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William Colburn Mayne (1808–1902)

by Hazel King

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William Colburn Mayne (1808-1902), soldier and public servant, was born on 22 July 1808 in Wicklow, youngest child of Captain John Mayne of Lattin, County Tipperary, Ireland, and his wife Theodosia, née Colburn. Educated at Feinaiglien School and Trinity College, Dublin, he was gazetted ensign in the 5th Regiment on 11 August 1825 and promoted lieutenant in 1826. In December 1831 he finished a course in the senior section of the Royal Military College and won a first-class certificate, becoming a captain on 10 May 1833. In 1838 he retired for health reasons, sailed in the Hero of Malown and arrived at Sydney in April 1839.

After some years on stations in different areas Mayne rented the Toongabbie estate from Major Wentworth. In 1845 he was nonsuited in the Supreme Court when he sued his attorney George Turner for the recovery of £600 lent to Gilbert Champagne. In December 1846 he became commissioner of crown lands for the Wellington District. He took a lively and humane interest in the well-being of local Aboriginals and at his suggestion an area was reserved for them on the Barwon River where they had established a permanent fishery. He also urged the colonial government to introduce a clause into run leases which would reserve hunting and fishing rights to the Aboriginals but the plan was not legally possible.

In 1850 Mayne submitted a report to the Legislative Council select committee on the divided state of the police. He stressed that unity of action, centralized information and a single executive head of police for the whole colony were necessary for efficiency and recommended a system modelled on the Royal Irish Constabulary. He also suggested that the existing police forces be disbanded and replace by a whole new force recruited in Ireland, together with wives and children. Apart from his last suggestion, Mayne's recommendations for reorganizing the force were adopted by the legislature.

On 1 January 1852 Mayne was appointed inspector-general of police in place of W. Spain, but the 1850 Police Regulation Act was disallowed by the British government on a legal technicality. An amended Act in 1853 reduced the powers of the inspector-general. His title was retained and his office remained the channel of communication for all police business but his executive control included only those police within the County of Cumberland and the Mounted Road Patrols. As inspector-general he was an official member of the Legislative Council from 14 May 1852 until February 1856 when it was reconstituted under responsible government. He was reappointed by the Donaldson ministry on 4 August to represent the government in the new council but resigned three weeks later. On 18 September 1856 he was appointed auditor-general by the Cowper ministry.

On 10 November 1864 Mayne became the first agent-general for New South Wales in London and in 1867 he also acted as head of the New South Wales commission for the Paris Exhibition and spent some time in France. He retained his office as agent-general until 1871 when he was granted a colonial pension. Except for a four-year visit to Europe he spent his last years in retirement at his home in Burwood. In the 1860s and 1870s he had held two stations in the Darling District and five in the Leichhardt District. In 1891 he was a special guest at a luncheon arranged by Sir Henry Parkes 'to the contemporaries of the advent of constitutional government'. Noted for his remarkable memory, Mayne died on 31 August 1902. Predeceased by his wife Mary Ellen, née Turner, whom he had married in Scotland in 1831, he was survived by two sons and five daughters. He was buried in the Anglican section of the Enfield cemetery and left an estate valued for probate at over £76,500.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 22, 23, 26
  • Returns of the Colony of New South Wales (1846-56)
  • Police Establishment report, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 1850, 1
  • Select Committee on Police, Report, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 1850, 2
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 June 1845, 2 Sept 1902
  • H. King, Police Organization and Administration in New South Wales 1825-1851 (M.A. thesis, University of Sydney, 1956).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Hazel King, 'Mayne, William Colburn (1808–1902)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 20 July 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

William Mayne, n.d.

William Mayne, n.d.

State Library of New South Wales, 09460

Life Summary [details]


22 July, 1808
Wicklow, Wicklow, Ireland


31 August, 1902 (aged 94)
Burwood, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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