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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Casey, Cornelius Gavin (1810–1896)

by F. C. Green

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

Cornelius Gavin Casey (1810-1896), surgeon, was born in Liverpool, England, the son of Bartholomew Casey, merchant. He came from London to Van Diemen's Land in August 1833, as surgeon in the immigrant ship Sir John Rae Reid, and was appointed assistant colonial surgeon on arrival. In January 1834 he was posted to the penal settlement at Port Arthur, which included a penal substation at Saltwater River coal-mine, and in February was made a justice of the peace. Casey and the commandant, Captain Charles O'Hara Booth, together explored Tasman Peninsula and were once lost for several days. Men working together in isolated surroundings have difficulty in avoiding quarrels, and in 1838 the commandant reported to the colonial secretary that an 'unpleasantry' had occurred between him and Casey. Booth admitted that nobody could have been more zealous and attentive to his duties, but requested that Casey be transferred to another district.

Casey was sent to New Norfolk in 1838, and next year married Letitia, daughter of Arthur Gardiner, police magistrate. In 1843 he was appointed to the staff of the Hobart General Hospital and in 1844 to the Medical Court of Examiners, for whom he acted as secretary for many years. It was not long before he was in conflict with superior officers at the hospital. Charges by Casey and counter-charges against him were made; a board, appointed to investigate, reported unfavourably on his antagonism to superior officers and his overbearing behaviour to others. Thereupon the lieutenant-governor directed that Casey be transferred to some other post.

Casey resigned and went into private practice in Hobart, but in 1848 he was appointed medical officer to the gaol, watch-house and police at Launceston. Here again he met trouble when he removed a woman, who was in gaol awaiting trial, to the lying-in ward of the Female House of Correction; the woman was in labour and soon gave birth to a child. The sheriff reported the matter to the lieutenant-governor, who found Casey's motives good, but his action illegal, and warned him to be more careful of his conduct. Casey again resigned and went into private practice. He also became a member of the Licensing Court, and in that capacity was defamed by Moore, proprietor of the People's Advocate. Casey initiated an action of criminal libel, and Moore was indicted for having published a scandalous and malicious libel upon a justice of the peace. The jury brought in a verdict of not guilty, but added a rider recommending the editor to exercise more discretion in the future.

Casey continued in private practice until 1863 when his wife died. He then left the colony with his 16-year-old son, and spent most of the remainder of his life in Victoria, where he married again. At Launceston he had invested in land on the north-west coast, including fifteen acres (6 ha) on the River Mersey, where much of the business section of the town of Devonport now stands. From Victoria in the 1880s he also invested in the silver-lead field of the Zeehan area. His son, Richard Gardiner, became a Queensland pastoralist, a member of the Queensland parliament, and chairman of the Mount Morgan Goldmining Co., of Goldsbrough, Mort & Co. and of the Walter and Eliza Hall Trust.

Casey died in Melbourne on 2 August 1896. Richard Gardiner, Baron Casey is a grandson.

Select Bibliography

  • F. C. Green, ‘Cornelius Gavin Casey’, Papers and Proceedings (Tasmanian Historical Research Association), vol 9, no 1, Feb 1961, pp 16-27
  • People's Advocate (Launceston), 31 Dec 1855
  • C. O'Hara Booth diary (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • Casey letters (Queen Victoria Museum, Launceston, Tasmania).

Citation details

F. C. Green, 'Casey, Cornelius Gavin (1810–1896)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 30 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

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