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John Molloy (1780–1867)

by Alexandra Hasluck

This article was published:

John Molloy (1780-1867), pioneer and resident magistrate, was born on 5 September 1780 in London. His parentage is unknown, a tradition of the early days of the colony ascribing royal descent to him. As asserted by an early colonist, the Molloy from whom he took his name and his upbringing was Captain A. J. P. Molloy, R.N., a tyrannical captain dismissed from his ship for cowardice in 1795. Some colour of truth is lent to the first statement by Molloy's appearance and by the fact that he named his surroundings at Augusta by the various names and titles of Frederick, Duke of York, second son of George III. He appears to have been educated at Harrow and Oxford, where his pocket money each year was £200, and on his majority was handed a cheque for £20,000 by a firm of London solicitors, who also purchased for him a commission in the navy. However, he transferred to the army in 1807, joining the 95th Regiment as a second lieutenant. In June 1809 as a lieutenant, he left with his battalion for the Peninsular war, fighting in all the major battles, and receiving the General Service Medal with eight bars. He later fought and was seriously wounded at Waterloo. Famous diaries of the time record that he was brave and well liked by his men. From 1820 to 1824 he was stationed in Ireland during the agrarian riots.

In 1829 he decided to emigrate to the new settlement at Swan River. With his wife Georgiana and household he arrived at Fremantle in the Warrior in March 1830. In April he was made a justice of the peace and in May founded a settlement 200 miles (322 km) south of Fremantle called Augusta, where he was also resident magistrate. In 1839 he moved to the Vasse River, taking up 12,000 acres (4856 ha) and making his home at Fair Lawn in Busselton. He spent much time developing his property, but his duties as resident magistrate were harder than at Augusta because American whalers frequented Geographe Bay, and the Aboriginals were troublesome. In 1841 a treacherous murder of one of his settlers had to be avenged, which Molloy did with the help of other settlers, in the way that his military training indicated.

In 1850 he visited London, meeting the Duke of Wellington and other comrades of the Napoleonic wars; next year he was gazetted lieutenant-colonel. Western Australia had just begun the reception of convicts, and on his return he found a country convict depot installed at the Vasse, which increased his magisterial duties. In all his acts as magistrate he was equable and fair, an upright and honourable example to the district, his grand manner and distinguished appearance making him outstanding. He died on 6 October 1867. Of his surviving daughters, Sabina became the second wife of Bishop Mathew Hale, Mary married Edmund Du Cane, and Amelia married William Richardson Bunbury.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Hasluck, Portrait with Background: A Life of Georgiana Molloy (Melb, 1955)
  • A. Burton and P. U. Henn (eds), Wollaston's Picton Journal (Perth, 1948)
  • Molloy letters (State Records Office of Western Australia).

Citation details

Alexandra Hasluck, 'Molloy, John (1780–1867)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 13 June 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]


5 September, 1780
London, Middlesex, England


6 October, 1867 (aged 87)
Western Australia, Australia

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