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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Merewether, Francis Lewis Shaw (1811–1899)

by C. E. Smith

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Francis Lewis Shaw Merewether (1811-1899), by unknown photographer

Francis Lewis Shaw Merewether (1811-1899), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 2 - 08235

Francis Lewis Shaw Merewether (1811-1899), public servant and university chancellor, was born on 18 March 1811 in England, eldest son of Francis Merewether, rector of Haverhill, Sussex, and his wife Frances Elizabeth, née Way; he was a first cousin of E. C. Merewether. Educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A., 1835), he arrived at Sydney in 1838 and worked in the Treasury. He joined the Australian Club and became its secretary. In 1841 he married Kate Amelia, sister of J. H. Plunkett; they lived in Cumberland Street, Sydney, where three of their five children were born.

In 1841 Merewether became immigration agent and for two months was acting colonial treasurer. Although appointed deputy registrar of the Supreme Court at Port Phillip, he remained in Sydney. In 1842-43 he was clerk of the Legislative Council and of the Executive Council in 1843-51. As immigration agent he helped to bring out Irish orphans and winemakers to the Hunter Valley. He was also a trustee of the Savings Bank of New South Wales. Nominated to the Legislative Council in 1851 he became postmaster-general. Next year he became auditor-general and joined the Executive Council. He was a director and chairman of the Sydney Tramway and Railway Co. In 1854-56 he relieved C. D. Riddell as colonial treasurer. Nominated to the new Legislative Council on 24 June 1856 he strongly protested in 1858 against applying the Increased Assessment and Rent Act to runs already taken up. He resigned on 10 May 1861 in support of Sir William Burton but was one of the few reappointed to the council as a life member in June.

In 1849 Dr H. G. Douglass had sought Merewether's political influence for the establishment of a university. He referred Douglass to W. C. Wentworth who led the agitation culminating in an Act of incorporation and endowment. Merewether was a member of the original Senate of the University of Sydney and his far-sighted work for it earned him the nickname 'Futurity'. He successfully proposed that the 180-acre (73 ha) Grose Farm be accepted as an alternative site to the inadequate Sydney College. In his reminiscences of the University of Sydney (1898) he recalled that 'my good friend, the Colonial Secretary, a cautious Scotchman, stared at me in amazement at the audacity of my proposal', but agreed when he learnt that the plan envisaged four affiliated colleges as well as parkland. Merewether battled over the plans for the university buildings. As a member of the building committee he claimed that Edmund Blacket's plan was 'much too insignificant for the site, and prospectively inadequate'. Dissatisfied also with the next plan submitted, he was overruled by his colleagues and had to content himself with the thought that he had at least 'got the grand Hall'. In 1854 he became vice-chancellor. While acting chancellor in the absence of Sir Charles Nicholson, he proposed a coat of arms and motto for the university. A modified version of his suggestion and his second proposal for a motto Sidere mens eadem mutato were accepted. In 1862 he became chancellor. He was a member of the Philosophical Society (Royal Society) of New South Wales.

Merewether visited England in 1863 and his father's death in 1864 was possibly responsible for his failure to return. In 1865 his seat in the Legislative Council was vacated. He lived at Ingatestone Hall, Essex, until he died on 27 December 1899. He left his estate to his son Charles and daughter Lavinia.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. Smith, ‘F. L. S. Merewether’, JRAHS, 59 (1973) part 1, and for bibliography.

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Citation details

C. E. Smith, 'Merewether, Francis Lewis Shaw (1811–1899)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 14 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

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