Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Francis Kempt (1805–1865)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published:

John Francis Kempt (1805-1865), soldier, was born in England, younger son of Captain Francis Kempt, R.N., of Froxfield, Hampshire, and first cousin of General Sir James Kempt (1764-1854), soldier and in 1828-30 administrator of Canada. His father died on the North American station in 1815 and John was cared for by his father's relations. His father had wanted him to be 'placed to some profession or business … either that of a Farmer or Land surveyor', but on 16 June 1830 he bought an ensign's commission in the 32nd Regiment. On 19 May 1837 he transferred to the 12th Regiment as a lieutenant. Promoted captain on 3 September 1850, he purchased a major's commission on 12 May 1854. He was appointed brevet lieutenant-colonel on 26 October 1858 and colonel on 5 January 1864. In 1855 he had received a legacy of £2500 from Sir James's estate.

In October 1854 Kempt arrived in Melbourne in the Camperdown from Ireland in command of part of the first battalion of the regiment. The rest of the battalion arrived in November and a detachment was sent to Eureka. In 1854-61 he commanded detachments on routine garrison duties in the Australian colonies. From 22 January to 22 March 1861, as the colony's senior military officer, he was administrator of New South Wales after Governor Sir William Denison left and before Sir John Young arrived. In these months the regiment was again used in support of the civil power at Lambing Flat.

Popular and urbane, Kempt's most notable work was in connexion with the second volunteer movement in New South Wales. In August 1860 Governor Denison had consulted him on a scheme of management for a volunteer corps which would allow for expansion. Kempt's memorandum of 20 September set out the requirements and organization; he was appointed inspecting field officer for the volunteers with an allowance and salary. As a regular officer in charge of the volunteers Kempt was often in an unenviable position: on the one hand, the imperial authorities feared that he was being diverted from more legitimate duties; on the other, the colonial government wanted him to be more under their control. When the land-based naval brigade was formed and placed under his control, he incurred the undeserved enmity of Captain Francis Hixson. In 1864 Kempt prepared several reports on the corps and in a letter to William Forster in April urged the government to allocate more funds to it. Kempt's work with the volunteers won him high repute and gratitude from both the Executive Council and the governor.

In 1865 Kempt was appointed to take command at the Queen's Redoubt, near Auckland, where a detachment of his regiment was stationed. He died there of a heart attack on 28 July and was buried with full military honours in the Symonds Street cemetery, Auckland. Probate of his effects was sworn in London at under £3000. His wife Mary Ann, who had accompanied him to New Zealand, died aged 90 at Kensington, London, on 25 March 1892; they had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • E. A. H. Webb, History of the 12th Regiment, 1685-1913 (Lond, 1914)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1861, 1, 36
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23, 28, 29 Jan, 25, 26 Feb, 11, 18, 23 Mar 1861, 21 Aug 1865
  • Daily Southern Cross (Auckland), 29 July 1865
  • New Zealand Herald, 29 July, 2 Aug 1865
  • Sydney Mail, 12 Aug 1865
  • D. M. MacCallum, Essays in Early Colonial Defence in New South Wales with Particular Reference to the Volunteer Movement (M.A. thesis, University of Sydney, 1961).

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Kempt, John Francis (1805–1865)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 20 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




28 July, 1865 (aged ~ 60)
Queen's Redoubt, Auckland, New Zealand

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