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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Tims, Martin (1750–1830)

by R. L. Wettenhall

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

Martin Tims (1750?-1830?), agriculturist, soldier and public servant, spent part of his early life in North America. There he served Colonel Philip Wharton Skene, from Hallyards, Fife, Scotland, who made his home at Skeneborough on Lake Champlain in northern New York State, became lieutenant-governor of the forts of Crown Point and Ticonderoga, and held other military, civil and judicial appointments in New York and Quebec. Tims (sometimes spelt Timms) served as bailiff and manager of 'Governor' Skene's extensive estates, where he gained experience in agriculture. These estates were confiscated during the American war of independence, and Skene recommended Tims to Major Francis Grose who was then serving in North America. Enlisting in the army, Tims eventually came to Australia as a private in the New South Wales Corps.

Posted to Norfolk Island, he was appointed a superintendent on 1 July 1792 and resigned from the corps in April 1793. Though almost illiterate he established an impeccable record, managing crop cultivation for some ten years with more than three hundred convicts in his charge and then serving as provost-marshal for another decade. He married on Norfolk Island and had his own small farm. After the closure of the settlement in 1813 he returned to England, petitioning for a pension 'as the means of Comfort and Support in his declining years', taking into account 'his infirmity and age'. Instead he received a fresh appointment as provost-marshal of Van Diemen's Land and arrived there in September 1815.

Lacking in learning and guile and well past the prime of life, he was no match for Hobart Town's complex and corrupting society. Whereas he had been a model of steadfastness on Norfolk Island, his performance in Van Diemen's Land was quite different. There were numerous disputes about his interpretation of the duties of provost-marshal, and Supreme Court verdicts were obtained against him for illegalities in the serving of process. There was never any suspicion of dishonesty on his part, but increasingly he found solace in drink. After various suspensions and admonitions he was dismissed at the end of 1818 following his attempt to have the police magistrate, Adolarius Humphrey, arrested at the gate of Government House, apparently at the suggestion of one of the latter's creditors. According to the land commissioners, 'poor old Timms … was turned out of his place, (to make way for the great Mr Beamont,) because he dared to do his duty by arresting some of the would be great Men of the day'.

He held the original grant of a farm in the Green Ponds district, but in impoverished circumstances after his dismissal was compelled to sell this cheaply to Edward Lord. A humble man who achieved much, especially in agriculture, before sinking amid the complexities of the administration of justice in Van Diemen's Land, Tims was last heard of in 1826 'dragging on a miserable existence in Hobart Town, his Wife earning a little pittance by washing Clothes'.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 1, 3, 5, 7-10, series 3, vols 2-4
  • A. McKay (ed), Journals of the Land Commissioners for Van Diemen's Land 1826-28 (Hob, 1962)
  • manuscript catalogue and correspondence file under Martin Tims (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

R. L. Wettenhall, 'Tims, Martin (1750–1830)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 22 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Timms, Martin