Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sir Charles Menzies (1783–1866)

by E. Flowers

This article was published:

Sir Charles Menzies (1783-1866), officer of marines and commandant, was born at Bal Freike, Perthshire, Scotland, the son of Captain Charles Menzies of the 71st Regiment, and Sarah, née Walker. He was educated at Stirling, commissioned second lieutenant in the marines on 17 February 1798 and attached to Nelson's squadron off Boulogne. In December 1803 he was promoted lieutenant after he sailed to Australia earlier that year in the Calcutta. He commanded the detachment of marines which quelled the Vinegar Hill convict rebellion on 5 March 1804, and when Governor Philip Gidley King decided on resettling the Coal Harbour, 'in conformity to my Lord Hobart's Instructions and … to Separate the Worst of the Irish sent here for Sedition from the others, as well as the great public advantage that Settlement will be of', on 14 March Menzies, signing himself C. A. F. N. Menzies, wrote offering his services to superintend the proposed settlement. King accepted his offer and gazetted him commandant of the settlement on 18 March 1804.

The expedition left Sydney on 28 March in the Lady Nelson, Francis and Resource, Menzies being accompanied by Dr James Mileham (surgeon), Isaac Knight (superintendent of convicts), John Tucker (store-keeper), Ferdinand Bauer (artist), George Caley (botanist), eleven military guards and thirty-four convicts. The party arrived on 30 March and Menzies named the settlement Kingstown, but King's own choice, Newcastle, prevailed. Menzies' instructions were to use the convicts in 'getting as many coals as possible', cutting cedar, clearing ground for cultivation and 'to enforce a due observance of religion and good order'. In May Menzies discovered a convict plot to assassinate him and his small force, but he was able to arrest the conspirators and severely punish the ringleaders. During his term as commandant he had huts constructed for the military guard and the convicts, built a large stone wharf, established a coal beacon to assist navigation into the harbour, organized the cutting of cedar and the obtaining of salt from salt-pans at Collier's Point and reached satisfactory rates of production of coal. As King said 'Lieutenant Menzies … fixed that Settlement and brought it to a forward degree of perfection'.

In July 1804 King sent Charles Cressy, a subaltern of the New South Wales Corps, to strengthen the military detachment at Newcastle and afford some relief to Menzies, but trouble soon arose between Colonel William Paterson and Menzies on the question of military jurisdiction over the members of the corps stationed in Newcastle. Paterson argued that Cressy at no point came under Menzies' jurisdiction and could accept no orders from him. Ultimately Cressy challenged Menzies to a duel; Menzies ignored the challenge and arrested Cressy on a number of charges. After a court martial Cressy was cashiered. The case was referred to the judge-advocate-general, Sir Charles Morgan, who thought Cressy should, in view of his youth and inexperience, merely be reprimanded, for Menzies had 'conducted his command with a great want of Temper' and had brought three charges, which he could not substantiate, merely to aggravate the case. The episode sheds light on the status of the corps at this time and on King's apparent disinclination to deal strongly with it, for he had refused to intervene in the matter. In March 1805 Menzies submitted his resignation to King to 'return to England to my duty in the Royal Marines'. He left soon afterwards and returned to active service.

Menzies played a notable part in the wars against Napoleon and was promoted captain in the Royal Marine Artillery in April 1813. He married Maria Wilhelmina, daughter of Dr Robert Bryant, physician to the Duke of Gloucester and had five children. He commanded the Royal Marine Artillery from 1838 to 1844, progressing from major and lieutenant-colonel in 1837 to general in 1857. He was appointed aide-de-camp to the Queen in 1852, and created K.H. in 1831 and K.C.B. in 1856. He died at Hastings on 22 August 1866. Despite all this meritorious service his principal importance in Australia is as the founder of the first permanent settlement at Newcastle.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 4-5
  • Illustrated London News, 1 Sept 1866
  • W. J. Goold, ‘The Birth of Newcastle: Part 2’, Monthly Journal (Newcastle and Hunter District Historical Society), vol 7, part 6, 1953, pp 161-73
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 17 Aug 1929).

Citation details

E. Flowers, 'Menzies, Sir Charles (1783–1866)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 29 May 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]


Bal Freike, Perthshire, Scotland


22 August, 1866 (aged ~ 83)
Hastings, East Sussex, England

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