Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Nairn (1767–1853)

by E. M. Dollery

This article was published:

William Nairn (1767-1853), army officer, was born in England, commissioned in the 46th Regiment on 12 May 1800, promoted captain on 29 June 1809 and major on 30 August 1827. He married and had one son and two daughters. When his regiment relieved the 73rd in New South Wales early in 1814 Nairn was sent to Hobart Town in charge of a company. Governor Lachlan Macquarie appointed him inspector of works on 1 April 1815 at a salary of £91, with rations and quarters. In this appointment he rendered outstanding service, and combined with it the task of hunting down the bushrangers then harassing the settlers in the outlying districts of the colony. He personally took the surrender of the notorious Michael Howe in 1817. Macquarie commended him, with others, in July 1817 for uniformly steady and gentlemanly conduct, whilst in the same dispatch castigating the officers of the 46th generally for engaging in trade and for disloyalty to the government. Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell also praised his zealous co-operation and attention to duty in a dispatch to Macquarie in 1817 and in a General Order dated 18 January 1818. After relief by the 48th Regiment under Major Thomas Bell next June Nairn sailed with his detachment for India.

He had decided to settle in Van Diemen's Land when he retired from the army, and in 1832 returned to Hobart with his wife and family and a large consignment of stores and materials. He applied for land under the terms of the 1827 regulations allowing serving officers to receive grants from the Crown; since these regulations had expired in 1831, Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur refused the application but recommended him for special consideration by the secretary of state. When the appeal was disallowed Nairn left in disgust for the new settlement at the Swan River. His capital entitled him to 8833 acres (3575 ha), which he selected near York, and he later acquired a further 3280 acres (1327 ha) on the Canning River. In 1839 he was appointed one of the guardians to minors sent to the colony from the United Kingdom. He died at Fremantle on 8 June 1853, aged 86.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vol 9
  • Inquirer (Perth), 6 July 1853
  • Arthur to Goderich, 12 Mar 1832, CO 280/34.

Citation details

E. M. Dollery, 'Nairn, William (1767–1853)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 27 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]




8 June, 1853 (aged ~ 86)
Fremantle, Western Australia, Australia

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.