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Arthur Alexander Onslow (1833–1882)

by Bede Nairn

This article was published:

Arthur Alexander Walton Onslow (1833-1882), by unknown photographer, c1865

Arthur Alexander Walton Onslow (1833-1882), by unknown photographer, c1865

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an10673694

Arthur Alexander Walton Onslow (1833-1882), naval officer and politician, was born on 2 August 1833 at Trichinopoly, India, son of Arthur Pooley Onslow of the East India Co. and his wife Rosa Roberta, née McLeay. In 1838 he arrived at Sydney and lived with his grandfather Alexander McLeay. In 1841 he went to England with the widow of Colonel Dumaresq and rejoined his family including his brother Alexander Campbell Onslow. Educated in Surrey and Nottingham, he entered the navy in May 1847 as a midshipman in the Howe. He served with the Channel and Mediterranean Squadrons, and in the suppression of the slave trade on the west African coast. In 1852 he became a lieutenant. In the Baltic Squadron in the Crimean war he was at the bombardment of Sveaborg. In 1857-61 he was in the Herald in the survey of Shark Bay, Torres Strait and the Barrier Reef; returning to England he studied steam navigation, served in the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean and became a commander in 1863. Taking sick leave, he went to Sydney in 1864 and with the rank of post captain retired from the navy in 1871. In 1874 he went with his cousin William Macleay in the Chevert to explore the New Guinea coast.

On 31 January 1867 at Camden Onslow married Elizabeth, only child of James Macarthur and his wife Emily, née Stone, and lived at Camden Park, Menangle. In 1869 he won the seat of Camden in the Legislative Assembly. At first he was said to be a follower of James Martin, but was critical of his government in 1870-72, and took a similar stance towards Henry Parkes's 1872-75 ministry. In distributing his criticism of successive governments of John Robertson and Parkes for the rest of the 1870s Onslow emerged as a typical independent member of the pre-1891 New South Wales parliament, adept at obstructing business. Before his resignation in 1880 he had introduced only three bills but in 1873 was responsible for the royal commission into public charities that cleared charges against Lucy Osburn. Regarded as 'impetuous, but … a gentleman' he seasoned 'his speeches with quotations, some of them from old and quaint writers', but 'allow[ed] himself to be carried away by impulse … commencing an address reasonably enough, he will suddenly raise his voice into a fortissimo tone and bellow out a denunciation as if he were hailing the main top'. Parkes had him appointed to the Legislative Council in December 1880, 'proof that the government is not very particular with respect to appointing gentlemen who may be expected to support it'. In 1881 Dr G. Goode won a verdict of £1250 from him in a libel action.

Leaving goods valued at under £500, and survived by his wife, six sons and one of their two daughters, Onslow died of paralysis on 31 January 1882 and was buried at Camden Park.

His wife Elizabeth was born on 8 May 1840 at Camden Park. In 1892 she changed her name to Macarthur-Onslow. She inherited the bulk of the Macarthur estates and died on 2 August 1911 in England, leaving an estate sworn at £196,668.

Select Bibliography

  • New South Wales Law Reports, 2 (1881)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 20 Feb 1871
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 30 May 1874
  • Town and Country Journal, 4 Feb 1882
  • newspaper cuttings, vol 167, and manuscript catalogue (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Bede Nairn, 'Onslow, Arthur Alexander (1833–1882)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 24 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Arthur Alexander Walton Onslow (1833-1882), by unknown photographer, c1865

Arthur Alexander Walton Onslow (1833-1882), by unknown photographer, c1865

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an10673694

Life Summary [details]


2 August, 1833
Trichinopoly, India


31 January, 1882 (aged 48)
Camden, 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.