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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Davis, William (1821–1910)

by Lyall Gillespie

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

William Davis (1821-1910), pastoralist and sportsman, was born on 13 November 1821 at Bloxham, Tiverton, Devonshire, England, fourth of eleven children of William Davis and his wife Jane Elizabeth, née Weston. Young William was educated at the Blue Coat School, London. His elder brother John and sister Mary travelled to Australia with a family friend Bishop William Broughton. William arrived in Sydney in the Alfred on 31 December 1837; his parents and other siblings migrated in 1842.

Employed as a clerk with the Commercial Banking Co. of Sydney, Davis later took charge of the Goulburn branch. His first pastoral experience was with Charles Campbell, as overseer of Duntroon at Limestone Plains (Canberra). With his brother Henry, Davis overlanded cattle to Adelaide in 1847. He then established a cattle station in Gippsland, Victoria, for G. T. Palmer. Returning to New South Wales about 1849, Davis managed Ginninderra for Palmer, whose daughter Susan Adriana he married on 11 April 1850 at the Church of St John the Baptist, Canberra.

In 1854 Susan inherited the estate and Davis, its trustee and manager, became known as 'the Squire of Ginninderra'. Writing in the Golden Age (Queanbeyan) in 1863, James Wood commended him for the best-ordered establishment he had seen in the colony: 'everything seems to work by clockwork . . . and the people of the estate seem to partake of the order around them'. In 1865 Davis grew an excellent wheat crop from the seed of a newly introduced, rust-resistant strain from Adelaide. He owned successful racehorses and hunters and judged blood horses at important shows. A crack shot and renowned prizewinner, he won the Goulburn Gun Club's trophy in the 1890s when he was well over 70.

Davis's greatest local fame sprang from his passion for cricket, a game he introduced to the district in the early 1850s. His almost unbeaten team included three Aborigines—Jimmy and Johnny Taylor and Bobby Hamilton—justly regarded as the star players. In 1864 the Ginninderra eleven played the combined Queanbeyan and Bungendore elevens and still won. Davis added to the excitement of the matches and public occasions with dinners, balls, brass bands and fireworks. In 1851-77 he was a warden of St John's. Largely due to his efforts, St Paul's combined church and school, Ginninderra, was built in 1862. That year Davis built a new home, not far from Ginninderra, naming it Gungahline.

A generous and considerate employer, in 1857 Davis had established a school in a room in old Ginninderra on the estate and about two years later introduced a weekly half-day holiday for his employees, championing the introduction of such a holiday throughout the district. A justice of the peace, he sat on the Queanbeyan Bench of Magistrates. Davis had no children. His nephew Henry William Ernest Palmer, whom he had virtually adopted, was killed in 1877 and the Davises soon moved to Woodhouselee near Goulburn. His wife died in 1902. In his last years William was living with his niece May McKay whom he regarded as his adopted daughter. He died on 13 July 1910 at Brisbane Grove and was buried with Anglican rites in St Saviour's Cathedral's cemetery, Goulburn.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Gillespie, Ginninderra, Forerunner to Canberra (Canb, 1992)
  • Pastoralists’ Review, 15 Aug 1910, p 626
  • Golden Age (Queanbeyan), 12 Mar 1863, p 2
  • Goulburn Evening Penny Post, 14 July 1910, p 2
  • Canberra Times, 31 May 1980, p 13, 16 Jan 1982, p 15
  • private information.

Citation details

Lyall Gillespie, 'Davis, William (1821–1910)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 25 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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