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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sherwin, Isaac (1804–1869)

by Ann Fysh

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

Isaac Sherwin (1804-1869), merchant, was born on 24 April 1804 at Burslem, Staffordshire, England, a son of John Sherwin (1780?-1853), merchant, and his wife Elizabeth. After education in England he went at 12 to Germany, where he had five years experience in merchandising. He arrived with his family in Van Diemen's Land in January 1823 and lived on his father's grant, Sherwood, on the River Clyde near Bothwell. He went to England and Germany in 1825 and returned to Van Diemen's Land in July 1829. Next year the Sherwin home was burned to the ground by Aboriginals, and his brother John Sargent Sherwin was granted 500 acres (202 ha) for leading the four men who pursued the marauders.

In 1831 Isaac Sherwin helped to establish Cook & Sherwin, merchants in Charles Street, Launceston. In 1838 despite risk of attack by bushrangers he rode on horseback 120 miles (193 km) from Hobart Town with money and papers to establish the Launceston branch of the Commercial Bank of Tasmania and was for some years its manager. He suffered heavy losses in the depression of the 1840s and retired in 1845 to Sherwood where, with much initiative and enterprise, he installed one of the colony's first irrigation systems. A tunnel, 150 yards (137 m) long, was cut with pick and shovel through a sandstone hill above the River Clyde and the waters irrigated some 240 acres (97 ha). In March 1850 with several millers, landholders and other settlers on the Clyde he petitioned successfully for regulation of the waters of Lakes Crescent and Sorell. Back at Launceston in 1855 he was appointed the first agent in Tasmania for the Australian Mutual Provident Society. At a public meeting called to form the Launceston Gas Co. in 1858 he was elected secretary pro tem and, after the company's first meeting, a director. He was also a director of the Bank of Van Diemen's Land and an agent for the Van Diemen's Land Insurance Co.

As well as establishing many business enterprises Sherwin was an active philanthropist, with deep religious convictions. In 1831 he bought some 10 acres (4 ha) on Colonial Hill where he built Alice Place, to which he brought his bride next year. The Quaker missionaries James Backhouse and George Washington Walker were frequent house guests and held many meetings at the home of this 'thoughtful young couple'. As an enthusiastic Wesleyan, Sherwin gave a corner portion of his land for the Margaret Street chapel, built in 1838. He was one of the six founders of the Launceston Benevolent Society in 1834 and next year an original trustee of the Launceston Bank for Savings, becoming its first paid actuary in 1843-44. He was also an original trustee of the Hobart Savings Bank founded by G. W. Walker in 1845. Sherwin helped to establish the short-lived Teetotal Advocate in 1843, and on retirement as president of the Tasmanian Teetotal Society in 1845 he received a presentation in token of respect and esteem for his zealous and successful exertions in the cause. In June 1854 he was nominated a trustee and secretary of the Cornwall Free Hospital and, when it became the Launceston General Hospital, he was the first chairman of its board in 1865-69. He was also secretary of the Launceston Horticultural Society from 1857 to 1864. He died on 27 June 1869 and was buried in the Charles Street cemetery, Launceston.

In February 1832 Sherwin married Catherine Taylor of Sydney; they had four sons and three daughters. Other members of his family in Van Diemen's Land were his uncle, James Sherwin, who arrived in May 1828 and at Kangaroo Bottom set up an earthenware manufactory, known as the New Town Pottery, and his brother, George Green Sherwin, an early settler on the Huon, whose daughter Amy later became known as the 'Tasmanian Nightingale', and was Prima Donna Assoluta at Covent Garden Opera House in 1885.

Select Bibliography

  • correspondence file on Isaac Sherwin (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Ann Fysh, 'Sherwin, Isaac (1804–1869)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 29 September 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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