the colony's economic condition, Innes urged the government to put more money and energy into agriculture and printed a long article, with estimates on roads, both main and branch, to provide access for produce. He was also interested in Major (Sir) Sydney Cotton's irrigation proposals. In the economic slump of the 1840s Innes urged farmers to avoid speculation and to calculate their returns over several years rather than annually. A free trader always looking for markets, he advocated capitalizing on European crop failures and the remount trade with India. He represented Tasmania at an intercolonial congress on free trade in 1873.

Conservative on colonial constitutional issues, Innes feared that self-government would be too democratic. To him public opinion and good government could never be compatible. As a politician he continued his interest in education, served on the Council of Education and was a commissioner of an education inquiry, a guardian of the Queen's Asylum for Destitute Children, a supporter of the Ragged Schools Association and instrumental in encouraging teachers from England to migrate to Tasmania. He was also a commissioner for the New Norfolk Asylum, railways, charitable organizations and penal discipline.

A portrait is in Parliament House, Hobart.

Select Bibliography

  • K. H. Dougharty, A Story of a Pioneer Family in Van Diemen's Land (Launceston, 1953)
  • Tasmanian, 6 Aug 1848
  • Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston), 4 May 1850, Mercury (Hobart), 4 July 1873
  • C. M. Elliott, Frederick Maitland Innes: A Study in Liberal Conservatism (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Tasmania, 1964)
  • Leake papers (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

C. M. Sullivan, 'Innes, Frederick Maitland (1816–1882)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 16 July 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

Frederick Innes, by J. W. Beattie

Frederick Innes, by J. W. Beattie

State Library of Tasmania, 617095

Life Summary [details]


11 August, 1816
Canongate, Edinburgh, Mid-Lothian, Scotland


11 May, 1882 (aged 65)
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage

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