Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Leake (1780–1865)

by A. Rand

This article was published:

John Leake (1780-1865), pastoralist, was born on 5 December 1780, at Ellington near Ramsgate, Kent, England, the son of Robert Leake and his wife Sarah. His family were partners in the mercantile firm of Travis & Leake of Hull. Leake served as an ensign in the Hull Volunteers and saw action in the Napoleonic war before 1805, when he married Elizabeth (1786-1852), the daughter of William Bell, a Hull merchant, and his wife Jane. At the end of the war Leake took his family of six sons to Hamburg where he was soon well liked as the representative of many Yorkshire business houses and as a member of the committee for managing the affairs of the Church of England.

In 1822 he decided to emigrate and, with letters from the Colonial Office, William Wilberforce, General F. A. Wetherall and the British consul at Hamburg, he arrived at Hobart Town with most of his family and two servants in the Andromeda in May 1823. On the passage unhappy differences arose over the division of passengers at meals, and on landing Leake found it necessary to sue the captain (Muddle) for discriminatory treatment. For importing merchandise worth £3000 he was granted 2000 acres (809 ha) of land which he chose on the Macquarie River, near Campbell Town, adjoining that of other Hamburg emigrants. He established his family on this property, Rosedale, and left its management to his eldest son William, while he acted as accountant in the Derwent Bank in Hobart. By May 1828 he had a hundred Saxon sheep of the Steiger and Gadegast breeds, another highly improved flock of 1500, a nine-roomed stone and brick house, barns and other improvements. The government, pleased with his industry and profit from sales of wool and wheat, granted him an additional 2000 acres (809 ha), part of which he located adjoining Rosedale and part at the Hunting Ground. In 1830 he took over the management of the farm and his son William replaced him at the bank. He later returned to banking, conducting the local branch of the Commercial Bank from its opening in 1838.

Made a justice of the peace in 1832, Leake acted as police magistrate at Campbell Town in the absence of the regular officer in 1834. In this capacity he handled disputes with kindliness and consideration and won from a critical superior the candid acknowledgment that his decisions were always right. Well liked for personal qualities and admired for his sagacity and successful industry, he was nominated to the Legislative Council in 1846 on the resignation of the Patriotic Six. Though not always in favour of Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Eardley-Wilmot's policies, he upheld his honour and personally appealed against his ill treatment to the secretary of state. When Sir William Denison had to reinstate the Patriotic Six, Leake lost his seat, but recovered it in 1848. Although a government nominee on the council until 1856, he took an independent line and did not always support the governor, but when he differed he registered his opposition responsibly and his dissent was constructive. He became a personal friend of Denison and one of his chief supporters for the continuance of transportation. Having himself had success in employing convicts by tempering careful management with encouragement and kindness, he advocated a policy of colonial assignment as an apprenticeship for rehabilitating prisoners after a period of punishment in England.

With the coming of responsible government in 1856 Leake retired to Rosedale, which had been restyled in the 1840s by James Blackburn into a stately Italian villa. His wife died here in 1852, and the management of his estate passed to his son Arthur, leaving Leake to spend his last years in fostering local projects. Earlier a member of the country committee of the Hobart Town Auxiliary Bible Society, he was a generous subscriber to the Campbell Town Church of England of which he was a churchwarden. He also endowed the hospital. In 1851-65 he was local commissioner of the Supreme Court of Van Diemen's Land. He died on 6 January 1865.

Two of his sons settled in South Australia, another became a successful doctor, and the youngest Charles Henry, was instrumental in organizing the Campbell Town water supply from the lake later named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • H. B. Stoney, A Residence in Tasmania (Lond, 1856)
  • K. R. von Stieglitz, A Short History of Campbell Town and the Midland Pioneers (Launceston, 1948)
  • correspondence file under Leake (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

A. Rand, 'Leake, John (1780–1865)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 17 June 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]


5 December, 1780
Ellington, Kent, England


6 January, 1865 (aged 84)
Tasmania, Australia

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