LONSDALE, William (1800-1864)


LONSDALE, William (1800-1864)
first administrator at Port Phillip.
Little can be traced about his early life, his death notice in The Times for 31 March 1864, says he was then aged 63, which suggests that he was probably born after March, in 1800. The "Kenyon papers" at the public library at Melbourne give 1802 as his year of birth, and state that he entered the army as an ensign on 8 July 1819 and became a captain in the King's Own regiment of foot in 1834. He arrived in Sydney on 14 December 1831. In September 1836 Governor Bourke (q.v.) appointed him police magistrate at Port Phillip. His instructions were that he was given "the general superintendence in the new settlement of all such matters as require the immediate exercise of the authority of the Government". He arrived in the Rattlesnake near the mouth of the Yarra on 29 September 1836, and remained on it until 30 November while a house was being built for him. The choice of a site for the official centre of the settlement was decided by Lonsdale. He at first preferred the site of Williamstown because of its proximity to the anchorage, but not being able to obtain water there, he decided on the present site of the city. Governor Bourke visited Port Phillip in March 1837, and in a dispatch to Lord Glenelg dated 14 June reported that Lonsdale "had conducted the varied duties of his station with great ability and zeal". Lonsdale resigned from the army in March and his salary of £250 per annum was then increased to £300. He had trouble with Robert Russell (q.v.) early in 1839. Russell had begun the survey of Melbourne in November 1836, but in May 1837 Hoddle arrived from Sydney, took the survey over, and Russell later became clerk of works. Lonsdale considered he was not properly supervising the men engaged upon roads and buildings, but Russell questioned his authority in this and other matters, and in May 1839 Lonsdale was obliged to suggest that Russell should no longer be retained in the service. La Trobe (q.v.) arrived in Melbourne on 1 October 1839, and in April 1840 Lonsdale was appointed sub-treasurer at a salary of £400 a year and house. Though his salary was not large he was apparently of good financial standing as Gipps (q.v.), in his dispatch of 14 July 1840, mentions that Lonsdale had "given security to the amount of £8000". In October 1846, when La Trobe went to Tasmania to act temporarily as governor, Lonsdale took his place at Melbourne. In July 1851, when Victoria was separated from New South Wales, Lonsdale was appointed its first colonial secretary. He held this office until July 1853, when he became colonial treasurer with a salary of £1500 a year (Victorian Blue Book, 1851). He returned to England about the year 1855, and lived in retirement until his death at London on 28 March 1864. He married in April 1835 Martha, daughter of B. Smith, who survived him with two sons. Lonsdale-street, Melbourne, is named after him, and there is a portrait of him at the Mitchell library, Sydney. He was an admirable public servant, just and competent, always spoken of with respect in the chronicles of the period.
Sir Ernest Scott, The Victorian Historical Magazine, vols. IV, pp. 97-116, and VI, pp. 145-159; Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vols. XVIII, XX, XXII, XXIII, XXV; Victoria the First Century; R. D. Boys, First Years at Port Phillip; Kenyon papers, Public Library, Melbourne.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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