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John Frederick Mann (1819–1907)

by Peter Orlovich

This article was published:

John Frederick Mann (1819-1907), explorer and surveyor, was born on 16 December 1819 at Lewisham, London, son of Cornelius Mann, lieutenant-colonel in the Royal Engineers, and his wife Sarah, née Fyers; both his grandfathers were generals. Educated at Gibraltar where his father was stationed, he entered the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, in August 1834. After nearly four years he abandoned a military career in favour of serving in the Trigonometrical Survey of Britain. In 1841 he sailed in the Palestine and arrived at Sydney on 6 March 1842.

At the instigation of H. W. Parker, Mann began early in 1846 to prepare for an expedition in search of Ludwig Leichhardt, whose unexpected return to Sydney in March thwarted the plan. In October Mann joined as second-in-command another expedition led by Leichhardt, who now intended to go from Brisbane direct to Peak Range and after reconnoitring there to follow a westerly course to the Swan River. In August 1847 Mann returned to Sydney after the expedition had been aborted mainly by illness. In 1888 his Eight Months with Dr. Leichhardt, in the years 1846-47 revealed much personal animosity between Leichhardt and himself and other members of the expedition and attempted to vindicate his own role and that of his companions.

Appointed a licensed surveyor on 20 March 1848 in the Surveyor-General's Department, Mann was posted to the Counties of Murray, St Vincent and Argyle, where in addition to the Counties of King and Camden he worked on surveys until 1880. On 14 September 1848 he tendered his resignation because of 'circumstances of a private nature' but withdrew it a week later. On 7 October 1853 he resigned from his survey of the Counties of Murray and St Vincent on account of 'the numerous applications which are at present made for the purchase of small farms, and the increased difficulty I find in being able to perform the survey of them'. However, he continued in the Survey Department after his area was reduced. On 16 April 1857 at St Mark's Church, Darling Point, he married Camilla Victoria (d.1863), daughter of Sir Thomas Mitchell. In 1863 Mann was licensed as a surveyor under the 1862 Real Property Act. Paid by the government on a scale according to the area surveyed, his earnings ranged from £482 in 1862 to £773 in 1866. In the early 1870s he was given charge of the Mudgee district. In September 1874 he was transferred to Corowa to carry out new mining regulations, but ascribed his move to insinuations that he had given unfair priority to work for N. P. Bayly. The Corowa district did not pay and he found the work unpleasant. By 1879 he was still a licensed surveyor but no longer in government employ.

On 22 October 1884 he sailed for New Guinea in the flagship H.M.S. Nelson as a representative of the Geographical Society of Australasia at the proclamation of a Protectorate over the south-east of the island by Commodore James E. Erskine. He returned to Sydney on 2 December. His reports in the society's Proceedings in 1889 and 1894 predicted that 'a great future is in store for this fine country, though that future may be far distant'.

Mann had often corresponded with the Sydney press on such subjects as Australian history and the Aboriginals. A pensioner, he died on 7 September 1907 at his home Carthona, Neutral Bay, and was buried in the cemetery of St Thomas's Church, North Sydney. He was survived by two sons and a daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • Select Committee on Crown Lands, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 1854, 2
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1878-79, 4, 183
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 9 Sept 1907
  • J. F. and G. V. F. Mann papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Peter Orlovich, 'Mann, John Frederick (1819–1907)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 23 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]


16 December, 1819
London, Middlesex, England


7 September, 1907 (aged 87)
Neutral Bay, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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