Australian Dictionary of Biography

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George Ranken (1827–1895)

by David Denholm and H. J. Gibbney

This article was published:

George Ranken (1827-1895), surveyor, pastoralist, public servant and writer, was born on 17 July 1827 in Ayrshire, Scotland, eldest child of Thomas Ranken, solicitor, and his wife Jean Campbell, née Logan, and nephew of George and Arthur Ranken of Bathurst. Educated at Ayr Academy and trained as a surveyor, he arrived in Victoria in 1851 and served as a gold-buyer in the Ovens district for the Bank of New South Wales in 1853.

Ranken and William Landsborough occupied three runs in the Wide Bay and Burnett districts of Queensland in 1855. The partnership was dissolved in 1858 when Ranken left for Scotland where, in 1859 at Ayr, he married Fanny Sarah Shaw (d.1918). He returned later that year and settled in Rockhampton, becoming an officer in the Rockhampton Volunteer Rifle Brigade. In 1863-64 he partnered William Rea in an auctioneering and commission agency firm. He became commissioner of crown lands for Port Curtis in March 1868, transferring to Leichhardt District in September. In August 1869, driven by jealousy, he fired a revolver near Rea, but next month was acquitted of a charge of attempted murder.

Discharged from the public service, Ranken move to Sydney and joined his brother John Logan Campbell Ranken and J. B. Wilson in a city stock and station agency. About 1876 he settled in East St Leonards as an estate agent, becoming an alderman, and mayor in 1886. He wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald on land questions under the pseudonym 'Capricornus'. Some of his pieces were republished as pamphlets and a novel, The Invasion, was published pseudonymously (W. H. Walker) in 1877. Another novel, Windabyne, serialized in the Australian in 1878-79, was published in England after his death. In 1891 he published The Federal Geography of British Australasia (Sydney).

In 1879 Ranken was invited to join a royal commission into the Lands Department and on 8 January 1883 he was commissioned with Augustus Morris to inquire into the land laws of the colony. The report presented in May aroused controversy. Sir John Robertson, whose land legislation was attacked, described Morris as 'leaky as an old sieve' and the commissioners as 'these two useless, incapable men'. J. S. Farnell, secretary for lands, ordered the withdrawal of parts of the report, but it provided the framework for the Crown Lands Act of 1884. Long accepted by historians as a faithful picture of the times, the report has now been shown to have its share of defects.

Ranken joined his brother in a surveying business at Young about 1888. He became a justice of the peace and a member of the local Land Board and was an active member of the Phoenix Literary and Debating Society. On 6 May 1895 he died at Nestle Brae, Young, leaving a wife and four sons. He was buried in the Presbyterian section of the Young cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • G. L. Buxton, The Riverina 1861-1891 (Melb, 1967)
  • T. A. Coghlan, Labour and Industry in Australia, vol 3 (Melb, 1969)
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 1883, 1926
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1883-84, 11, 786
  • Port Denison Times, 7 Aug, 2 Oct 1869
  • Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), 30 Sept 1869
  • Brisbane Courier, 6, 11 Oct 1869
  • Burrangong Argus, 8 May 1895
  • Board minutes 1853-62 (Bank of New South Wales Archives, Sydney)
  • run registers (Queensland State Archives).

Additional Resources

Citation details

David Denholm and H. J. Gibbney, 'Ranken, George (1827–1895)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 22 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Capricornus

17 July, 1827
Ayr, Ayrshire, Scotland


6 May, 1895 (aged 67)
Young, New South Wales, Australia

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