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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Wise, George Foster (1814–1897)

by J. A. Ryan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

George Foster Wise (1814-1897), immigration agent, was baptized on 18 August 1814 at Carisbrooke, Isle of Wight, England, eldest son of Edward Wise, brewer, and his wife Amelia, née Wilson. He was well educated, but failing family fortunes probably decided him to migrate and he reached Sydney in the Alfred on 15 January 1839. On the voyage he became friendly with Sir Francis and Lady Forbes and their niece Frances Lucy Mary Ann Marsh, whom he married at Scone on 21 June 1842; they had no children.

Wise was secretary of the General Steam Navigation Co. until 1842 and then engaged in land dealing in Camden, Kiama and Moreton Bay where he set up as a land agent; he returned to Sydney in 1844 and became a magistrate in 1846. With his brother-in-law J. Milbourne Marsh, he invested briefly and unprofitably in pastoral runs in the Lachlan District of New South Wales—Demondrille followed by Moombooldool, North Bolero and Binga. He apparently possessed in full measure 'the family propensity for not making money'.

One of the 'original founders and old members' of the Australian Club, Wise was appointed agent for immigration and a member of the Immigration Board on 1 November 1862. He implemented government policy of sponsored, assisted immigration, supervised standards and conditions in migrant vessels, received newly arrived migrants, and reported to parliament. His long tenure of office met little serious criticism except in times of unemployment; his annual reports showed little innovation or reforming tendencies in his work. In 1886 he had to dissuade Lady Carrington, wife of the governor, from witnessing the hiring of female migrants at the Immigration Depot which had become rather unseemly and chaotic. He was acting sheriff and acting inspector of prisons in 1869-70 and compiler of census in 1870-73. Sincere and conscientious, he was not a notable administrator but he exerted himself to find work for migrants.

A devout Anglican, Wise was a member of Sydney Diocesan synods in 1870-91. He shared his brother Edward's deep interest in social humanitarian work, and was a committee-man and office-bearer of the Home Visiting and Relief Society (1862-87), the Society for the Relief of Destitute Children (1865-91), the New South Wales Institution for the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind (1866-91) and a director of the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary (1871-81). His wife Fanny (d.1889) earned great respect and affection for her activity in the Sydney Foundling Hospital, the Society for the Relief of Destitute Children and the Sydney Female Refuge Society, as well as her work as a lady visitor in the homes of destitute and handicapped children. In the 1870s Wise was a director of the Illawarra Steam Navigation Co. but resigned after a question in parliament in 1879.

Wise retired on a pension of £272 14s. on 31 December 1891. He returned to the Isle of Wight, where he died of syncope on 14 August 1897 at Bembridge House, George Street, Ryde.

Select Bibliography

  • In Memoriam. Mrs George F. Wise (Syd, 1889)
  • Macarthur papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • E. Wise papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • newspaper indexes (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Colonial Secretary's papers (State Records New South Wales)
  • CO 201/527/304, 310.

Citation details

J. A. Ryan, 'Wise, George Foster (1814–1897)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

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