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Clark, Alexander Russell (1809–1894)

by Alex C. McLaren

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

Alexander Russell Clark (1809-1894), engineer, was born on 1 May 1809 at Kinghorn, Fife, Scotland, the seventh child of Andrew Clark, cartwright and ploughwright of that town, and his wife Agnes, née Peers. At birth he was registered as Alexander Clark; the additional name, Russell, appears on his tombstone and in his obituary. He served an apprenticeship, first with his father and later with Alexander Russell, an uncle of Peter Nicol Russell of Kirkaldy. Early in 1832 he married Ann, a daughter of John Inglis of Kirkaldy, and soon afterwards sailed from Liverpool in the Lavinia, arriving in Hobart Town in November.

Clark was first employed by Jackson and Addison, builders. Later he joined John Walker proprietor of the 'Steam Engine and Government Mill' on the Old Wharf. When Walker moved his mill to the corner of Barrack and Collins Streets, Clark was responsible for reinstalling the steam-engine and building a chimney some 110 feet high (33 m). From 1837 to 1841 Clark was part-owner, with John Walker and two others, of the 65-foot (20 m) steam vessel Governor Arthur. In the meantime, however, Clark commenced a flexible partnership with Henry Davidson who had started an engineering business on his arrival from Scotland in 1832. This association lasted until Davidson's death in 1861. During the short-lived boom in 1839-40 Davidson and Clark supplied and erected engines in many parts of Van Diemen's Land. They were seriously affected by the depression, but with great initiative and courage they commissioned John Watson to build a ship for which they manufactured 'a twenty-horsepower engine on a new principle', probably the first marine steam-engine made in the colony. The new paddle steamer, named appropriately the Native Youth, was launched in May 1842. Clark and Davidson retained their interest in her only until 1844.

In 1841 Clark completed a contract for the construction and installation of a 'Ten-horsepower High Pressure Steam Engine' for pumping water from the government coal-mines on Tasman Peninsula. Next year he accepted an appointment to superintend the erection of a flour treadmill at Port Arthur, which was completed in 1845. In 1846 Clark went to Launceston to supervise the construction of a water-wheel for the waterworks planned and directed by Major (Sir) Sydney Cotton. In 1848 Clark had a lease of the Tasman Peninsula mines. Clark and Davidson added sawmilling to their activities in the late 1850s. Clark retired about 1870 in favour of his sons. Engineering was later abandoned, but the sawmilling was carried on until 1921 when the business was sold to Risby Bros.

Clark was remembered as a liberal and humane man, and, although he was nominally a Presbyterian, religion did not play an important part in his life. His wife, however, was a foundation member of the Baptist Church in Tasmania and a close friend of Rev. Henry Dowling. She died in 1882, and Clark died in Hobart on 11 September 1894.

About 1860 his eldest son, John (1833-1897), began an engineering business, with particular interests in marine engineering, in Salamanca Place. He was appointed first inspector of machinery for Tasmania in 1885, and his business was purchased by Kennedy & Sons in 1919. Clark's youngest son, Andrew Inglis (1848-1907) was a lawyer, judge, politician and federalist.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Reynolds, ‘The Clarks of Rosebank’, Papers and Proceedings (Tasmanian Historical Research Association), vol 4, no 1, Jan 1955, pp 5-13
  • MacPhail's Directory of Tasmania, 1867-68
  • correspondence file under Clark (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Alex C. McLaren, 'Clark, Alexander Russell (1809–1894)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/clark-alexander-russell-1896/text2235, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 21 November 2017.

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

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