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Joseph Anderson Panton (1831–1913)

by Alan Gross

This article was published:

Joseph Anderson Panton (1831-1913), public servant, was born on 2 June 1831 at Knockiemil, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, son of John Panton of the Hudson's Bay service and his wife Alexina McKay, née Anderson. He was educated at the Scottish Naval and Military Academy, where he developed a keen interest in drawing, and at the University of Edinburgh, leaving without a degree. At the suggestion of his uncle, Colonel Joseph Anderson, Panton migrated to Sydney in the Thomas Arbuthnot, arriving in March 1851, and went to the Port Phillip District. After farming briefly at Mangalore, he tried for gold without success at Mount Alexander and then applied to Charles La Trobe for appointment as an officer in the gold escort. As he later told the story, 'The Lieutenant-Governor looked me up and down, and then remarked jocularly “This fellow seems too big for a trooper. Too heavy. It would be too severe on the horses. I think he would make a Commissioner”.'

Panton was appointed assistant commissioner at Kangaroo Gully, near Bendigo, under J. E. N. Bull in 1852, senior assistant commissioner at Bendigo in 1853 and senior commissioner in 1854. He investigated the resentment against Chinese diggers and his recommendation for a Chinese protectorate was adopted by Governor Hotham in 1855. With Lachlan McLachlan he had handled the diggers' protest movement at Bendigo in 1853 with tact and conciliation. His administration was commended by the commission which inquired into affairs at the diggings after Eureka, though William Howitt described him as 'most inert'.

Panton left Bendigo in 1858 on leave without pay, but with high repute as warden, magistrate and protector of the Chinese, and for going far beyond his routine duties. He helped to organize the Melbourne Exhibition in 1854 with a preliminary exhibition at Bendigo, and was a commissioner for the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1880.

From Bendigo in 1858 Panton went to Scotland and then to Paris to study art with his friend Hubert de Castella. On his return he was appointed warden and magistrate at the Jamieson-Wood's Point and next at the Anderson's Creek goldfields. He then became magistrate at Heidelberg, where he found time to map the Yarra Valley, leaving his name at Panton Hill. Panton's Gap where the road to Ben Cairn and Donna Buang branches from the Don Road near Healesville derives its name from a small house he had there. He also named Donna Buang which he first called Mount Acland but renamed it after learning the Aboriginal name. From Heidelberg he was transferred to Geelong and moved to Melbourne as senior magistrate in 1874-1907. He regularly attended musical recitals and was very active in the Victorian Artists Association and the Victorian Academy of Art which developed into the Victorian Artists Society. A fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in London he was also vice-president of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia, Victorian Branch.

At Bendigo Panton owned vineyards at Epsom and Huntly from which prize-winning wines were produced. He was a strong advocate of the development of a local wine industry as alluvial mining faded. At Epsom he had the land deeply trenched and filled with bones and bullocks' heads. Attracted by the outback, he took up leases in the outer districts of New South Wales and Western Australia. Friendship with the explorer, Ernest Giles, possibly strengthened his interest. Panton later moved to a lease in the Northern Territory and took up land in the Kimberley District. He also foretold the discovery of gold in Western Australia. An enthusiastic yachtsman, he often spent his holidays sailing. 'Handsome and stand[ing] a good deal over six feet', he was a good conversationalist. On 5 December 1860 he had married Eleanor Margaret, daughter of Colonel John Fulton of the Bengal Native Infantry. In 1895 he declined the honour of knighthood but was appointed C.M.G. Predeceased by his wife, he died at St Kilda on 25 October 1913; although brought up in the Church of Scotland he was buried with Anglican rites. He was survived by two daughters, one of whom, Amy, was a well-known portrait painter.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Howitt, Land, Labour, and Gold (Lond, 1855)
  • G. Mackay, The History of Bendigo (Melb, 1891)
  • C. Fetherstonhaugh, After Many Days (Syd, 1918)
  • F. de Castella, ‘Early Victorian wine-growing’, Victorian Historical Magazine, 19 (1941-42), no 76
  • Argus (Melbourne), 27 Oct 1913
  • Panton memoirs (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

Alan Gross, 'Panton, Joseph Anderson (1831–1913)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 22 May 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

Life Summary [details]


2 June, 1831
Knockiemil, Aberdeenshire, Scotland


25 October, 1913 (aged 82)
St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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