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Wintle, Samuel Henry (1830–1909)

by Gillian Winter

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Samuel Henry Wintle (1830-1909), scholar, publicist and poet, was born on 16 September 1830 in Hobart Town, elder son of Samuel James Wintle, a shoemaker and tanner who had arrived in Van Diemen's Land in 1823, and his wife Ann Mary, née Magill. Samuel James's brother Henry, known as Melville, changed his surname, possibly as a journalistic nom de plume but also perhaps because of his brother's modest place in society. In 1839 the family moved to Sydney, where young Samuel's sister Mary Harriet Gedye (1834-1876) later became a well-known artist. Wintle's scientific education, probably acquired in Sydney, was 'limited and faulty' and his understanding of basic geological concepts and methods 'weak'. After the death of his father in 1854 Wintle returned to Hobart.

Hailed as the first 'native mechanic' to address the Mechanics' Institute (of which he was a keen supporter), in June 1860 Wintle delivered a paper that reconciled geology with religion. In 1863 he was elected to the Royal Society of Tasmania, to which he read several papers. Cultivating leaders in the field of geology, including Rev. W. B. Clarke and (Sir) Frederick McCoy, to whom he sent specimens, in the 1860s and 1870s Wintle published numerous articles (particularly concerning fossils, coal, tin, iron and gold) in newspapers and journals in Tasmania and other colonies. At least one appeared in the Journal of the Geological Society of London, having been forwarded by Sir Roderick Murchison. The articles were not received uncritically, nor was his florid prose style admired by the Hobart Town Punch. In 1866 Wintle exhibited geological specimens at the Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition and next year he advertised collections of geological specimens and a geological panorama of Hobart.

According to James Bonwick Wintle 'laboured freely and nobly in the cause of science', and similar tributes were paid by R. M. Johnston and by Julian Tenison-Woods who, in 1873, named a Table Cape fossil in Wintle's honour. The 'agreeable local geologist' Mr Wanfel in Bonwick's novel The Tasmanian Lily (London, 1873) was probably a portrait of Wintle. During the 1870s he explored the north-east of the colony, probably as a mining prospector and promoter, achieving some financial success.

As a social commentator, Wintle was also controversial. His letter in the Tasmanian Times, concerning the visit of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, in 1867, attracted derision. One of the few Tasmanians to publish comments on the serialized novel His Natural Life (1870-71), he criticized the author Marcus Clarke for bringing the police force into disrepute. A collection of Wintle's poems, Fragments of Fern Fronds (Launceston, 1870), was dedicated to Governor Du Cane; in 1880 his Wayside Sketches in Tasmania was published in Melbourne.

Elected a fellow of the Linnean Society, London, in 1880, Wintle listed his interests as entomology and geology. He failed in an application for the curatorship of the Royal Society of Tasmania's museum in 1883 and moved to Melbourne, where he continued to publish articles, including seven in the Victorian Naturalist. He visited Tasmania periodically, where he had acquired property, emulating his uncle Richard Cleburne. Wintle, who did not marry, died on 3 January 1909 in East Melbourne and was buried with Methodist forms in Spring Vale cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Tasmanian Messenger, July 1860, p 358
  • Mercury (Hobart), 20 Mar 1861, p 3, 23 Dec 1871, p 3, 6 Jan 1872, p 2
  • private information.

Citation details

Gillian Winter, 'Wintle, Samuel Henry (1830–1909)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/wintle-samuel-henry-13252/text3639, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 23 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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