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Charles Throsby (1777–1828)

by Vivienne Parsons

This article was published:

Charles Throsby (1777-1828), surgeon, settler and explorer, was born at Glenfield, near Leicester, England, the younger son of John Throsby, historian and antiquarian. He joined the navy as a surgeon and served in the armed transports Coromandel and Calcutta from 1797 until the peace. In June 1802 he arrived in New South Wales as naval surgeon of the Coromandel and was complimented by Governor Philip Gidley King on the good health of the convicts and settlers under his charge. While in Port Jackson Throsby was engaged by James Thomson to do his duty while he took a year's leave; in October Throsby was appointed medical officer and magistrate at Castle Hill. In January 1804 he was moved to Sydney; in March he applied for a permanent position in the medical service of the colony, and in August he was sent to Newcastle as assistant surgeon. In March 1805 when lieutenant Charles Menzies, the commandant, resigned, Throsby was appointed superintendent of labour; but next month when Ensign Draffen, who relieved Menzies, became insane, Throsby was given command of the settlement which, according to Governor King, he conducted with 'great Activity and Propriety'. In 1808 he was confirmed as magistrate by the rebel administration, but returned to Sydney in December and next September resigned as surgeon on the grounds of ill health. Lieutenant-Governor William Paterson allowed him to retire 'with the indulgence of a free settler', and to exchange his sheep and cattle at Newcastle for an equivalent number at Sydney. In 1808 Lieutenant-Governor Joseph Foveaux had granted Throsby 500 acres (202 ha) at Cabramatta for his services at Newcastle and in 1809 Paterson made him grants of 500 (202 ha) and 100 acres (40 ha) at Minto. These he had to surrender in 1810, but Governor Lachlan Macquarie granted him 1500 acres (607 ha) in their place, and confirmed the cattle exchange. He built Glenfield, named after his birthplace, at Upper Minto and for the next few years concentrated there on pastoral activities.

In 1817 Macquarie noted Throsby as one of those colonists who were discontented, but he was later reconciled with the governor, probably as a result of his achievements as an explorer, which Macquarie rated highly. Throsby was one of the first settlers in the Illawarra district, where in November 1816 his stockmen already had a hut, and he was also one of the first to settle in the Moss Vale district. In August 1817 he explored the country west of Sutton Forest with Hamilton Hume, a family friend. In March and April 1818 he accompanied Surveyor-General James Meehan on a journey from the Cowpastures through Moss Vale to Bundanoon Creek and south-east to Jervis Bay; after the party divided Throsby reached the Shoalhaven River and Jervis Bay. In April 1819 he made a tour from the Cowpastures to Bathurst, opening up fertile country which Macquarie felt would meet the increase of settlers for many years; for this he granted Throsby 1000 acres (405 ha), and also rewarded his companions and servants. In 1819 Throsby discovered a pass between the Illawarra and Robertson districts and successfully drove a herd of cattle through it. In March 1820 he explored the country around Goulburn and Lake Bathurst and penetrated as far as the Breadalbane Plains. Macquarie gave him superintendence over the building of the road from the Cowpastures to the new country, which was placed under the direction of Throsby's servant Joseph Wild. In 1820 Macquarie visited the work party, which had reached the Cookbundoon Range, and gave Throsby's estate in the new country the name of Throsby Park.

Throsby's return to Macquarie's favour was not easy, for Meehan disagreed with Throsby over the usefulness of the new country and Macquarie was first bound to accept Meehan's judgment; but in time Macquarie came to speak as glowingly of the disputed country as Throsby himself. In a letter to Meehan in 1820 Throsby spoke of his pride in having partly caused the disagreement, for he felt that the dispute would inspire others to inquire into the country's usefulness more fully. By 1820 he felt that his poor health and financial worries would prevent any further explorations; however, in March 1821 he set out again for the new country, going in search of the Murrumbidgee. On this trip he crossed the Molonglo and Queanbeyan Rivers and the country where Canberra now stands. This has been spoken of as Throsby's last journey, but in November he appears to have journeyed again from Sutton Forest to Jervis Bay.

In March 1821 Macquarie made Throsby a magistrate of the territory, with his main jurisdiction over the new County of Argyle created out of part of the land Throsby had explored. He also granted him 700 acres (283 ha) to adjoin Throsby Park or any part of the new country he desired. In 1825 Throsby was appointed to the Legislative Council. However, all this time he was involved in financial troubles brought on by the £5000 surety he had undertaken on behalf of Garnham Blaxcell, who in 1817 absconded from the colony and died on board ship, leaving Throsby at the mercy of his creditors. Ten years litigation ended in an adverse verdict for Throsby, who by 1828 was also affected by the drought and by falling prices for wool. Worn down by worry and ill health, he committed suicide on 2 April 1828, aged 51, and was buried in Liverpool cemetery. His wife Jane died on 4 November 1838. He was disappointed that he had no children and had sent for his nephew Charles Throsby junior to become his heir. Charles arrived in the Mangles in August 1820 and at Liverpool in 1824 married Betsey, daughter of William Broughton; their children carried on the family line.

Irritable and allegedly hampered by a speech defect, Throsby was considerate and evoked strong loyalty from his servants. His attitude to the Aboriginals was enlightened, for he believed that their indiscriminate slaughter would bring only revenge and that it was possible to live in harmony with them.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of New South Wales, vols 4-7
  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 5, 7, 9-11, 14
  • R. H. Cambage, ‘Exploration Between the Wingecarribee, Shoalhaven, Macquarie and Murrumbidgee Rivers’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 7, part 5, 1921, pp 217-88
  • H. Norrie, ‘Australia's Debt to Her Early Medicos’, University of Sydney Medical Journal, 27 (1933)
  • H. Throsby, ‘Charles Throsby: Surgeon and Explorer’, University of Sydney Medical Journal, vol 28, part 2, 1934, pp 112-18
  • Sydney Gazette, 24 Sept 1809, 16 Nov 1816, 17 Mar 1821, 22 Dec 1825, 4 Apr 1828
  • manuscript catalogue under Charles Throsby (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Thematic Essay

Citation details

Vivienne Parsons, 'Throsby, Charles (1777–1828)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 18 July 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]


20 December, 1777
Glenfield, Leicestershire, England


2 April, 1828 (aged 50)
New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


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