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John Savage (1770–?)

by Vivienne Parsons

This article was published:

John Savage (b.1770), surgeon, was born on 20 October 1770. At 26 he obtained his certificate of competence as a surgeon and served in the Melville Castle in 1796-97. For some years thereafter he was a lieutenant and assistant surgeon in the 1st West York Militia under the command of Lord Fitzwilliam, who in July 1802 procured his appointment as one of the assistant surgeons in New South Wales. Savage arrived with his wife in the Glatton in March 1803. In November he was appointed assistant surgeon at Norfolk Island but did not go there; in May 1804 he was appointed to Port Dalrymple but again did not leave Sydney. Most of his duty was at Parramatta, where in January 1804 he was appointed assistant surgeon and magistrate for the County of Cumberland, and in March captain of the Parramatta Loyal Association. In April he bought three farms in the district and by 1805 held 330 acres (136 ha).

Savage was a member of the Royal Jennerian Society, established in 1803 to assist the proper spread of vaccination, and from the time he arrived in Sydney he experimented with cowpox; in May 1804 he successfully vaccinated a child for the first time in the colony. He later claimed to have vaccinated or provided the material for vaccinating nearly a thousand children. He also claimed that his success alienated the principal surgeon, Thomas Jamison, whose own attempts at vaccination had been unsuccessful. In June 1805 Jamison had Savage tried by a general court martial for neglect of duty in refusing to attend the wife of a settler when in childbirth. Savage stated that midwifery was not part of his duty, but was found guilty and sentenced to be cashiered. Governor Philip Gidley King, who thought highly of Savage, reported the matter to England, and, since Savage was necessarily suspended from duty, gave him leave to return home. Next month he sailed with his wife, carrying the dispatches which the governor entrusted to him, and leaving his cattle and farms in charge of Samuel Marsden. In England Savage's sentence was set aside, for the alleged offence was not a military one within the Mutiny Act or the Articles of War, and King was directed to restore the surgeon to his former duty. However, Savage did not return. In November Edward Jenner sought a post for Savage in any regiment where there was a vacancy, and in December 1807 Governor William Bligh was informed that Savage had been engaged by the East India Co.

While in London he published Some Account of New Zealand, Particularly the Bay of Islands, and Surrounding Country … With a Description of the Religion and Government, Language, Arts, Manufactures, Manners and Customs of the Natives, Etc. (1807). He had collected material for this book when the Ferrett stopped at New Zealand on the way to England, and dedicated it to Fitzwilliam. It received favourable notice in the Edinburgh and Eclectic Reviews, and Annales des Voyages, de la Géographie et de l'Histoire, 19 (Paris, 1812), praised it as the first work published on New Zealand since James Cook's account.

In March 1808 Savage took up his duties as assistant surgeon in Bengal, and in June 1823 he was appointed surgeon. In 1835 he was back in London in ill health. He had lost his savings through the incompetence of his agents, and he wrote to Marsden thanking him for the sale of his farms in New South Wales and asking him to sell the remainder of his property. In August he retired from the Indian Medical Service.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of New South Wales, vols 4, 5
  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 3-6
  • A. D. McKinlay, Savage's Account of New Zealand in 1805 (Wellington, 1939)
  • Sydney Gazette, 15 May 1803, 29 Jan, 8 Apr 1804.

Citation details

Vivienne Parsons, 'Savage, John (1770–?)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 17 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

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