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Campbell Drummond Riddell (1796–1858)

by John Metcalfe

This article was published:

Campbell Drummond Riddell (1796-1858), public servant, was born on 9 January 1796, the son of Thomas Milles Riddell (d.1796) and Margaretta, née Campbell. His grandfather was Sir James Riddell (d.1797), first baronet, of Ardnamurchan, Argyllshire, Scotland.

Campbell Riddell matriculated in 1813 at Christ Church, Oxford, where his elder brother and his friend, Robert William Hay (1786-1861) graduated. Riddell did not graduate, but in 1819 was admitted to the Scottish faculty of advocates, of which he was still a member in 1829 when his relations and friends helped him into the colonial service, briefly as a commissioner of inquiry in Ceylon, and more permanently as colonial treasurer in New South Wales. In Colombo on 3 April 1830, he married Caroline Stuart Rodney, daughter of the government secretary in Ceylon, and arrived in Sydney with her in August 1830.

He began duty with grievances about his salary and soon had others: about a building allotment grant he did not get, about home leave and promotion he did not get soon enough, about extra duties for which be did not get extra pay. His salary was £1000 paid by the Colonial Office. Hay told him he was lucky and could not expect more in a period of economy, in which Hay himself was finally retrenched in 1836. On 15 December 1833 Hay wrote, 'My dear Riddell … I am always glad to hear of your progress and wish heartily that you had no grievances to complain of, for I cannot remedy them and even to write at length and explain the reasons why I cannot do so is more than I can readily undertake': and in 1834 he rebuked Riddell for telling tales about local politics and social life.

Although Governor (Sir) Richard Bourke thought him well paid for his financial work, he recommended additional payment for Riddell's service on the board for assigning servants but the British government refused; Bourke did not recommend additional payment when the duties of the collector of internal revenue were combined with those of the treasurer; and though Riddell did not please him in other respects Bourke praised him for his promptitude and benevolence in finding employment for female immigrants. Another duty which Riddell thought extra and onerous, but which Bourke and Hay thought within his duties as treasurer, was the custody of uninvested savings bank deposits. He came close to serious trouble when he was found to be holding these in an account of his own instead of in a Treasury account, but no misappropriation was proven or even alleged. He was just imprudent, and it was a major piece of imprudence which gave him a place in the political history of the colony. Bourke's consideration for Catholics and convicts had brought him into conflict with many of the honorary justices of the peace. In 1835, when they were to elect a chairman of the Quarter Sessions, Riddell asked Bourke if he had any objection to his being a candidate. As treasurer he was an executive councillor and Bourke replied that he could not with propriety take the chairmanship; Bourke saw advantage in the commissioner of the Court of Requests, Roger Therry, becoming the chairman because he was a lawyer. But Therry was Catholic and Irish and regarded by most of the justices as either a tool of Bourke's or as his evil genius. Riddell appeared to accept Bourke's ruling that he should not stand, but did little to refuse or repudiate a nomination of himself against Therry and through him against the governor, and he was elected, by a disputed majority of one vote. He declined office but Bourke suspended him from the Executive Council and requested the Colonial Office to remove him from it.

He was compared both with a cabinet minister dismissed for publicly opposing his party and his premier, and with a public servant who had courageously exercised his rights as a citizen; in the days before responsible government public servant and minister were one. In particular he was an executive councillor, not as Riddell but as the treasurer. The secretary of state for the colonies, Glenelg, thought that he could not be removed from the council without being removed from the treasurership, and that in any case he had been sufficiently rebuked, and others admonished, by his temporary suspension. This dispatch, when shown to Riddell's brother, cleared Glenelg from criticism at home, but it did not satisfy Bourke, who insisted on either Riddell's removal from the council or acceptance of his own resignation. In a confidential reply to Bourke, Glenelg pleaded for Riddell and hinted that just as Bourke was entitled to obedience from his officers so the secretary of state was entitled to obedience from his governors. But Bourke's opponents won more through Riddell than they could have hoped for, and Bourke the great man went while Riddell the little man stayed.

In 1844 when a local order of merit was tentatively proposed, Bourke's successor, Gipps, put Riddell eleventh and Therry twelfth in a list of nineteen whom he considered deserving. Always aspiring to be colonial secretary, Riddell was appointed temporarily in January 1854, when (Sir) Edward Deas Thomson went to England with the draft of the Constitution for responsible government; he resumed the colonial treasurership in February 1856, but was retired under the provisions of the new Constitution on 5 June 1856. He was nominated to the Legislative Council in May 1856, but lost his seat in 1858 because of absence. He died in Britain on 27 December 1858.

One son, Thomas Milles Stratford, born on 22 January 1832, went to Gladstone, Queensland, as a member of the government resident's staff and died there on 16 September 1854. Another son, Rodney Stuart, born 7 November 1838, became the fourth baronet in 1883, and when he died on 2 January 1907 left no successor to the title. There were two married daughters. A portrait of Riddell in a kilt and one of his wife are in the Mitchell Library.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 15-26
  • R. J. Flanagan, The History of New South Wales, vols 1-2 (Lond, 1862)
  • R. Therry, Reminiscences of Thirty Years' Residence in New South Wales and Victoria (Lond, 1863)
  • G. W. Rusden, History of Australia, vol 2 (Melb, 1897)
  • J. W. Metcalfe, ‘Governor Bourke—Or, the Lion and the Wolves’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 30, part 1, 1944, pp 44-80
  • newspaper indexes and manuscript catalogue under C. D. Riddell (State Library of New South Wales)
  • CO 201/255, 258, 324/87.

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Citation details

John Metcalfe, 'Riddell, Campbell Drummond (1796–1858)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 29 May 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]


9 January, 1796


27 December, 1858 (aged 62)

Cultural Heritage

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