Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Alexander Reid (1783–1858)

by A. F. Pike

This article was published:

Alexander Reid (1783-1858), landowner, was born in August 1783 in the village of Humbie, East Lothian, Scotland, the son of Alexander Reid, master brewer, and his wife Mary, née Gray (d. May 1810). His father farmed the old family property of Ratho, six miles (9.6 km) from Edinburgh. This property was enlarged and enriched by the addition of several other estates, most notably that of Ratho Bank. However, there were ten other children in the family and Alexander had to fend for himself. By August 1805 he was a partner in the Leith mercantile firm of Liddell & Reid.

In December 1809 he married Mary Muirhead (b.1789?), from the Clyde district in Scotland, and their first daughter, Jane, was born within a month of the firm's bankruptcy in mid-1814. After this failure Reid continued on his own with aid from relations and by February 1820 he was in a position to consider emigration. In August 1821 he sailed from Leith with his wife and two children in the Castle Forbes, and on 1 March 1822 they arrived in Hobart Town. They lived there for a short time until Reid was granted land on the Clyde River, nearly fifty miles (80 km) from Hobart. The land was in two sections: 1400 acres (576 ha) which he called Ratho, and 600 acres (243 ha), five miles (8 km) downstream, which he named Humbie. The Reids moved to Ratho and lived in a mud cottage for three years until a more permanent homestead was built. At the cottage Mrs Reid had been held up by bushrangers while her husband was absent, but she showed characteristic self-control and coolness by handing over her keys so that her furniture would not be smashed.

As the near-by settlement of Bothwell grew, the Reids became active in the social life of the area and their farm began to prosper. In May 1830 Reid laid the foundation stone of the Bothwell Presbyterian Church and became a friend of Rev. James Garrett. In that year Reid took part in the 'Black War' against the Aboriginals. By mid-1837 Reid had 1000 ewes, 300 lambs and 20 cows and calves, and such success as a wool-grower that he had been able to pay off many of his debts within five years despite high colonial interest rates, and to assist his son-in-law with several large loans. In 1836, when the Clyde Co. was formed by his friend George Russell, Reid showed interest in the venture but did not join it. However, he was both secretary and treasurer of the Cross Marsh Market Committee, later the Cross Marsh Agricultural Association.

In mid-1837 Ratho was let for seven years to the Horne family at the high annual rent of £1000, and in April 1838 the Reids left Ratho and sailed for Scotland in the Derwent. One of Reid's first outings in Scotland was to visit the cattle show at Glasgow, and the family settled into a house in Edinburgh before moving to a rented property next to the Old Ratho Bank estate which was no longer in family hands. He prospered again in raising sheep and was active in the social life of the area: hunting, visiting relations and touring. The family was happy in Scotland but after lengthy consideration they returned to Van Diemen's Land and to their own Ratho in 1842. Reid eagerly set about with plans to improve the property and by 1844 his wool clips were surprisingly good. In 1858 Reid died, having suffered from chronic illnesses for about ten years.

Reid was popular, tolerant, kind and very emotional, but seemed to mask his strong feelings by wit and drollery in conversation and by dry understatement in his letters. His main interests were always economics and politics, he was honest but shrewd in business, and he was very strongly opposed to transportation and to Lieutenant-Governor Sir William Denison. He was always active in public affairs, as a justice of the peace, chairman of public meetings, and owner of horses in local races. He was not very religious and his wife and daughter, Jane, often criticized him for his spiritual unconcern.

He had four children: Jane, who in 1834 was widowed in India and spent many of the following years with her parents; Alexander (b.1820), who had most of his father's characteristics and interests; Elizabeth, who was born on 10 October 1825 at Ratho and died a few weeks before the Reids returned to Scotland in 1838; and Mary who was born on 18 February 1829 at Ratho and died at sea on the voyage to Scotland, making a double tragedy for the family within a few months.

Select Bibliography

  • P. L. Brown (ed), Clyde Company Papers, vols 1-5 (Lond, 1941-63).

Citation details

A. F. Pike, 'Reid, Alexander (1783–1858)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 21 April 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]


August, 1783
Humbie, East Lothian, Scotland


1858 (aged ~ 74)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.