PIPER, John (1773-1851)


PIPER, John (1773-1851)
pioneer
was born at Maybole, Ayrshire, Scotland, in 1773, the son of Hugh Piper, a doctor of Cornish descent. In April 1791 he entered the army as an ensign in the New South Wales Corps, and he arrived at Sydney in the Pitt in February 1792. In 1793 he was sent to Norfolk Island and by 1795 had become a lieutenant. He went to Europe on leave in 1797, returned to Sydney in 1799, and in 1800 received the local rank of captain. He was friendly with John Macarthur (q.v.) and acted as his second in the duel with Paterson (q.v.) in September 1801. Piper was put under arrest and there was some intention of sending him to be tried in England. He was, however, tried by court-martial at Sydney and acquitted. At the beginning of 1804 he went to Norfolk Island again and in September, when Foveaux (q.v.) left the island on sick leave, was appointed acting-commandant. Joseph Holt (q.v.), who had been sent to Norfolk Island merely on suspicion of having been concerned with the abortive rebellion in April, was very grateful to Piper for releasing him from working as a convict. He described Piper as a "perfect gentleman and excellent officer". But the expense of maintaining Norfolk Island was too great, it was gradually evacuated, and Piper left for Sydney towards the end of 1809. His mild rule of the settlement was much to his credit, but he was fortunate in not being at Sydney during the deposition of Bligh. He went to England in September 1811 and in May 1813 was appointed naval officer at Port Jackson. Piper resigned from the army and arrived at Sydney in February 1814. His office developed into a combination of being in charge of the custom house, harbour trust and water police. He collected the harbour dues and customs duties, and was paid a commission of 5 per cent on the amount collected. With Sydney increasing rapidly in importance as a port his fees rose rapidly, and he eventually received £4000 a year or more. He also received various grants of land and built a beautiful house near Point Piper which became a centre of hospitality in Sydney. Piper was interested in horse-racing and aquatics and he spent much money on relatives and friends less fortunate than himself. He became chairman of directors of the Bank of New South Wales, a member of many committees, and a magistrate. But he was of too easy-going a disposition to be able to also attend properly to his duties as naval officer, and in spite of his large income had private money difficulties. Soon after the arrival of Governor Darling in December 1825, inquiries were held into the conduct of the bank and of the naval office, and neither turned out satisfactorily for Piper. The bank had made large advances to the friends of the directors, and the staff of the naval office was found to be inadequate and many duties had not been collected. Piper was superseded and attempted to commit suicide by jumping out of his boat. He was rescued by one of his men in an unconscious state but recovered.
Piper was almost a ruined man. He had many properties, but it was a bad time for selling them and some realized much below their value. His friends stood by him, and enough was saved from the wreck for him to make a fresh start on his property of 2000 acres, Alloway Bank near Bathurst. A house was built and in 1829 Governor Darling and his wife paid the Pipers a visit, thus demonstrating that dishonesty had not been the cause of Piper's disaster. If he had been constitutionally able to live within his income his station might have been very successful. It certainly gave Piper and his family a good living for many years. But he had no reserves, and when the depression of 1844 came he lost Alloway Bank. All that was left was a fund in the hands of W. C. Wentworth (q.v.). This had been subscribed at the time of the first crash by some of Piper's friends, and with it a property of 500 acres was secured at Westbourne. Piper was now over 70, and at Westbourne he gradually faded out of life. He died there on 8 June 1851. He married Mary Ann Shears, who survived him with a large family of sons and daughters. When Piper died he was already almost forgotten, his biographers searched in vain for obituary notices in the newspapers. Yet during the eighteen-twenties he was one of the best-known men in Sydney. His misfortunes largely arose from his lack of business sense, and an inability to say no to people who sponged on him. But it was also said of him that he was "too noble-minded to desire to make a fortune from the labour of the settler, the plunder of the soldier, or from the sweat of the convict's brow" (Holt).
M. Barnard Eldershaw, The Life and Times of Captain John Piper; Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vols. III to XIII; T. Crofton Croker, Memoir of Joseph Holt; Philip H. Morton, Journal and Proceedings Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. XV, pp. 368-79; Flora Eldershaw, ibid, vol. XXVI, pp. 479-98.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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