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Anthony Fenn Kemp (1773–1868)

by Murray C. Kemp

This article was published:

Anthony Fenn Kemp (1773?-1868), soldier and merchant, was born near Aldgate, London, the son of Anthony Fader Kemp, merchant, and Susannah, née Fenn. After being educated in Greenwich by Dr Knox, he travelled in the United States for about a year and then in France. In July 1793 he was commissioned ensign in the New South Wales Corps and arrived in Sydney with a detachment of the regiment about two years later. During 1795-97 he served a tour of duty on Norfolk Island. He was promoted lieutenant in March 1797 and captain in November 1801. Towards the end of 1800 he left for London on leave. On his return to Sydney in 1802 he married Elizabeth, the sister of Alexander Riley, by whom he had seven sons and eleven daughters, and so qualified in one sense for the soubriquet he longed for, 'the father of Tasmania'.

Like many of his brother officers, Kemp was as much occupied with trade as with his military duties. In November 1799 he was granted a lease of what is now the north-west corner of King and George Streets, where he built a shop. As paymaster of his company and later treasurer of the Committee of Paymastership of the corps, Kemp was strategically placed to dispose of his wares at high prices. Against his bullying and threats the soldiers had no redress, though it must be remembered that 'truck' was then common and, since there was no currency in the colony, payment in kind was inevitable; however, Joseph Holt, perhaps with some exaggeration, reckoned Kemp's profits at 100 per cent.

In September 1802 Kemp was received into the grade of Ancient Masonry at the first lodge known to have assembled in Australia. Two of the three members were officers of Le Naturaliste, one of the three ships of Captain Nicolas Baudin's expedition. This was not, however, the most important of Kemp's involvements with the French. When the Atlas arrived with a cargo of brandy Governor Philip Gidley King refused to let the cargo land, but allowed Baudin to buy 800 gallons (3637 litres) to stock his ships. Kemp led an outcry against the governor's action and, on doubtful evidence, accused the French of bringing brandy ashore and selling it at 25s. a gallon. King questioned two of the French officers and was convinced of their innocence. Some of them spoke of challenging Kemp, but Baudin restrained them; under pressure from his fellow officers, Kemp tendered Baudin a written apology but the incident reveals his extremism.

Soon afterwards Kemp was involved in the notorious pamphlet war which so plagued King. In January 1803 a paper containing a scurrilous attack on King was found in the yard of Kemp's barracks. King ordered the arrest of Kemp and two junior officers, Nicholas Bayly and Thomas Hobby. The subsequent court martial of Kemp had barely begun when Major George Johnston, who was temporarily in command of the corps, ordered the arrest of Surgeon John Harris, the officer acting as judge-advocate, on the ground that Harris had disclosed the votes of members of the court at the earlier trial of Hobby. At first King refused to replace Harris and ordered the court martial to dissolve, but Johnston replied that the officers would continue to sit until they had delivered a verdict. The governor then yielded and appointed Richard Atkins to act as judge-advocate in the case. Kemp was acquitted.

In 1804 King appointed Kemp second-in-command to Colonel William Paterson of the proposed new settlement at Port Dalrymple. From August 1806 to April 1807, while Paterson was absent in Sydney, Kemp administered the settlement in his stead. During this period provisions ran low and for a time, early in 1807, hunting and fishing were the only sources of food. Disaffection grew and an insurrection was averted only by arresting the leaders of the dissidents.

In August 1807 Kemp returned to Sydney. He was the senior officer in the Criminal Court which assembled on 25 January 1808 to try John Macarthur for sedition. He and the five other officers of the court supported Macarthur when he declared that Judge-Advocate Atkins was unfit to appear in the case. Next morning, when the officers asked Governor William Bligh to restore Macarthur to bail and requested Atkins's replacement, Kemp appeared to be one of the most extreme of the governor's opponents. When Johnston decided to depose Bligh, Kemp and three other officers were sent ahead to summon him to resign his authority and to assure him of his personal safety.

On 28 May Johnston, acting as governor, appointed Kemp, who had certainly been one of the leaders in the attack on Bligh, as acting deputy judge advocate. In that capacity he was a member of the illegal Criminal Court which tried the provost-marshal, William Gore, for perjury, although four of its members, including Kemp, were among the defendant's accusers. In December Kemp was posted commandant at Parramatta, and thereupon relinquished his position as acting judge-advocate. In 1810 he returned to England when the corps was sent home. He was one of Johnston's witnesses at his court martial in 1811; more fortunate than his superior in not being tried himself, he was able to sell his commission, but his magistrate's warrant and most of his land grants were cancelled. He became a partner in a commercial and shipping agency, though apparently this did not prosper, for he moved into and out of bankruptcy before receiving permission in 1815 to settle in Van Diemen's Land.

Kemp arrived there in January 1816. A year later Lieutenant-Governor Thomas Davey granted him 700 acres (283 ha) at Green Ponds, the first grant to be made in the district. By 1829 Kemp had two adjoining grants, making a total of 2000 acres (809 ha). Soon afterwards, in consideration of his improvements, a further 1000 acres (405 ha) were leased to him, and he bought another 1100 acres (445 ha). In the 1830s he bought more, as well as renting large areas in the Lakes district. At Green Ponds Kemp bred first-class sheep and helped to pioneer the Tasmanian wool industry. He also bred horses and raised cattle and, about 1831, introduced a hardy, drought-resistant variety of dwarf American corn (Cobbett's) which was suitable for swine, poultry and horses.

However, Kemp was better known as a merchant than as a grazier. He was a foundation director and later president of the Van Diemen's Land Bank. Soon after his arrival in Hobart Town he had established the firm of Kemp & Gatehouse, which was changed to Kemp & Co. about 1823 when Richard Barker was taken into partnership. After this was dissolved in 1829, Kemp continued the shipping, mercantile and importing business from a central Macquarie Street store. In 1839 he sold this property and limited his activities to his premises in Collins and Argyle Streets. In 1844, during the general depression, he sold his last city block, and a fellow merchant, Richard Lewis, bought his residence and store.

In April 1816 Governor Lachlan Macquarie appointed Kemp a justice of the peace, but in 1817-19 he was involved in a series of quarrels, first with Lieutenant-Governor Davey and then with his successor, William Sorell. In June 1818 Macquarie confirmed Kemp's suspension from the magistracy. In 1820 Kemp, critical as always, testified at length to Commissioner John Thomas Bigge about Sorell's immorality, discriminatory administration and the excessive consumption of spirits, but by the time Sorell was recalled one of Kemp's daughters had married one of Sorell's sons and Kemp had swung round to a profound appreciation of the lieutenant-governor's virtues. In January 1824 Kemp was chairman of a 'Committee appointed at a Public Meeting of the Landholders, Merchants and Free Inhabitants of Van Diemen's Land' to draft a petition to the King that Sorell's tenure of office be extended; but this was unavailing.

From 1824 to 1836 Kemp found the authority of Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur as irksome as that of his predecessors. Kemp expressed republican sympathies, and opposed many official measures; through the press, public meetings, petitions and correspondence, he advocated the independence of Van Diemen's Land from New South Wales (granted in 1826), the establishment of an elected Legislative Council, the abolition of press censorship, and the adoption of the English jury system. In 1837 Arthur's successor, Sir John Franklin, who was more sympathetic to the development of free institutions, appointed Kemp to the board to inquire into applications for secondary grants, and in October Franklin reappointed him a justice of the peace.

Kemp died at Sandy Bay on 28 October 1868, in his ninety-fifth year and was buried in St George's Church of England cemetery. His wife had predeceased him in October 1865, aged 79. Of his family, George Anthony became the first warden of the Green Ponds municipality and Edward followed the example of the 'pipes' of King's time by writing a bitter attack on Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Eardley-Wilmot in satirical verse in A Voice from Tasmania (1846). Of Kemp's nine daughters known to have married, Elizabeth Julia became the wife of William Sorell, registrar of the Supreme Court of Tasmania; Sophia, the wife of William Seccombe, medical practitioner; and Fanny Edith, the wife of Captain Algernon Burdett Jones, visiting magistrate and superintendent of the Queen's Orphan Schools.

Kemp may be remembered mainly for his notorious early exploits in New South Wales, but he also played a notable pioneering role in Van Diemen's Land, both as merchant and grazier, where his 'inherent aversion of despotism' was harnessed to some worthwhile causes.

Select Bibliography

  • M. C. and T. B. Kemp, ‘Captain Anthony Fenn Kemp’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 51 (1965), and for bibliography.

Citation details

Murray C. Kemp, 'Kemp, Anthony Fenn (1773–1868)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 24 April 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

Anthony Fenn Kemp (1773-1868), by Thomas Bock

Anthony Fenn Kemp (1773-1868), by Thomas Bock

Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001124060955

Life Summary [details]


London, Middlesex, England


28 October, 1868 (aged ~ 95)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

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