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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mason, Martin

by T. W. Blunden

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

Martin Mason, surgeon, magistrate and commander, arrived in Sydney on 18 July 1798 as surgeon in the Britannia, carrying female convicts. In May 1799 Governor John Hunter appointed him acting surgeon in H.M.S. Buffalo, but Philip Gidley King appointed him assistant colonial surgeon on 1 October 1800 and magistrate for the district of Parramatta and Toongabbie next January. Some months later he was sent to the Coal River to hold an inquiry, in conjunction with Ensign Francis Barrallier, into a mutiny. Corporal Wixstead had been in command there since the settlement had been established in June but he had not been able to hold the convicts in check; in September, after the inquiry, he was succeeded by Mason. Shafts were sunk to exploit better coal seams but the harsh methods which Mason employed against the convict miners provoked another mutiny and but for the intervention of Wixstead Mason would have lost his life. He was recalled to Sydney, left the Coal River on 8 December 1801 and next February returned to Toongabbie.

At the end of 1803 Mason was discharged as assistant surgeon and in 1804 began a practice at Green Hills (Windsor), probably the first private medical practice in Australia. On New Year's Day 1808 be signed an address to Governor William Bligh requesting the 'privilege of Trade' and 'Trial by Jury of the People, as in England', but when the Rum Rebellion took place on 26 January Mason and his fellow settlers on the Hawkesbury sided with the deposed governor. In an address to Lieutenant-Colonel William Paterson in April and in a letter to Bligh in August, they affirmed their loyalty to appointed authority and criticized George Johnston, Joseph Foveaux and John Macarthur. Mason was imprisoned for not obeying the officers now in control and was also charged with having an illicit still on his premises at the Hawkesbury. The evidence seems to show that he was innocent of the charge, and both Rev. Henry Fulton and William Gore contended that he was persecuted because of his sympathy with Bligh. When the deposed governor returned to England in 1810 the Hawkesbury settlers selected Mason and George Suttor as their representatives to give evidence for Bligh; their expenses were paid by public subscription until October, when with other witnesses they were allowed 15s. a day by the government. In letters to Lord Liverpool, Mason laid charges against Foveaux and Johnston, and alleged that they murdered his only son. He sought compensation from the British government for his imprisonment and loss of practice, and a grant of land for his loyalty and service. In August 1811 he was provided with a passage back to Australia in the Mary, but went ashore at Portsmouth and disappeared. He had married before coming out in 1798 and by this time appears to have had five children. He died before June 1821. His widow died at Parramatta on 24 May 1822.

Blunt and dogmatic, harsh yet efficient, Mason reflected, to a degree, the turbulent era of Australian history in which he lived. Though he lacked the subtlety to recognize such broader issues as autocratic rule and aristocratic pretensions in the developing colony, he was well aware of its penal character and of the role which appointed authority had to play in such a situation. As a magistrate, professional man and loyal private citizen he identified himself with that appointed authority and showed himself prepared to accept the consequences of his convictions.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of New South Wales, vols 4, 7
  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 3-7
  • J. C. L. Fitzpatrick, Those Were the Days (Syd, 1923)
  • W. J. Goold, ‘The Birth of Newcastle’, Newcastle and Hunter District Historical Society, Proceedings, 7 (1953).

Citation details

T. W. Blunden, 'Mason, Martin ', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 22 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

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