Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

William Mair (1806–1904)

by Thomas Sheehy

This article was published:

William Mair (1806-1904), soldier and civil servant, was born on 31 August 1806 at Glasgow, Scotland, son of Hugh Mair of the 42nd 'Black Watch' Regiment and his wife, née Woodburn. Educated at Inverness, Glasgow and Londonderry, he was commissioned in November 1830 in the 99th Regiment which he joined in Ireland next June. He served in Mauritius from 1831 to 1836, when he was promoted lieutenant, and in Ireland in 1837-41.

Mair was ordered to escort 200 convicts to Van Diemen's Land and sailed in October from Dublin in the Richard Webb. He arrived at Hobart Town in March 1842 and soon sailed for Sydney. The rest of the regiment arrived later by detachments. Mair was paymaster to the regiment and for some time quartermaster. In February 1843 he became adjutant of the mounted police. With light duties in Sydney he went to such outlying stations as Maitland, Penrith, Bathurst, Berrima, Goulburn and Yass. On 7 December 1843 he went to Melbourne and visited stations in the Port Phillip District. With Charles La Trobe's permission he rode as far as Port Fairy and returned overland to Sydney through Albury and Goulburn in January 1844.

In October 1846 La Trobe sought more mounted police to control riots between Orange and Catholic factions in Melbourne and asked Mair to take command of the Port Phillip mounted force. Mair resigned as adjutant in Sydney and rode to Melbourne, recruiting on the way. He remained commandant of the force until it was recalled to Sydney in 1849 and disbanded. Appointed a magistrate of the town of Melbourne in 1846, he was made a commissioner in December 1849 to examine and report on disputed boundaries of squatting leases in Gippsland. He was accompanied by William, brother of H. E. P. Dana, and within a few weeks had successfully completed the assignment. In January 1851 La Trobe appointed him police magistrate for Port Fairy with instructions to form police benches at Belfast, Warrnambool and Horsham. In October he was police magistrate for Buninyong and Ballarat, and commissioner in charge of those new goldfields until 31 December. In 1852 he was asked to enrol, equip and drill a mounted police force for escort and other duties on the goldfields, and at a depot in Melbourne he recruited 12 officers, 18 gentlemen and 250 troopers, the first cadet corps raised in the colony. On 1 January 1853 the various police groups, including Mair's Gold Mounted Police Force, were amalgamated and Mair became paymaster of the new force under W. H. F. Mitchell at a salary of £700. He had remained in the army but in May 1855 sold his commission, assuming that by an Act of parliament his future working conditions and retiring allowance were secure, but the Act was repealed and he lost many of the privileges he had held in the civil service while still in the army. He remained in the police force until 1 January 1875.

In the Russian scare of 1860 Mair enrolled and commanded a volunteer rifle corps at Brighton. In 1862 he was promoted lieutenant-colonel of the volunteer force and in 1867 commanded the St Kilda district. In 1875 he was promoted to the Melbourne district and in 1884 became a lieutenant-colonel of the defence force. He retired from the Victorian militia with the honorary rank of colonel in January 1886. Active in civic affairs Mair was a founder of the Moorabbin Roads Board and its chairman for five years. He retired to Nyora, Gippsland, where he died on 1 January 1904. By his marriage to Catherine, née Lyons, he had four sons and six daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • Port Phillip Government Gazette, 16 Jan, 1 Oct 1851
  • Sabretache, Oct 1968
  • Argus (Melbourne), 21-31 July, 21, 25 Aug, 4 Sept 1846
  • Brighton Southern Cross, 23 Jan 1904
  • biographical notes under Mair (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

Thomas Sheehy, 'Mair, William (1806–1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 20 June 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]


31 August, 1806
Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland


1 January, 1904 (aged 97)
Nyora, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.