Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Warner (1814–1891)

by W. S. Kitson

This article was published:

James Warner (1814-1891), surveyor, was born on 12 March 1814 in London, son of James Warner, master mariner. Young James followed his father into the merchant navy and became second officer in the Runnymede, trading between London and China and to Port Jackson. Resigning his commission, Warner reached Sydney in the Persian on 25 August 1835. By 1837 he was junior clerk, third class, in the Surveyor-General's Department. He became an assistant surveyor in 1839. Posted to the Moreton Bay district, under the supervision of Robert Dixon he cleared the trees on the Herbert Taylor Range for a trigonometrical station, leaving a single tree as a surveyors' marker. The feature, for many years called One Tree Hill, was later named Mount Coot-tha.

On 18 November 1839 at Moreton Bay Warner married with Anglican rites Clara Lindo, née Brandon, a widow with three children. Next year, when assisting Dixon to survey the coastline between Cape Moreton and the Richmond River, he was 'wrecked with loss of personal property, and considerable risk of life'. He continued to survey towns and rural selections near Brisbane. In 1846 he was sent to trace the River Boyne from its source and to mark latitude 26º, the southern boundary of the short-lived colony of North Australia, centred on Port Curtis.

The rigours of the outdoor life began to tell on Warner's health; he suffered from rheumatism, pleurisy and impaired sight and his work output decreased. When the surveyor-general Sir Thomas Mitchell asked him in April 1852 to quit, he refused, but on 1 June next year he retired on a pension of £70. He continued to work, privately subdividing land for houses and farms and acting as a contract surveyor for the government, and expanded his business to include property management and home design.

In January 1861 Warner produced, for sale, a large coloured map of Brisbane, which he exhibited at the Town Hall. It ran to a second edition in 1871. Economic conditions forced him into insolvency in March 1870. Upon the formation of the Queensland Institute of Surveyors in 1875, he was its first secretary and treasurer.

When he lived at Kangaroo Point in the 1850s, 'a dance at Warner's was the best in Brisbane'. A man of deep religious convictions, he gave land for the building of St Mark's Church at Lutwyche, to which area he later moved. He was 'full of genial fun and jokes', but could 'read aloud the Bible to youthful hearers with a pathos and heartfelt intonation which some Archbishop might envy'. A keen gardener, with an extensive knowledge of botany, he received a silver medal at the 1861 International Exhibition, London, for a display of coffee beans grown in his own garden. He was also a cricketer and sailor.

In 1885, in recognition of his service to the colony, Warner was appointed sergeant-at-arms to the Queensland Legislative Assembly. He died on 6 May 1891 at his home, Runnymede, in Brisbane and was buried below Mount Coot-tha in Toowong cemetery. His wife had predeceased him; their five daughters and one of their two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Watson and J. McKay, Queensland Architects of the 19th Century (Brisb, 1994)
  • D. Gray-Woods, With Compass Chain and Courage (Brisb, 1997)
  • Moreton Bay Courier, 27 Oct 1855, pp 1 & 3
  • Queensland Guardian, 7 Jan 1861, p 2
  • Brisbane Courier, 14 Dec 1871, p 1, 5 July 1876, p 3, 7 May 1891, p 3
  • C0201/465 (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

W. S. Kitson, 'Warner, James (1814–1891)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 25 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


12 March, 1814
London, Middlesex, England


6 May, 1891 (aged 77)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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