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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Docker, Joseph (1802–1884)

by E. Docker

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Joseph Docker (1802-1884), surgeon, landowner and politician, was born in London, the second son of Robert Docker, merchant, and his wife, née Perry. At 13 he left school and was apprenticed to Dr Thomas Docker of Dover, whose daughter Agnes he married in 1830. He joined the East India Co. as a surgeon, but resigned and went to Sydney in 1834 with his wife and son. He took up 10,000 acres (4047 ha) on Dartbrook in the Upper Hunter district, naming the estate Thornthwaite. His wife died in childbirth in 1835 and Docker went to Britain where in 1839 at Edinburgh he married Matilda Brougham. He returned to Sydney with his wife, two female cousins, a farmer and several artisans.

At Thornthwaite for thirty years he worked as a grazier and cultivator and practised his profession. He became a justice of the peace in 1842 and later chairman of the bench of magistrates at Scone. After responsible government he contested the Phillip, Brisbane and Bligh seat in the Legislative Assembly; he was defeated by a neighbour, John Robertson, but in May 1856 was appointed to the Legislative Council for five years. In 1861 when Robertson's free selection before survey bill reached the council Docker was a leading critic in the majority which opposed the measure. The government attempted to 'swamp' the council at its last sitting but the president and most members marched out leaving no quorum. When the first life appointments to the new Legislative Council were listed Docker's name was omitted and the land bill was passed in his absence. In 1863 he was appointed to the council by James Martin, in whose second ministry he became postmaster-general in January 1866 and colonial secretary in September 1868. As representative of the government he successfully piloted Parkes's public schools bill through the Legislative Council against strong opposition. From December 1870 to May 1872 he was postmaster-general in the Martin-Robertson coalition. In February 1875 when he became minister of justice and public instruction the Miners' Advocate described him as 'the weak point in the [Robertson] ministry's armour … given to old fogeyism and a desire to retard rather than advance good legislation'. However, he held office until the government was defeated in February 1877 and was then chairman of committees in the council until 1884.

Among his achievements Docker composed many songs, some of them published in England, painted in oils and water-colour, and was his own architect of Thornthwaite where he did much of the cabinet work and carved the family coat of arms on the façade of the stone steps at his front entrance. He was also an early enthusiast for photography and made most of his chemicals and apparatus. A friend once described him as the most accomplished gentleman in the colony. Docker died at his home in Sydney on 9 December 1884, aged 82. He was survived by a son of his first marriage and one daughter and six sons of the second, of whom Ernest, the eldest, became a District Court judge.

Select Bibliography

  • Miners' Advocate (Newcastle), 13 Feb 1875
  • Town and Country Journal, 27 Mar 1875, 13 Dec 1884
  • Sydney Mail, 27 Dec 1884
  • G. Lissant, Notes on the Docker Family of Westmorland (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

E. Docker, 'Docker, Joseph (1802–1884)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 20 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

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