Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Oatley (1770–1839)

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James Oatley (1770-1839), watch maker and settler, was a clock and watch maker of Stafford, England, when at the age of 44 he was convicted at the Southampton Assizes on 7 March 1814 and sentenced to transportation for life. He arrived in Sydney in the Marquis of Wellington on 27 January 1815. His wife Mary came free in the Northampton on 18 June, their eldest son being born on the voyage. Oatley set up in business as a watch and clock maker in George Street opposite the site of the present Town Hall. Governor Lachlan Macquarie appointed him keeper of the town clock and commissioned him to make a clock for the turret of the Prisoners' Barracks being built by Francis Greenway in Macquarie Street; for this service Oatley was paid £75 in June 1819. He was also reputed to have made at least six grandfather clocks, and on 25 October 1821 was conditionally pardoned. He was granted 175 acres (71 ha) in the Hurstville district in October 1831, 300 acres (121 ha) in August 1833 and 40 acres (16 ha) in December 1835, the last having been ordered in 1824 by Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane. The suburb of Oatley is named after him. He died on 8 October 1839 and was buried in a vault on his farm, Snugsburough, near Punchbowl.

His third son Frederick (1819-1890) took over the business in George Street. The second son James was born on 17 June 1817. He was apprenticed to a coach-builder and when 30 was licensee of the Sportsman's Arms Hotel at the corner of Pitt and Goulburn Streets. He was a member of the old City Council and, when it was reconstituted as the Municipal Council in 1857, he was elected an alderman and in 1862 mayor. He was member for Canterbury in the Legislative Assembly in 1864-69. He died on 31 December 1878 at his home in Bourke Street, Woolloomooloo, and was buried at Camperdown cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vol 10
  • Jubilee History of the Municipality of Hurstville, 1887-1937 (Syd, 1937)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1 Jan 1879
  • 'Sydney's Mayor of 1862', Newsletter of the Royal Australian Historical Society, June 1962.

Citation details

'Oatley, James (1770–1839)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 13 April 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 October, 1839 (aged ~ 69)
Punchbowl, Sydney, New South Wales, 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.

Passenger Ship
Convict Record

Crime: theft
Sentence: life