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George Frederick Read (1788–1860)

by H. C. C. Langdon

This article was published:

George Frederick Read (1788-1860), merchant, settler and banker, was born on 29 September 1788 in London. He went to sea when 11 and was probably engaged in the East India Co.'s maritime service until 1808. Later he recorded in his journal that he visited the Derwent settlement that year and again in 1812, but was irritated by having his cargo commandeered and his crew placed on rations. He is believed to have brought one of the first merchant vessels through Torres Strait, and he continued to trade between Hobart Town, Sydney, Batavia, Calcutta and China.

In May 1814 as master and part-owner of the Amelia he brought tea, sugar, rum and tobacco from Calcutta to Sydney and returned with wine and whale oil. In 1816-18 he made voyages between Sydney, the Derwent, Batavia and Calcutta in his brig Lynx. In 1816 he was granted a town allotment in Sydney, but he suffered from asthma and in June 1818 moved to Hobart in the brig Sophia. He transferred his merchant establishment there and later formed partnerships with Walter Bethune and Charles McLachlan. In 1819 he was granted 800 acres (324 ha) at Redlands, Plenty, and four government servants. In 1822 he built a stone warehouse on Hunter's Island facing Sullivan's Cove (the old wharf) and was appointed a magistrate. He was one of the original proprietors of the Bank of Van Diemen's Land and its managing director from 1827 to 1849, living for some time in a 'comfortably fixed' villa on the Derwent. In 1829 he resumed the former business of Read & Bethune, and from then until 1852 acted as agent for John Ingle.

He took a very considerable part in the development of the young colony, not least in its maritime industries, was one of the most important men in its formative years and contributed greatly to the community's welfare. He had interests in several ships trading to India, China and the Philippines, in which his third son, Henry (1828-1894), made several voyages as supercargo, and his ships took part in sealing and whaling. He was a good practical farmer, grew fine wheat, made bricks and helped to establish the salmon ponds at Redlands. He had other properties: Ivanhoe and Kinvarra, in the Plenty-New Norfolk district, Seton near Richmond, and Thornhill near Sorell. He also had a three-storied stone tea-warehouse in Salamanca Place, Hobart, other Hobart town property, and city sections bought at Melbourne's first land sale. He was versatile, enterprising and far-sighted. Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell spoke highly of him, made him an assessor in the Lieutenant-Governor's Court and in 1822 appointed him a magistrate; however, he fell out with Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur, protested against licensing the press, and was removed from the magistracy.

In 1816 at St Philip's, Sydney, he married Elizabeth Driver; they had one son, G. F. Read junior (1817-1854), a pioneer at Port Phillip, and two daughters. His wife died on 19 August 1821, and on 24 November 1824 at St David's, Hobart, he married Margaret (1800-1889), daughter of John Terry, a flour-miller of New Norfolk. By his second marriage he had six sons and four daughters. He died at his home, Leyburne, New Town, on 23 July 1860.

Several of his letters to John Ingle were published under the title Tasmanian Letters 1824-1852 (Christchurch, 1945).

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vol 10, series 3, vols 2-6
  • A. McKay (ed), Journals of the Land Commissioners for Van Diemen's Land, 1826-28 (Hob, 1962)
  • G. F. Read papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

H. C. C. Langdon, 'Read, George Frederick (1788–1860)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 20 June 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

George Frederick Read (1788-1860), by Thomas Bock, 1851

George Frederick Read (1788-1860), by Thomas Bock, 1851

Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001124066473

Life Summary [details]


29 September, 1788
London, Middlesex, England


23 July, 1860 (aged 71)
New Town, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

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