Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Terry (1771–1844)

by Clive Turnbull

This article was published:

John Terry (1771-1844), pioneer, was baptized on 17 March 1771, the son of John Terry of The Mill, Redmire, Yorkshire, England, in which county the family had also milling and other interests at Bedale, Forcett and Askrigg. On 12 July 1797 at Hornby he married Martha, daughter of Thomas Powell, a farmer of Hunters Hill, and for a number of years carried on the family business of milling. In 1818, presumably because of economic conditions, he left England for New South Wales, arriving in Sydney in March 1819 with his family, in the Surry with a letter from the Colonial Office to Governor Lachlan Macquarie, to whom he appeared 'a good worthy man'. He was apparently dissatisfied with New South Wales and soon sold the livestock, house and three acres (1.2 ha) that he had bought at Liverpool. After a preliminary visit to Van Diemen's Land he sailed for Hobart Town in the Prince Leopold, arriving on 6 December 1819 with his wife, eleven children, two servants, 'a pair of millstones and a variety of utensils for the purpose of erecting a water mill'. This mill he proceeded to build at Elizabeth Town (New Norfolk), near the Derwent River, and within a year he was grinding wheat. He also took up a grant of 1400 acres (567 ha) at Macquarie Plains, 'about 10 miles (16 km) up the country' and this property he named Askrigg. There is a charming account by Terry in a letter home (1822) of his early labours in creating a mill, farm and orchard in idyllic surroundings: 'I threw off my coat and rose with the sun, wrought at all that came to hand. I now thank God and consider myself and my family in a very comfortable position … Wild duck in great numbers, as many as 300 to 400 rise at once. Black swan and land quail, wild pigeons coloured like a peacock, and fish in great plenty … Hunt the kangaroo. Trees here cast a shell of bark, not leaves. Wood, when cut green, sinks in the water like a stone. Your shortest day is our longest and your Summer our Winter. The cuckoo cries in the night and mostly in our winter; the man in the moon has his legs upward'.

Governor Macquarie inspected the mill in June 1821. In 1826 Terry told the land commissioners that his output was more than six bushels an hour and that his mill race required all the water of the Lachlan River for six months each year. He had much help from his grown-up sons and had also cleared most of his farm. Terry sought government compensation for alleged injury sustained by the formation of the New Norfolk watercourse. Although the colonial secretary, John Montagu, protested that Terry had predated correspondence by two years to make good his claim, his appeal was accepted in 1841, even if not in the form presented. In 1835 he was also involved in a dispute over a land boundary. A jury decided that both land grants were equally valid and that the error was the fault of the surveyor-general; in due course the Colonial Office ordered that Terry be granted another thirty-six acres (15 ha) elsewhere. Despite these and other vicissitudes Terry achieved his ambition of creating a patriarchal establishment in what is probably the most English-appearing part of Australia. He died at his home on 8 July 1844. His numerous descendants have intermarried with colonial families all over Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 3, vol 3
  • A. McKay (ed), Journals of the Land Commissioners for Van Diemen's Land 1826-28 (Hob, 1962)
  • Sydney Gazette, 11 Oct 1819
  • Colonial Times (Hobart), 10 July 1844
  • GO 1/26/647-9 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • correspondence file under John Terry (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Clive Turnbull, 'Terry, John (1771–1844)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 22 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]


8 July, 1771


1844 (aged ~ 72)
New Norfolk, Tasmania, Australia

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.