Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Alfred Allatson Turner (1826–1895)

by Edgar Beale

This article was published:

Alfred Allatson Turner (1826-1895), explorer and civil servant, was born on 21 November 1826 at Calais, France, son of Lieutenant Frederick Turner, R.N., and his wife Sarah, née Allatson. On 5 March 1831 he arrived with his parents at Perth in the Eliza. After his father's death his mother moved to Sydney about 1840; he spent three years at Lindenow, Gippsland, Victoria, gaining farming and grazing experience.

Late in 1846 Turner was living in Sydney where he became a friend of Edmund Kennedy. Next year as second-in-command, he joined Kennedy's expedition to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Instead of being led north-west by the mythical 'Victoria River', they found themselves going south-west, following what proved to be the Barcoo River into Cooper's Creek; forced by drought to retreat, they went down the Warrego River until it dissipated itself. Finding the distance across to the Culgoa River greater than he had calculated, Kennedy left Turner in charge of a base where the carts remained. For a week Turner and his companions had practically no water and were forced to drink their own urine until rescued. He was 'reduced to jockey weight' but, small and wiry, he soon recovered and helped to bring the abandoned carts to the Culgoa. The expedition returned to Sydney in February 1848 and Kennedy praised Turner; but he found work scarce. An ungrateful government refused him a tracing of Kennedy's maps, although he was later permitted to copy them; he used the material to prepare a lively unpublished record of his exploit.

On 23 May 1848 Turner became a temporary clerk in the Colonial Secretary's Department at 5s. a day and by 1850 was an extra clerk. On 19 June at Wollongong he married Maria Rebecca (d.1921), daughter of Charles Throsby Smith, a local pioneer; on 1 January 1853 he became clerk of Petty Sessions there at a salary of £175. In 1857 he also became local agent for the sale of crown lands and in 1859 registrar of the District Court and, until 1862, clerk of the peace. He became registrar for births, deaths and marriages in 1869 and was mining registrar in 1875-78. He was promoted police magistrate in 1876 and retained his other offices. Appointed an officer to issue miners' rights and licences and a collector of revenue in 1883, two years later he ceased to be clerk of Petty Sessions and on 1 January 1888 retired on a pension of £277 2s.; he was then a guardian of minors.

Turner led a quiet but active life, his offices keeping him aloof from the 'commotion of public affairs'. He was closely connected with the Anglican Church, the Wollongong Agricultural and Horticultural Association, the Wollongong Benevolent Society and the Wollongong Harbour Trust League. A keen angler all his life, he visited New Zealand, North Queensland and Tasmania in the 1880s. When the barque Queen of Nations was wrecked near Corrimal in 1881 he saved the life of the drunken and rampageous captain by knocking him out with a cudgel.

Turner was noted for unswerving and equal justice to all, administered with patience and kindness. He was known to uphold the law by fining decent 'old hands' who had misbehaved a little, but paid their fines for them if they had no money. Aged 68, he died of cancer of the liver on 3 August 1895 and was buried in the Anglican section of Wollongong cemetery; he was survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters, to whom he left estate valued for probate at £5244.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Beale, Kennedy of Cape York (Adel, 1970)
  • Illawarra Mercury, 6 Aug 1895
  • Colonial Secretary's miscellaneous letters, 1848, and in-letters, 1849-52 (State Records New South Wales)
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Edgar Beale, 'Turner, Alfred Allatson (1826–1895)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 18 July 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]


21 November, 1826
Calais, France


3 August, 1895 (aged 68)
New South Wales, Australia

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