Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Richard Sadleir (1794–1889)

by K. J. Cable

This article was published:

Richard Sadleir (1794-1889), naval officer, schoolmaster and pamphleteer, was born on 6 May 1794 at Cork, Ireland, the fourth son of James Sadleir, who became a landowner and manufacturer near Bandon. Sadleir was educated privately and at Bandon Classical School. His earliest aspiration was for the church (he had a life-long devotion to the Protestant cause) but in February 1808 he joined the navy. He served on the European, African and American Stations and was promoted lieutenant on 21 May 1819; his only other advancement was as commander on the retired list on 9 April 1875. Sadleir became interested in the colonies when he was on duty on the American Lakes and on his return to Ireland in 1821 he was concerned in emigration schemes to Canada.

In 1825 Sadleir went to New South Wales and on the recommendation of Archdeacon Thomas Scott undertook an official tour to investigate the condition of the Aboriginals and their relations with the settlers. Sadleir's study was long and thorough, and his concern for the natives remained active. He gave evidence on the subject before a Legislative Council committee in 1838 and, late in life, published a short book on the Aborigines of Australia (Sydney, 1883). In 1826, having £1000 of capital, he was granted 2650 acres (1072 ha) in the Hunter River valley.

Sadleir was not a rich man and his interests were religious and educational rather than agricultural. In October 1826 he was appointed a catechist for the Church of England in the Upper Hunter and ministered there for more than two years. Twenty years later he considered securing ordination from Bishop Charles Perry of Melbourne but this intention was frustrated. Sadleir became master of the Male Orphan School at Liverpool in succession to Rev. Robert Cartwright, whose daughter Ann (1810-1870) he married in December 1829. He remained there until 1851 and exercised an effective, if highly individual, mastership.

When Sadleir's official duties came to an end he took an active part in political controversy, contested unsuccessfully the constituency of St Vincent in the first elections under responsible government, and was elected in the radical interest for the Lower Hunter in 1861. His parliamentary career ended in 1864 but he continued to write on the land laws and constitutional reform for another twenty years. He produced a steady stream of pamphlets, petitions and articles on topics ranging from railway extension and the city water supply to the homoeopathic system of medicine and the production of non-combustible light; he wrote against Henry George on single tax and Bishop William Grant Broughton on baptismal regeneration. He sent more letters to newspaper editors than anyone else of his time.

Religious matters were the object of Sadleir's constant concern. He was an ardent Evangelical and an opponent of what he considered to be clerical autocracy. As joint secretary of the Church of England Constitution Defence Association in 1852, he organized with skill and some success a lay protest movement against Bishop Broughton's plan for colonial church government. He argued against Tractarianism in the 1840s and Anglo-Catholicism in the 1880s. His convictions, though expressed with a singular lack of moderation, were sincere and often coherent.

Sadleir's later activities were not solely polemical. He was energetic in local affairs as a justice of the peace, member of denominational school boards and mayor of Liverpool. Church administration took much of his time and so did charitable and philanthropic work. He remained vigorous in debate and action and quick to espouse new causes until his death at Liverpool on 6 March 1889.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 13-15
  • Town and Country Journal, 2 Apr 1887
  • A. P. Elkin, ‘Some Early Chaplains and Churches in the Hunter River Valley,’ Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 23 (1937)
  • Church of England Constitution Defence Association, minutes (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Richard Sadleir papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'Sadleir, Richard (1794–1889)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 14 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

Life Summary [details]


6 May, 1794
Cork, Cork, Ireland


6 March, 1889 (aged 94)
Liverpool, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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