Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Welsh (?–1832)

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John Welsh (d.1832), master mariner, was baptized John Williams and by royal warrant in 1812 changed his surname 'in grateful regard of James Welsh, late Captain in the Merchant Service'. As an able seaman he visited many countries including Australia, where he took part in coastal surveys and was with Matthew Flinders in August 1803 when the Porpoise was wrecked off the Queensland coast. Later as a trading captain he travelled widely, particularly in the East Indies, where he speculated without success in a coffee plantation. In July 1818 he visited Sydney as master of the Claudine with a general cargo from England. In 1820 he repeated this voyage and while at Sydney bought from Samuel Marsden a 100-acre (40 ha) farm at Pennant Hills; when a road was cut through this farm he petitioned for a land grant in compensation for damage to his crops and costly double fencing. He was promised 1000 acres (405 ha) but did not locate them.

In April 1822 Welsh arrived at Hobart Town as captain of the Thalia. Recommended by the Colonial Office and claiming a capital of £3500 'exclusive of his ship valued at £3000', he was promised a substantial land grant. He located it at Lovely Banks, near Launceston, and later bought more land on Pittwater, near Richmond. He also went into partnership with Henry Heylin, who in May married Welsh's niece Mary Roberts; to his much beloved Mary he gave £3000 as a dower, and 1000 acres (405 ha) to Heylin. Next year Welsh went to Sydney in the Urania and returned with horses, and rams from the Macarthurs' flock. When this livestock did not sell profitably Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur had sympathy for the disheartened veteran and in January 1824 appointed him inspector of distilleries. Soon afterwards Heylin left the colony and his 1000 acres (405 ha) had to be surrendered.

In January 1826 Welsh was appointed superintendent of government vessels. With great energy he pursued bushrangers and runaway convicts as far afield as Kangaroo Island, conducted many boards of inquiry, made surveys of D'Entrecasteaux Channel and harbours on Tasman Peninsula, planned a wharf at Sullivan Cove and examined bridge sites on the Derwent and at Launceston. These strenuous tasks affected his health and in June 1828 he was given leave 'to exercise in the country'. In November he asked for more leave to attend to family affairs at Launceston. In January 1829 Arthur, thinking Welsh quite worn out but a very worthy person, appointed him port officer in Launceston at a salary of £200. He often gave useful help to George Augustus Robinson in conciliating the Aboriginals, but had little time to buoy the shifting channel of the Tamar River and several ships went ashore. He had an accident himself in October when his cutter was overturned while towing a brig to its moorings; much government gear was lost and Welsh's own instruments. As usual he claimed and was granted compensation. A year later he began to complain that Launceston was a 'horrid swampy place worse than Surinam, Demarara or the city of Batavia'. He asked for transfer to another post, but was given instead a short leave. On his return in ill health to Launceston his sickness was diagnosed as jaundice, and he died on 6 June 1832.

Select Bibliography

  • A. McKay (ed), Journals of the Land Commissioners for Van Diemen's Land, 1826-28 (Hob, 1962)
  • Sydney Gazette, 1 July 1826
  • Hobart Town Courier, 31 Jan, 31 Aug 1829
  • Colonial Secretary's in letters, 4/1744, 4/1832 (State Records New South Wales)
  • Piper papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • CSO 1/296/7190, 1/364/8325, 1/427/9610, 1/576/13060 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

'Welsh, John (?–1832)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 13 June 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]

Alternative Names
  • Williams, John

6 June, 1832
Tasmania, Australia