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.

Charles Schaw (1785–1874)

by Julie Carington Smith

This article was published:

Charles Schaw (1785-1874), soldier and police magistrate, was born on 10 October 1785 in Jamaica. He was educated at Eton and at 17 entered the army. After ten years service in England and the West Indies he became captain by purchase in the 60th Regiment, and served in the Peninsular war. On the formation of a new corps of officers for the 85th Regiment he was appointed captain in January 1813 and was present at the siege of St Sebastian. In America he again acquitted himself with honour and in 1824 was appointed major of brigade in Honduras. Gazetted brevet-major in 1830, he returned to England. He transferred to the 21st Regiment and went to Van Diemen's Land in 1833 with his wife, seven daughters and a son. On arrival he was nominated coroner and deputy-chairman of Quarter Sessions by Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur and sent to Bothwell as assistant police magistrate. He sold out of the army in April 1835.

Schaw administered the district of Bothwell for eight years. He bought a new house for £850, called it Schawfield, and farmed on its ten acres (4 ha). Within three years his additions to the house gave it thirty-seven rooms and cost £4000. He furnished it lavishly and lived in great style, once giving a grand dinner and ball to Sir John and Lady Jane Franklin. Though popular at first his family soon became disliked for their haughty manners. Living on the verge of insolvency Schaw became quarrelsome with his neighbours and particularly with Rev. James Garrett under whom he was a churchwarden; Garrett once impounded the major's pigs and found himself charged with cruelty to animals. Complaints about Schaw were numerous: it was claimed that he usurped crown land and that his magisterial decisions were influenced by the past history of each person appearing before him. It was also said that his strong prejudices deterred any other magistrate from sitting with him on the bench. Although John Clark, a justice of the peace and honorary magistrate, and Garrett supported these complaints, Lieutenant-Governor Franklin refused to take action, even after a public meeting and a petition had brought an official inquiry into Schaw's conduct.

In 1841 Schaw was promoted to the full police magistracy of Richmond where he remained for fifteen years. There again complaints were made against his autocratic temperament, his favours to friends and his readiness to take offence at the smallest slights. His attempts to damage his enemies in official eyes by repeating harmful gossip and irrelevant details were condemned by Lieutenant-Governor Sir Henry Young in March 1855. With the decision next year to amalgamate the police districts of Richmond and Sorell, Schaw retired. He returned to England with a pension from the colonial government, settled at Torquay in 1858 and devoted the remainder of his life to the Church of England. He died on 5 March 1874. His eldest daughter, Frances Sarah, married William Sharland at Bothwell in 1835, and his son, Charles, went to Western Australia after digging gold at Bendigo.

Schaw's resolution as a soldier was appreciated in the army but won him few friends as an administrator. His autocratic methods and short temper lost him the co-operation of his colleagues, and his imperfect notion of a magistrate's duties, particularly at Bothwell, made him callous to colonial opinion.

Select Bibliography

  • P. L. Brown (ed), Clyde Company Papers, vols 1-5 (Lond, 1941-63)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 9 May 1874
  • Clark-Weston papers (Royal Society of Tasmania, Hobart)
  • CSO 1, 8, 11 and 24 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • CSD 1 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Julie Carington Smith, 'Schaw, Charles (1785–1874)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 26 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]


10 October, 1785


5 March, 1874 (aged 88)

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.