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Patrick Leslie (1815–1881)

by K. G. T. Waller

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Patrick Leslie, c 1875

Patrick Leslie, c 1875

State Library of Queensland, 9895

Patrick Leslie (1815-1881), pioneer and grazier, was born on 25 September 1815 at Warthill, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, the second son of William Leslie, ninth laird of Warthill and eighth of Folla, deputy-lieutenant, and his wife Jane, sister of Walter Davidson. The Leslies were members of the Church of Scotland and Patrick was educated at a college in Aberdeen.

He sailed from London in December 1834 in the Emma Eugenia and arrived in Sydney next May. He spent most of a year learning flock management and colonial agriculture under the tutelage of the Macarthurs of Camden. In 1836 he went to manage the property of his uncle, Davidson, on the Krui River at Collaroi; by 1839, however, Leslie had rented Dunheved farm at Penrith and, when his brothers Walter and George arrived, he decided to look for new land north of the limits of settlement. In January 1840 he started with a large party for the Clarence River district, and then resolved to look at the Darling Downs seen thirteen years before by Allan Cunningham. With one convict, Murphy, as a companion, he crossed and recrossed the southern and eastern downs and decided on the area that was to become Toolburra and Canning Downs for his first station. Walter Leslie and Ernest Dalrymple quickly followed with the flocks, and thus in 1840 the Leslies became the first European settlers on the Darling Downs. Patrick returned to Sydney and on 9 September 1840 at Parramatta married Catherine, daughter of Hannibal Macarthur, and his best man was Stuart Donaldson.

The Leslies set about making Canning Downs a fine property, but had the misfortune to start its development during a depression. Despite a trip to Britain to see whether he could come to some arrangement with Davidson, to whom he was indebted, Patrick Leslie was ruined financially by 1844. Next year he bought thirty-four acres (14 ha) of land in Brisbane and built what became known as Newstead House, where he lived while pasturing his flocks on Canning Downs, now owned by his brothers. In 1846 he obtained a small property near Canning Downs and in 1847 he sold his Brisbane property to John Wickham in order to buy Goomburra on the Darling Downs. In that year, at the government's request, he selected the site for the town of Warwick, and next year bought the first lot in the land sales.

Until the 1850s Patrick Leslie and his brothers were the leading settlers on the Downs, being engaged in building up two very good properties as well as taking a prominent part in the political issues that affected pastoralists and in such transient schemes as the introduction of cotton and llamas. After selling Goomburra to the Sydney brewer, Robert Tooth, Patrick Leslie returned to Britain, but he soon settled in New Zealand and bought land on the Waikato. He sold this estate in 1879 and retired to Milson's Point, Sydney, where he died on 12 August 1881. His son, William Norman, predeceased him in New Zealand in 1876, aged 35.

Patrick Leslie's chief claim to fame lies in his appropriation of the Darling Downs and his pioneer work in settling the area. His exploration, with only one convict for company, was hailed by contemporaries as a feat of great merit. It was reported in the Sydney Herald, 1 May 1840, under the heading 'Important Discovery' and later generations have agreed that it was a fine piece of bushcraft. Of all the many sons of British landed gentry who did well under the adverse and strange conditions of the Australian bush, few adapted themselves so readily as Patrick Leslie. Roberts described him as 'absolutely fearless and something of a rough jewel, he was active and energetic, “hail-fellow-well-met” and “the prince of bushmen”'.

Leslie was a poor business manager, but his tenacity and courage enabled him to overcome financial reverses and to place himself eventually in a comfortable position. Politically he called himself 'a Rank Tory', which was understandable with his occupation, family connexions and friends. Rarely did a governor please him, though he dined with them all, yet Sir George Gipps, by allowing him to bring supplies through Brisbane, made certain the success of Downs settlement. Although an inveterate opponent of Rev. John Dunmore Lang, he became a leader in the separation movement on the Downs, and represented Moreton, Wide Bay, Burnett and Maranoa in the first New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1857. He could be a vigorous opponent or a staunch friend, and more than once backed his arguments with his fists. Outside his grazing and political interests, his main occupation was the breeding and, to a lesser extent, the racing of bloodstock. He can be regarded as the father of stud breeding in Queensland.

Select Bibliography

  • H. S. Russell, The Genesis of Queensland (Syd, 1888)
  • S. H. Roberts, The Squatting Age in Australia 1835-1847, (Melb, 1964)
  • A. Morgan, ‘The Discovery and Early Development of the Darling Downs’, Queensland Geographical Journal, vol 17, 1901-02, pp 87-116
  • K. G. T. Waller, The Letters of the Leslie Brothers in Australia (B.A. thesis, University of Queensland, 1956)
  • Leslie family letters (State Library of New South Wales).

Additional Resources

Citation details

K. G. T. Waller, 'Leslie, Patrick (1815–1881)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 22 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

Patrick Leslie, c 1875

Patrick Leslie, c 1875

State Library of Queensland, 9895

Life Summary [details]


25 September, 1815
Warthill, Aberdeenshire, Scotland


12 August, 1881 (aged 65)
Milsons Point, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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