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John Clements Wickham (1798–1864)

by A. A. Morrison

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John Clements Wickham (1798-1864), naval officer and magistrate, was born on 21 November 1798 at Leith, Scotland, the son of Lieutenant Samuel Wickham R.N. and his wife Ellen Susannah, née Naylor. He entered the navy as a midshipman in 1812 and from 1827 to 1830 he served as lieutenant under Phillip Parker King in a survey expedition off the coast of South America. From 1831 to 1836 he was second in command of the Beagle in the expedition for which Charles Darwin was the naturalist and from 1837 to 1841 be commanded the Beagle while charting the north-western coasts of Australia. His health was undermined by long and arduous service and he retired from the navy in 1841. He settled next year in New South Wales, where he married on 27 October 1842 Anna, daughter of Hannibal Macarthur.

In January 1843 with a salary of £300 he became police magistrate at Moreton Bay, newly opened to free settlement. Though not in control of other government officers in the district, he was regarded as the senior. He showed much sympathy and understanding, and exercised his authority with judgment and a genuine sense of responsibility; he had the confidence of the settlers and was able to contribute much to the early development of Brisbane. In 1846-47 he added to his duties by carrying out a survey of Moreton Bay, financed by local squatters through a district improvement fund. In 1853 the increasing extent of his duties was recognized by a rise of £200 in salary and by his appointment as government resident, a post which necessitated the surrender of his magisterial duties.

To replace the tumbledown commandant's quarters allotted to him, in 1847 he bought from his brother-in-law, Patrick Leslie, a property known as Newstead, and it became an unofficial Government House. His first wife died in 1852 leaving him with two sons and a daughter, and, in 1857 he married Dublin-born Ellen Deering, of Ipswich, who bore him two sons.

On the eve of the formation of the new colony of Queensland Wickham was offered the post of colonial treasurer in the new administration. Fearing that he could not afford to bear the costs of an election, and that a defeat would leave him with nothing, he refused the offer and sought a pension from the New South Wales government. This was refused on the ground that the responsibility belonged to Queensland. In June 1860 he made a similar request to the secretary of state for the colonies, who passed it on to the Queensland government. Despite strong support by Governor Sir George Bowen the request was refused, the chief reasons appearing to be pique that Wickham had refused to stay and help the new colony, and a desire to push the responsibility back on New South Wales, the whole question being complicated by a quarrel between the two colonial governments on adjustment of debts. Offended by what he regarded as ingratitude and forced to live in somewhat straitened circumstances, Wickham retired to the south of France, where he died from a stroke on 6 January 1864, and was buried at Biarritz.

Select Bibliography

  • F. W. S. Cumbrae-Stewart, ‘Notes on the Registers and Memorials at St John's Cathedral, Brisbane’, Journal (Historical Society of Queensland), vol 1, no 1, 1914
  • C. G. Austin, ‘Newstead House and Capt. Wickham, R.N.’, Journal (Historical Society of Queensland), vol 3, no 6, Dec 1947, pp 459-65
  • G. C. Ingleton, ‘A Brief History of Marine Surveying in Australia’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 30, part 1, 1944, pp 1-44 and vol 30, part 2, 1944, pp 85-151.

Additional Resources

Citation details

A. A. Morrison, 'Wickham, John Clements (1798–1864)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 21 April 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]


21 November, 1798
Edinburgh, Mid-Lothian, Scotland


6 January, 1864 (aged 65)
Biarritz, France

Cause of Death


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