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.

George Duncan Mercer (1815–1884)

by P. L. Brown

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with:

MERCER FAMILY: George (1772-1853), George Duncan (1815-1884), John Henry (1823-1891), and William Drummond (1796?-1871) all shared in the settlement of Port Phillip, which the first never saw. He was of Dryden House, Midlothian, and 14 Moray Place, Edinburgh, and of the Gorthy and Tulchan estates, Perthshire, eighth and youngest son of William Mercer (1717-1785), of Pitteuchar and Potterhill — one of the 'black' Mercers of Aldie — and Elizabeth Swan (Mrs Mercer) a granddaughter of Charles II. The others were his second and fourth sons, and his only surviving nephew.

George Mercer sold his commission in the East India Co.'s marines to become a merchant in Calcutta, where Thomas Learmonth and others who moved to Australia also operated. On 12 September 1810, when his friend Dr John Macwhirter married the girl who became the future Dr John Learmonth's mother-in-law, Mercer married her sister, Frances Charlotte (1793-1862), daughter of Dr John Reid of the Bengal Medical Service. By 1833, when Mercer was a nabob based on Edinburgh, Captain Charles Swanston had persuaded him to invest in Van Diemen's Land, and had bought the Lovely Banks property, near Oatlands, on his behalf. Mercer sent David Fisher out as manager, planned for at least one son to follow him, and so in due course became a partner in the Port Phillip Association, its conscript but able advocate in Britain, and chief shareholder in the succeeding Derwent Co.

Lieutenant G. D. and Major W. D. Mercer reached Hobart Town from Calcutta in March 1838, having retired from the Bengal Native Infantry and 16th Lancers respectively. Both were soon at Port Phillip, exploring with Fisher, who held stations at Indented Head and Geelong, where he had already built the first weatherboard house. A similar bush homestead, unique among the slab huts, gave its name to the Weatherboard station, south of Golfhill, and this, with the Mount Mercer run and about 4500 (1821 ha) of the 10,000 Gheringhap acres (4047 ha) bought through remission by the Port Phillip Association, became George Mercer's in 1842-43, when the Derwent Co. was dissolved.

W. D. Mercer held the Warrambeen station, 1842-46, and Kanawalla, in partnership, 1850-51; but street names in Geelong and Malvern, Melbourne, attest his concentration upon town allotments. He sailed for Britain in 1841, but upon his return in 1846 was still remembered as the real 'Father of Separation'. He represented Port Phillip in the Legislative Council at Sydney in 1850-51, but before 1852 he was in South America on his way to Scotland. In June 1853, six months before George Mercer's death, he married the latter's eldest daughter, Anne Elliot. He then settled in Perthshire, as Mercer of Huntingtower.

G. D. Mercer succeeded John Gardiner as manager of the ill-fated Port Phillip Bank, 1841-42. He then took control at the Weatherboard, where J. H. Mercer, who emigrated when W. D. returned, replaced him in 1847-48, allowing him to visit home. From 1849, with G. D. back at the station, J. H. and W. D. evidently made their headquarters on the freehold in the crotch of the Barwon and Moorabool rivers, living at Tulchan homestead (now a bluestone ruin) until December 1850, when G. D. joined them to move into what they called Fyansford House, probably the original Fyansford Inn (1843), later the Swan Hotel, and today a farmstead.

In 1851-52 J. H. Mercer represented Grant in the first Victorian Legislative Council. He was in Scotland when his father died but was back in Victoria by July 1855, when he and G. D. secured probate for property valued at up to £50,000. Mount Mercer station had been sold in January 1853, and the Weatherboard eighteen months later. In 1856 G. D. Mercer returned to Scotland, where he died unmarried. J. H. remained near Geelong, where he busied himself as commissioner of insolvent estates and chairman of the water commission, and in 1857 had the Gheringhap freehold mapped as the Dryden estate. In February 1858 he valued the Golfhill station; but in 1861 he married in Scotland, where he eventually inherited Gorthy, as his grandson inherited Huntingtower upon the extinction of W. D. Mercer's family.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vol 18
  • W. Anderson, The Scottish Nation, vol 3 (Edinb, 1863)
  • J. Bonwick, Port Phillip Settlement (Lond, 1883)
  • P. L. Brown, Clyde Company Papers, vols 2-5 (Lond, 1952-63) and for bibliography
  • S. J. Butlin, ‘Charles Swanston and the Derwent Bank, 1827-50’, Historical Studies, Australia and New Zealand, vol 2, no 7, May 1943, pp 161-85
  • Geelong & Dutigalla Association papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

P. L. Brown, 'Mercer, George Duncan (1815–1884)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 15 July 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]




1884 (aged ~ 69)

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.