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William Vincent Legge (1841–1918)

by E. M. Dollery

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William Vincent Legge (1841-1918), soldier and scientist, was born on 2 September 1841 at Cullenswood, near St Marys, Van Diemen's Land, son of Robert Vincent Legge (d.1891) and his wife Eliza Graves, née de Lapenotierre; his grandfather was Michael Legge, barrister, of Dublin. His father had arrived in Tasmania on 12 August 1827 in the Medway with his five sisters, four of whom soon married; he was granted 1200 acres (486 ha) which he named Cullenswood after his home in Ireland.

As a child William was sent to England and educated at Bath and in France and Germany. He was commissioned in the Royal Artillery in 1862 and served with the imperial troops in Melbourne in 1867-68. He was then stationed in Ceylon where he pursued his studies of natural history, to which he had long been devoted. As secretary of the Royal Asiatic Society he reorganized the dilapidated museum at Colombo. He also continued the ornithological work begun by Edgar Layard and made an immense collection of birds. He left Ceylon in 1877 and returned to England, serving at Portsmouth till 1888. As an instructor in gunnery he had the task of mounting the heavy guns at Spithead. In his leisure he completed and published his History of the Birds of Ceylon (London, 1880).

Legge had early shown great interest in the defences of the River Derwent, and for this and a recommendation by Sir Peter Scratchley he was offered the command of the forces in Tasmania. He took up his new command on 6 December 1883, retiring from the imperial service with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. In April-May Legge had completed the torpedo course on H.M.S. Vernon at Portsmouth, and with advice from Scratchley and General Hardinge Steward ordered the new breech-loading guns for the colony from the Elswick Works at Newcastle upon Tyne. During his command the forces were entirely reorganized and the batteries defending Hobart were completed and armed with several of the latest types of guns, but many of his other recommendations went unheeded. He was twice re-engaged before his appointment ended in June 1890 through government retrenchment. When Colonel A. T. Cox retired in 1898 the command was again offered to Legge. He trained Tasmanian contingents for the Boer war and was in charge of the reception of the Duke of Cornwall in 1900, and held his post until the forces were officially taken over by the Commonwealth in 1904.

Legge was a fellow of the Geographical Society and a member of the Zoological Society of London, the Linnean Society and the British and American Ornithologists' Unions and a founder and president of the Australasian Ornithologists' Union. As a member and vice-president of the Royal Society of Tasmania he read seventeen papers on various subjects including ornithology, flora and fauna, forestry and geology. Through him, the heights of certain peaks in the Ben Lomond Range were ascertained and in 1907 the highest point was named Legge Tor by the government. He was vice-president of the biological section at the Hobart congress of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science in 1902 and president of the same section at the Dunedin congress in 1904.

Legge was a lay-reader and Sunday school teacher, and restored the Church of England at Cullenswood, which had been built by his father. Legge was married first, on 27 February 1868 to Frances Anne Talbot (d.1914), widowed daughter of Major W. Gray, of Avoca, Tasmania, and second, at Sydney on 3 August 1916 to Kathleen Louisa, daughter of Arthur Cunningham Douglas of Hobart. He died at Cullenswood on 25 March 1918 aged 78, survived by his wife and two sons of the first marriage; his only daughter died in 1906 aged 33 and his son Robert took over Cullenswood.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of Tasmania, vol 1 (Hob, 1900)
  • P. L. Brown (ed), Clyde Company Papers, vol 1 (Lond, 1941)
  • Votes and Proceedings (House of Assembly, Tasmania), 1884 (162), 1887 (89)
  • L. F. Giblin and E. L. Piesse, ‘The Ben Lomond Range. Note on the height of the Legge Tor’, Royal Society of Tasmania, Papers, 1907
  • ‘Obituary’, Royal Society of Tasmania, Papers, 1918
  • Mercury (Hobart), 16 Aug 1916, 27 Mar 1918, 12 Aug 1927
  • Examiner (Launceston), 27 Mar 1918.

Citation details

E. M. Dollery, 'Legge, William Vincent (1841–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 28 May 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]


2 September, 1841
Cullenswood, Tasmania, Australia


25 March, 1918 (aged 76)
Cullenswood, Tasmania, Australia

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