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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Williamson, James (1758–1826)

by B. H. Fletcher

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

James Williamson (1758-1826), public servant and landholder, came to New South Wales in September 1795 with Governor John Hunter who was impressed by his knowledge of book-keeping and gave him control of the commissariat in August 1796. His conduct when in office was open to serious reproach: smallholders complained that he discriminated against them and Governor Philip Gidley King alleged that he was one of the officers who made a fortune from private trade. Certainly he advanced his material interests; by August 1800 he owned 359 acres (145 ha) of land and 419 head of stock including 320 sheep, one of the largest flocks in the settlement. A month later he returned to England with Hunter. While in London he seized the opportunity to invest £925 in a speculative cargo valued at £10,000 which was dispatched to New South Wales in the brig Venus. With Hunter's assistance he secured an appointment as deputy-commissary and much to King's displeasure came back to New South Wales in 1802, commencing duties at Parramatta in October.

Restored to the ranks of officialdom Williamson also resumed control of his farm which he had left in the care of an emancipist, John Brannon. Some of his possessions, however, he had sold and, although he soon acquired more land than he had hitherto owned, he had not by 1806 regained his position as a stock raiser. On the other hand his civic responsibilities broadened and by the time of the Rum Rebellion he was a magistrate and lieutenant-commandant of the Parramatta Loyal Association.

After the deposition of Governor William Bligh Williamson was placed in charge of the commissariat. On 3 September 1808, however, Lieutenant-Governor Joseph Foveaux dismissed him and charged him with fraud. This ended his official career. Early in 1810 he begged Governor Lachlan Macquarie to restore him to his former post but to no avail. Dispirited, he left for England with Bligh on 12 May and later gave evidence on his behalf at Lieutenant-Colonel George Johnston's court martial. In April 1817 he returned to New South Wales as a free settler, and received an 800-acre (324 ha) grant at Cabramatta. He appears to have remained a farmer until he died on 15 February 1826.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of New South Wales, vols 2-7
  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 1-9
  • Proceedings of a General Court-Martial … for the Trial of Lieut.-Col. Geo. Johnston (Lond, 1811)
  • M. H. Ellis, John Macarthur (Syd, 1955)
  • manuscript catalogue under J. Williamson (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

B. H. Fletcher, 'Williamson, James (1758–1826)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 30 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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