Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Lucas (1792–1853)

by E. R. Pretyman

This article was published:

James Lucas (1792?-1853), pilot, was born at Norfolk Island, the son of Lieutenant James Hunt Lucas of the 102nd Regiment. There is a tradition that at an early age he was enlisted as midshipman in the Porpoise under Matthew Flinders and was in that ship when it was wrecked on the east coast of Australia in August 1803. He served for three years in the Buffalo, two years as second officer and chief officer in the Kangaroo and then four years as chief officer in the Elk.

In 1821 he was appointed harbourmaster and pilot at the newly formed penal settlement at Macquarie Harbour, and soon earned the reputation of being attentive to his duty, active, vigilant, bold and resolute and a man with whom prisoners could take no liberty. He was stationed at Cape Sorell and for eight years piloted across the shallow and treacherous entrance most vessels making for Macquarie Harbour. He was occasionally sent along the coast to search for escaping convicts and recaptured a number of them.

At Cape Sorell on 21 July 1828 he was married by Rev. William Schofield, Wesleyan chaplain, to Margaret Keefe. His three children were baptized there. Next December, as he boarded the James Lucas, a small craft used to take supplies to the pilot station, the hatches were suddenly closed over him by convicts attempting to escape. He broke through the bulkhead and later captured two of the absconders near Circular Head. He applied for a less hazardous appointment and in November 1829 became a pilot at the Derwent, and was stationed at Point Louis in D'Entrecasteaux Channel. When he applied for land on Slopen Island he was refused by the Land Board on the ground that farming pursuits would be liable to divert a pilot's attention from his important public duties; later, however, he received 100 acres (40 ha) at Point Louis.

In August 1844 he boarded the Angelina, a ship carrying female convicts, was asked to produce his authority, but was not able to show his pilot's licence, which he seldom carried. Thereupon the captain abused him and, when Lucas showed resentment, lashed him to the rigging, and had the ship taken in by an unlicensed pilot.

In June 1853, after thirty-five years in government service, he applied for a pension. Some weeks later, always ready to help those in distress, he went to the assistance of the Dutch barque Emilie, aground at Halfmoon Bay. Lucas was severely injured when the warp line broke. He was taken to St Mary's hospital, where he died on 5 August 1853. Shops in Hobart closed and shipping in the port flew flags at halfmast when his funeral proceeded to St George's cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 3, vol 4
  • Hobart Town Courier, 21 Oct 1842
  • Colonial Times (Hobart), 27 Aug 1844, 13 Aug 1853
  • CSO 1/134/3237, 1/216/5209 and GO 33/78/1161 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

E. R. Pretyman, 'Lucas, James (1792–1853)', 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]


Norfolk Island, Australia


5 August, 1853 (aged ~ 61)
St Marys, Tasmania, Australia

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