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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Roper, John (1822–1895)

by Peter Orlovich

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

John Roper (1822?-1895), explorer and civil servant, was brought up at Gayton Thorpe, Norfolk, England, son of Thomas Roper and his wife Frances, née Nurse. He migrated to New Zealand and from June to November 1842 was employed by Willis & Co. of Wellington. Hoping for better prospects in Sydney and to meet his 'cousin Flower' of Flower, Salting & Co., he arrived in Sydney in the Bright Planet on 25 January 1843.

Employed by A. W. Scott on Ash Island, Roper met Ludwig Leichhardt and attached himself to his Port Essington expedition. The party left Sydney in the Sovereign for Moreton Bay on 13 August 1844 and Jimbour, the furthest out-station on the Darling Downs, on 1 October. Brash, no bushman and 'at all times foolhardy' according to John Gilbert, Roper got lost in the bush more than once and on 10 May 1845 was kicked in the chest while trying to catch his horse by its tail. On 28 June he was wounded and lost an eye when the party was attacked by Aboriginals. They reached Port Essington on 17 December and returned to Sydney in the Heroine on 25 March 1846. Roper and J. S. Calvert each received £125 from the government. Leichhardt told his brother-in-law that 'Roper was an inexperienced and limited young man who seemed to consider it beneath his dignity to obey me'.

In 1847-53 Roper was clerk of Petty Sessions at Albury and for a time postmaster and registrar of the Court of Requests. He began to acquire land in and near Albury and on 1 July 1857 he became a magistrate. Active in the town's affairs, he was a founding alderman on the Albury Municipal Council in 1859, a member of the provisional committee of the Albury Co-operative Storekeepers' Association, president of the Albury and Murray River Agricultural and Horticultural Society, vice-chairman of the Albury Hospital committee and president of the Albury Jockey Club. In 1860 W. A. Macdonagh tried to get him struck off the roll of magistrates for 'living in a state of undisguised and shameless adultery' with his housekeeper but the police magistrate claimed that their 'improper intimacy' had not affected his social position; the housekeeper was discharged. On 18 December 1861 Roper wrote to his brother William that he had 'just completed a very handsome store' which he hoped would have an annual turnover of £10,000.

Mayor of Albury in 1862, Roper was forced to resign from the council on 29 October and, 'as a landowner and farmer', was declared bankrupt. His estate was not released until 1873. On 9 April 1868 he became a sheep inspector at Merriwa at £250 a year.

Roper claimed to have kept a log on the Port Essington expedition but was unable to produce it or any other papers when pressed to do so by the Geographical Society of Australasia in 1884. In 1888 he complained to J. F. Mann of Leichhardt's conduct and character and said that he had never heard whether any profits had accrued from the publication of Leichhardt's journal, which did 'not accord with my idea of honour'.

After six months' leave of absence Roper retired on 6 October 1893 with a pension of £120 4s. 'Genial, hearty, vigorous' in old age, he died on 15 September 1895 aged 73 at his home Roseberry Park near Merriwa and was buried in the Anglican cemetery. He left his estate of £708 to his housekeeper, Lydia Anne Witney. Leichhardt named Roper's Peak, in the Peak Range, and the Roper River after him.

Select Bibliography

  • A. H. Chisholm, Strange New World (Syd, 1941)
  • M. Aurousseau (ed), The Letters of F. W. Ludwig Leichhardt (Cambridge, 1968) and for bibliography.

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Peter Orlovich, 'Roper, John (1822–1895)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 22 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

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