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Henry Reed (1806–1880)

by Hudson Fysh

This article was published:

Henry Reed (1806-1880), landowner, shipowner, merchant and philanthropist, was born on 28 December 1806 at Doncaster, England, the youngest of four children of Samuel Reed (1773-1813), postmaster at Doncaster, and his wife Mary, née Rockliff. At 13 he was apprenticed to a merchant in Hull. At 20 he sailed from Gravesend by steerage in the Tiger and arrived at Hobart Town in April 1827 after a long hard journey that deepened his religious feeling. His goal was Launceston; with no conveyance available he walked the 120 miles (193 km) with a shipmate, met John Gleadow and obtained a position in his store.

Friendship with John Batman, to whose marriage at Launceston he was a witness, made Reed quick to see the value of land and convict labour. He declared his assets at £605 and in January 1828 was given by Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur a free land grant of 640 acres (259 ha) at the Nile rivulet. He soon acquired other properties near Launceston. He left Gleadow's store and with a partner traded as Reed & Duncan, general merchants. In 1830 the partnership was dissolved by mutual consent; Reed carried on the business under his own name and began his shipping ventures by chartering the Britannia with James Henty for a trading voyage to Swan River. Soon he had his own ships. The Henry was one of his first, followed by the Socrates. They were engaged in whaling, sealing and general trading out of Launceston to Hobart, Sydney, New Zealand and London. He had men at Westernport for wattle bark, and at Kangaroo Island and Spencer Gulf for whales, and visited them often navigating and commanding his own ships. With William Dutton he established a whaling station at Portland Bay which he later sold to the Hentys. His enterprise on Australia's southern coast did much towards its later settlement.

In 1831 Reed sailed for England in the Bombay, and in London he married his cousin Maria Susanna Grubb. He also established an important business connexion with Henry Buckle & Co. Back in Van Diemen's Land in 1832 he was publicly thanked for helping to establish a lucrative whale oil trade at Launceston and for interesting British merchants in it. But he had little time for such pleasantries; when the Socrates arrived from London, he sent her to Port Phillip and thence to Mauritius for sugar, and he arranged settlement for Andrew Gatenby's wool which had been sold in France after consignment by Reed to Buckle's. In April 1833 he bought the whaler Norval and sailed in her for London with his family. Later in the year he sold the Socrates. The Henry paid several visits to the whaling grounds, and on a trip to Kangaroo Island the master, John Jones, sailed up the eastern coast of Gulf St Vincent and like Collet Barker found several rivers, some fine grass land and two good harbours; his report had some importance in the later settlement of South Australia.

In 1835 Reed returned to Launceston, took wheat in the Norval to Sydney and visited the first settlers at Port Phillip. His ships were soon busy carrying stores, livestock and migrants from Launceston. The Henry, on an early trip in May 1836 to Geelong, had her name given to Point Henry. Reed's enterprise helped the new settlement in many other ways, not least his loan of £3000 to John Batman. At the same time he did not neglect his activities in Van Diemen's Land, where he bought the attractive property of Native Hut Corner near Mole Creek, renamed it Wesley Dale and soon had thirty assigned convicts at work. In December 1835 he became an original director of the Bank of Australasia at Launceston and was appointed superintendent of the new Sunday school opened by the Paterson Street Methodist church.

With all his business ventures Reed found time for practical religion. By faith a Wesleyan and a fervent evangelist, he had ready sympathy for all unfortunates. At Port Phillip he spent some time up country with Aboriginals in hope of saving them from a fate like that of the Tasmanian tribes. He was reputed to have preached the first sermon on the site of Melbourne, his congregation being Henry and John Batman, William Buckley and three Sydney Aboriginals. To encourage the opening of a mission at the new settlement he offered £20 and annual subscriptions. At Launceston in November 1837 he had himself locked one night in the cells with condemned criminals who were to be executed next morning.

In politics Reed's experience was short and unpleasant. In 1845 when the Patriotic Six walked out of the Legislative Council in protest against increased taxation, Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Eardley-Wilmot had some difficulty in finding new nominees. Reed was persuaded to represent the northern mercantile interests, but after a few months of struggle against public opinion, he resigned his seat. The long depression that caused this rumpus was beginning to lift and prices for produce were rising. A business sensation was created in Launceston when Reed, as the agent of Buckle's, foreclosed on James Henty for the satisfaction of a large debt. Reed later helped Henty to re-establish himself and good personal terms between the two men were restored.

In December 1847 Reed sailed with his family in the Lochnagar for London. For the next twenty-six years he lived in England while his affairs in Launceston flourished and values appreciated. With Alfred Hawley he persuaded the London shipping firm of T. B. Walker to support trade with the River Tamar; in February 1852 the Arnon arrived in Launceston, the first of seven ships, one of which was named Henry Reed and another Alfred Hawley. Reed's major interest, however, was evangelical. He undertook many preaching engagements throughout the north of England and, dismayed by the widespread poverty he encountered, devoted himself to providing homes and assisting the poor with food and other necessities. In his native Doncaster he bought ten cottages for free occupation by aged Christians and arranged to pay all the rates and repair bills. For his own large family he built Dunorlan Villa at Harrogate in Yorkshire. Later he moved to Tunbridge Wells where, in spite of criticism by church associates, he built Dunorlan, an imposing residence in beautiful grounds; over the entrance his family crest showed a sheaf of wheat over the motto, 'nothing without the cross'.

Reed's wife died in 1860; she had borne him eleven children. In 1863 he married Margaret Sayres Elizabeth Frith of Enniskillen, Ireland, an ardent church worker, by whom he had five children. After his second marriage, his philanthropic interest increased. He became associated with General Booth and helped him with money and advice in the difficult formative years of the Salvation Army. Generous gifts were also made to other evangelical work such as the China Inland Mission and the East London Christian Mission. He helped to establish places of worship in the East End and schools on Bow Common. In 1869 he gave the first £1000 to Rev. William Pennefather for a church conference hall. He compiled The Pioneer Hymn Book (London, 1870) and published two tracts, 'Be filled with the spirit' and 'Incidents in an eventful life', Dunorlan Tracts, 1-2 (London, 1873).

In April 1873, while preaching in a Harrogate mission, Reed felt a call to return to Tasmania. With his family and attendants he sailed in the Sobraon and, after arrival at Launceston in December, settled at Mount Pleasant, which he bought next year from the bankrupt estate of his friend John Crookes. Although he renovated Mount Pleasant making it the finest house in northern Tasmania, developed Wesley Dale and consolidated his other properties, his main concern was still evangelism. In 1875 he helped Rev. George Brown to establish the New Guinea Mission and bought for it the steam launch Henry Reed. In New Britain Brown named Henry Reed Bay in his honour. In Launceston he bought Parr's Hotel in Wellington Street in order to replace it with a mission church. The adjoining skittle alley was renovated and opened for worship in July 1876, but the Memorial Church on the site was completed in 1885 after his death, as were the near-by Dunorlan Cottages built in his memory to provide free housing with a sustenance allowance for elderly indigent women.

Reed spent much time with his family at Mountain Villa on Wesley Dale and was credited with discovering the Mole Creek caves. His health failed rapidly towards the end. He died at Mount Pleasant on 10 October 1880. His life purpose was outlined in a letter to a friend: 'I have been so much accustomed to put my whole heart into anything I have engaged in, and to do it in the best possible way, and never to be satisfied with anything but decided success whether in spiritual or temporal things, that it troubles me much when I see things half done or carelessly done, but I must ask the Lord to help me in old age to look over and pass by many things'.

Portraits of Henry Reed are in the possession of the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, and of Mr H. D. Reed, Talinga, Hagley.

Select Bibliography

  • M. S. E. Reed, Henry Reed: An Eventful Life Devoted to God and Man (Lond, 1907)
  • correspondence file under Henry Reed (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Hudson Fysh, 'Reed, Henry (1806–1880)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 23 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]


28 December, 1806
Doncaster, Yorkshire, England


10 October, 1880 (aged 73)
Mount Pleasant, Tasmania, Australia

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