Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Frederick Charles Standish (1824–1883)

by J. S. Legge

This article was published:

Frederick Charles Standish (1824-1883), government officer, was born on 20 April 1824 at Standish Hall, Wigan, Lancashire, England, son of Charles Standish, one-time companion of the prince regent, and his wife Emmeline-Conradine, née de Mathiesen. He was educated at the Roman Catholic Prior Park College and at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and was commissioned in the Royal Artillery (second lieutenant, January 1843; first lieutenant, April 1844; captain, August 1850). His nine years in the army included a period on the staff of the lord lieutenant of Ireland. Financed by his father he bought Cayton Hall near Harrogate, Yorkshire. From 1848 'no backer of horses was better known or more liked upon English racecourses', but despite his popularity his money losses were heavy, and in 1852 he sold his mortgaged property and left England for the colonies.

Standish worked on the gold diggings in various parts of Victoria until April 1854, when he was appointed assistant commissioner of the goldfields at Sandhurst (Bendigo) and later was also protector of the Chinese. He remained at Sandhurst until September 1858 when he was appointed chief commissioner of police in Victoria with salary of £1200 to succeed Captain (Sir Charles) MacMahon. Standish remained in charge of the police force until September 1880, when he retired on a pension of £468. While in the full vigour of health he was credited with considerable intellectual administrative skill, and he dealt ably with the secret conspiracies and open attacks of 1862. He inspired loyalty among his men until his later years, when his lack of firmness led to a state of disorganization, particularly noticeable in the heyday of the Kelly gang. Although there is no evidence to support the legend that Standish suspended the hunt for the gang when the weights for the Melbourne Cup were declared, his conduct of the police operations was, according to the 1881 royal commission on the police, 'not characterized either by good judgment, or by that zeal for the interests of the public service which should have distinguished an officer in his position'.

A prominent Freemason, in 1861 Standish was installed as provincial grand master for Victoria (English constitution). His keen interest in the turf continued and he was for many years a member and in 1881-83 chairman of the committee of the Victoria Racing Club. He was an elegant, free-and-easy personality, indolent and addicted to the delights of the sideboard, the card table and the theatre. His diary, written in the firm hand of an educated gentleman of the time, reveals an aimless pursuit of pleasure. According to John Sadleir, this hedonism led Standish to 'form intimacies with some officers of like mind, and to think less of others who were much more worthy of regard', but his 'almost pathetic' affection for Superintendent Frank Hare, notable in the period of the Kelly pursuit, was a symptom of the mental trouble under which he eventually broke down. In 1882 he was involved in what was for many years a cause célèbre when he was almost thrown out of the window of the Melbourne Club by one Colonel Craigie Halkett, whom he had addressed by a provocative nickname.

From about 1872 Standish lived at the Melbourne Club, where he died on 19 March 1883 of cirrhosis of the liver and fatty degeneration of the heart. He is said to have abandoned Freemasonry on his deathbed, and after a funeral service at the club was buried in the Roman Catholic section of the Melbourne general cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £550; unmarried, he left his two horses and his pictures to his servant. The Standish Handicap run at Flemington over six furlongs on New Year's Day is his memorial.

Select Bibliography

  • H. M. Humphreys (ed), Men of the Time in Australia: Victorian series, 1st ed (Melb, 1878)
  • J. Sadleir, Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer (Melb, 1913)
  • E. Scott, Historical Memoir of the Melbourne Club (Melb, 1936)
  • N. A. Hudleston, Stainley and Cayton (Scarborough, 1956)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1881, 3 (1)
  • Bulletin, 30 June 1883
  • J. A. Panton autobiography, and F. C. Standish diary (State Library of Victoria).

Related Thematic Essay

Citation details

J. S. Legge, 'Standish, Frederick Charles (1824–1883)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


20 April, 1824
Wigan, Lancashire, England


19 March, 1883 (aged 58)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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