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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Frome, Edward Charles (1802–1890)

by B. C. Newland

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

Edward Charles Frome (1802-1890), by unknown photographer, c1880

Edward Charles Frome (1802-1890), by unknown photographer, c1880

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 6189

Edward Charles Frome (1802-1890), soldier and surveyor, was born on 7 January 1802 at Gibraltar, the son of Rev. J. T. Frome of Woodlands, Dorset, England. He was educated at Bexley and Blackheath, and at 15 entered the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. He received his commission in the Royal Engineers in 1825 (lieutenant, 1826; captain, 1840) and served on the construction of the Rideau Canal in Canada in 1827-33. Two years later he wrote his Outline of the method of conducting a trigonometrical survey (London, 1840), which ultimately went through four editions. He was the superintendent of instruction of junior Royal Engineers at Chatham when the South Australian colonization commissioners appointed him for ten years the third surveyor-general of South Australia. He arrived in Adelaide in the Recovery with his wife, their three children and a party of sappers in September 1839.

An immense task confronted him. Less than a third of the land sold by the commissioners had been surveyed, and hundreds of settlers were clamouring for their country sections, yet Frome had to give priority to the special surveys which entitled large buyers to the pick of the land throughout the province. Many of the sections already occupied near Adelaide had been inaccurately marked by (Sir) George Kingston, and their correction constantly deprived Frome's new surveys of some of his best men. Thanks to his industry, organization and care, abundant surveyed land was available for settlers by 1841, many roads and secondary towns were marked and a trigonometrical survey of the limits of settlement was completed. He was honoured by the naming after him of a road connecting North Adelaide across the parklands to the city entre; the adjoining Frome Street in the city took his name in the 1960s as part of a road extension program.

During the depression Governor (Sir) George Grey demanded the utmost economy. Frome had to reorganize a reduced department, but he lowered the surveying cost per acre from 1s. 7d. to four and one-tenth pence. He also undertook without pay the duties of colonial engineer. The older parts of the Adelaide jail, decommissioned in 1988 and later house a museum, were completed under his supervision. His bridges over the River Torrens were less enduring, two being swept away by floods in six years. In 1839-43 he was a member of the Council of Government, but showed little interest in politics. He was the first to visit the lake later named after him, and his report accurately described the poor nature of the surrounding country. He evidently liked exploring and offered to lead the 1844 expedition if Captain Charles Sturt were not available.

After depression lifted in 1845, the discovery of copper and resumption of immigration sharpened the demand for roads and surveys. Frome's duties were increased but he still found time to serve on the boards of the hospital and of the public cemetery and as a justice of the peace. Prolonged overwork weakened his health and in 1849 he returned to England. With the Royal Engineers he served in Mauritius, Heligoland, Scotland, Ireland and Gibraltar, winning promotion to major in 1851 and lieutenant-colonel in 1854, before becoming lieutenant-governor of Guernsey in 1869. He retired in 1877 with the army rank of general, and died in 1890 at Ewell in Surrey.

Frome never saw military action but served the empire well as a competent, energetic and versatile officer. He had five daughters and a son by his marriage in 1833 with Jane, the daughter of Alexander Whalley Light of the 25th Regiment. His son was killed at the battle of Kandahar in 1880. While in Adelaide, Frome attended Trinity Church. He had useful talent as an artist, but the chief value of his pictures is their historical content; three are in the South Australian National Gallery, and films of others are in the possession of the South Australian Archives and the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (South Australian Branch).

Select Bibliography

  • B. C. Newland, ‘Edward Charles Frome’, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia: South Australian Branch, vol 63, Dec 1962, pp 51-71.

Citation details

B. C. Newland, 'Frome, Edward Charles (1802–1890)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 22 September 2020.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

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

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Edward Charles Frome (1802-1890), by unknown photographer, c1880

Edward Charles Frome (1802-1890), by unknown photographer, c1880

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 6189