Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Frederick Armand Powlett (1811–1865)

by P. M. Sales

This article was published:

Frederick Armand Powlett (1811-1865), public servant, was born in January 1811 in Shropshire, England, the son of Rev. Charles Powlett, sometime chaplain to the Prince Regent and a descendant of the last Duke of Bolton. In 1837 Powlett accompanied Sir John Franklin to Van Diemen's Land. After moving to the Port Phillip District he became a police magistrate. In November 1838 Powlett helped in the formation of the Melbourne Cricket Club and three years later became its foundation president. Powlett was a pioneer of the plains around Bacchus Marsh and the upper reaches of the Werribee River, and for many years he had large pastoral interests in the Mount Macedon, Pentland Hills and Pyalong regions.

In 1840 he was appointed commissioner for the Westernport district and was still there when gold was discovered. He became the first gold commissioner in Victoria, his jurisdiction including Anderson's Creek, Ballarat and Castlemaine, but he soon relinquished the post. In October 1852, after the death of Alastair MacKenzie, Powlett was temporarily appointed colonial treasurer, with a seat in the Executive Council, holding office until John Foster arrived from England in July 1853. Powlett next became chief commissioner of crown lands, but this post was abolished in 1860 while he was absent in England. Two years after his return to Victoria he became warden at the Buckland and later at Landsborough. In 1863 he was made police magistrate at Kyneton, an appointment which he held until his death.

Throughout his career Powlett served on various boards. After the Eureka Hotel riot of October 1854 he, with Evelyn Sturt and Dr McCrae, conducted an inquiry into the administration of the Ballarat goldfield, at the direction of Sir Charles Hotham. In 1858 he was a member of the Church of England Assembly. Later he became captain of the Kyneton corps of the Castlemaine Rifles.

On 23 April 1851 Powlett had married Margaret, daughter of Dr William Thomsen and a sister of J. C. Thomsen, police magistrate at Gisborne. She died in 1853, and their only child, a daughter, was sent to England. Powlett died on 9 June 1865 after a short illness, and was buried beside his wife in the Heidelberg (Warringal) cemetery.

Powlett was a well known and much respected figure. He was a confidant of Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe and was agent for his property, as well as for Lady Jane Franklin's. He had the tastes of an English country gentleman and, as a keen sportsman, was a renowned cricketer, race-horse owner, and huntsman. He had a high sense of honour, even fighting a duel to protect his reputation in 1842. He was fair and impartial, both as a lands commissioner settling squatting disputes and as a magistrate.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 21, 22
  • R. D. Boys, First Years at Port Phillip (Melb, 1959).

Citation details

P. M. Sales, 'Powlett, Frederick Armand (1811–1865)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 21 July 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]


Shropshire, England


9 June, 1865 (aged ~ 54)
Victoria, Australia

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