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Ernest Augustus Slade (1805–1878)

by Hazel King

This article was published:

Ernest Augustus Slade (1805-1878), superintendent of convict barracks and police magistrate, was born on 30 June 1805, the son of General Sir John Slade (1762-1859), baronet, and his first wife Anna Eliza, née Dawson. His father distinguished himself during the Peninsular war at the battles of Busaco and Fuentes de Onoro and received the thanks of parliament and a gold medal for his services.

Slade was an unruly and extravagant youth and his father hastened to get him into the army so that he would be under discipline and preferably out of England. A commission was bought for him for £450 and he joined the 54th Regiment as an ensign on 1 August 1822 and was promoted lieutenant in May 1825; in 1828 he transferred to the 40th Regiment and saw service in the Australian colonies and India. He retired from the army in 1831 and returned to New South Wales in 1832 with a letter of introduction from the Colonial Office to Governor (Sir) Richard Bourke expressing the wish that he be placed in any office which happened to be vacant when he arrived. In February 1833 Bourke appointed Slade superintendent of the convict barracks at Hyde Park with a residence within the barracks and a salary of £150; next October he was appointed also to the part-time office of third police magistrate for Sydney for which he received an additional £100 a year. He held these appointments until 1 November 1834 when he became involved in court proceedings which received wide publicity. Because of the scandal to which these proceedings gave rise, Bourke told him that he could no longer hold his appointments; he was allowed to resign. Slade complained to the Colonial Office that he had been summarily and unjustly dismissed from his appointments; he admitted the irregularity of his own domestic establishment, but alleged in extenuation that many of the most respectable and useful justices of the peace of the colony were living in a state of concubinage with female servants.

He returned to England and in July 1836 applied to the Colonial Office for another appointment; he was told that it was unlikely that one could be offered to him in the foreseeable future. As a witness before the select committee on transportation in 1837 he gave a lurid picture of the moral depravity of the convict population in New South Wales; he also claimed that he had devised the type of cat then in general use in the colony and boasted that, if punishment were administered with it under his own supervision, it never failed to break the skin in four lashes. He alleged that Bourke had used the disclosures on his moral conduct merely as a pretext to deprive him of office, and that the real reason was that his severe treatment of convicts ran counter to the governor's own policy of leniency. He was re-examined by Sir George Grey on another part of his evidence in which he made allegations damaging to the character of the governor's son, Richard Bourke; the allegations were shown to be false and were expunged from the records.

Slade was twice married and had one daughter. He died at Boulogne, France, on 5 March 1878.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 11-15, 17, 18
  • Statistical Returns of the Colony of NSW, 1833, 1834
  • Select Committee on Transportation, Report 1837, Parliamentary Papers (House of Commons, Great Britain), 1837 (518)
  • Bourke papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • CO 202/27, 35
  • CO 201/246
  • WO 31/516.

Citation details

Hazel King, 'Slade, Ernest Augustus (1805–1878)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 26 February 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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