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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Kearney, William (1795–1870)

by J. R. Skemp

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

William Kearney, n.d.

William Kearney, n.d.

photo supplied by family

William Kearney (1795-1870), settler, was born in Norfolk Island, the son of a reputed squire of County Mayo, Ireland. He arrived in Hobart Town in 1807 with his mother Catherine and younger brother Thomas, after Norfolk Island had been evacuated by order of Governor Philip Gidley King. The family was Protestant. Catherine was given a small block of land in Argyle Street on the Hobart Rivulet and set up a dairy. She supplied Governor Lachlan Macquarie and his wife on their visit to Van Diemen's Land and from him received another small grant in Hobart. With difficulty, William and Thomas were given some schooling, but their interest lay in stock and farming. Both keen horsemen, they accompanied parties in search of new grazing land. Thomas went with the surveyor, Thomas Scott, on his exploration of the east coast, and in 1819 William was given a licence to graze stock on the Salt Pan Plains in the midlands near Tunbridge. In 1821 William and Thomas each received small grants of land on the Coal River near Richmond. In 1824 William married Susan, the youngest daughter of Robert Nash, a flour-miller at Sorell and also a Norfolk Islander.

After the death of Thomas, William took over his brother's land and bought 500 adjoining acres (202 ha) on which in 1829 he built a two-storied stone house that he called Laburnum Park. On the strength of his possessions he applied for further grants of land and got 1000 acres (405 ha), later increased to 1800 acres (728 ha), on the St Paul's River in the South Esk valley, where he already had property at Avoca. He then had 15,000 sheep, 300 cattle and 25 horses, and employed six free labourers and six assigned servants. By the mid-1830s he had 13,000 acres (5261 ha) of land in the Coal River valley alone, including the estates of Laburnum Park, Colebrook Dale and Rosebank Farm.

Kearney freely indulged his passion for horse-racing and hunting. He had been a foundation member of the Tasmanian Turf Club formed in 1826, and kept a stud of blood horses. His best horses were sometimes matched against those of other sportsmen for as much as £500 a side. He also kept hounds and arranged hunts on his properties. A frequent visitor from Hobart to Laburnum Park was his friend John Woodcock Graves, author of the song 'John Peel'. By his sporting activities, hospitality and generosity Kearney became popularly known as the 'Squire of Richmond'. The slump of 1841 practically ruined him. In 1846 he had to sell most of his properties and was left with the Laburnum Park estate, which was heavily mortgaged. He continued, however, to breed and race horses. He died on 31 May 1870 in Hobart at the residence of Captain Riddle.

William and Susan Kearney had eight sons and one daughter. The two elder sons, Thomas and William, married Anne and Margaret, daughters of Esh Lovell.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 3, vol 3
  • J. R. Skemp (ed), Letters to Anne: The Story of a Tasmanian Family Told in Letters Written to Anne Elizabeth Lovell (Mrs. Thomas Kearney) by her Brothers, Sister and Other Relatives During the Years 1846-1872 (Melb, 1956)
  • Hobart Town Gazette, 17 June 1826, 22 Nov 1828
  • Hobart Town Courier, 4 Mar, 4, 6 May 1846
  • Mercury (Hobart), 1 June 1870
  • CSO 1/307/7413 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

J. R. Skemp, 'Kearney, William (1795–1870)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 14 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

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