Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Roger Kelsall (1792–1861)

This article was published:

View Previous Version

Roger Kelsall (1792-1861), soldier and engineer, was educated at Eton and commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Engineers in July 1809. He was promoted lieutenant in May 1811, second captain in June 1815 and captain in December 1829. From April 1819 to March 1825 he was on temporary half-pay. In 1835 he was appointed to command the branch of the Ordnance Department in Van Diemen's Land. He arrived in December and was appointed clerk of works. A few days later, Lieutenant-Governor Sir George Arthur reported to the Colonial Office that 'the appointment of a captain of the Royal Engineers, if he be a highly competent, active and zealous person, is one of the first consequence in a country where everything is new, where everything is to be done and where there are many labourers of the most depraved habits to be controlled and to be compelled to work'. He was not happy, however, to see his colonial architect, John Lee Archer superseded.

Kelsall promptly made a tour of inspection of the buildings and stores throughout the colony, a costly journey as a colonial officer had to accompany him under a Treasury instruction for co-ordinating the ordnance and the commissariat, an arrangement which Arthur considered to complicate rather than simplify their work. Kelsall expressed full satisfaction with the works he saw.

Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Franklin, who arrived in January 1837, soon had reason to complain about another Treasury order that ordnance officers should have an adequate supply of convict labour. Kelsall interpreted this order as meaning that he should be given unlimited numbers and his own choice of convicts whether in private or public service. Franklin called Kelsall before the Executive Council where he refused to furnish copies of his reports to the Board of Ordnance because they were 'confidential'. Franklin then ordered him to show copies of the reports, and after five days Kelsall complied but attached a protest that it was inconsistent with his instructions. At this stage a Treasury order arrived that Ordnance officers had to send to London annual estimates of costs for the next year but these had now to be transmitted through the lieutenant-governor and have his approval.

Kelsall was promoted major in January 1837. Among works he carried out were the church at Port Arthur (1836); guard house at George Town (1838); barracks at Port Arthur (1840); barracks on Maria Island, and the convict hospital (1842). He was succeeded by Major James Victor in November 1842 and in January 1843 sailed for England with his wife and son. In April 1845 he was promoted lieutenant-colonel and in August sold his commission. By 1853 he was on a grazing property in Victoria. He died on 26 March 1861, aged 67 years, and was buried in the Eastern cemetery, Geelong.

Select Bibliography

  • P. L. Brown (ed), Clyde Company Papers, vol 5 (Lond, 1963)
  • GO 1/40/70, 33/7/191, and 33/21/177 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • CSO 1/828/17584 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

'Kelsall, Roger (1792–1861)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 18 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]




26 March, 1861 (aged ~ 69)
Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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