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Sir William Thomas Denison
3 May 1804 – 19 January 1871

 


Born
3 May 1804, the third son of John Denison, of Ossington, M.P. for Chichester in London, England
Educated
He was educated at Eton College and the Royal Military College and entered the Royal Engineers in 1826
Married
In November 1838 he married Caroline Hornby.
Early Life

Lt. Denison was one of the junior Royal Engineers who worked under Lt. Colonel John By, RE on the Rideau Canal in Upper Canada (1826–1832).

Denison carried out experiments under the direction of Lt. Col. By to determine the strength, for construction purposes of the old growth Canadian timber in the vicinity of Bytown.

His findings were published by the Institution of Civil Engineers in England who bestowed upon him the prestigious Telford Medal in silver.

Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen's Land

Denison was offered the position of Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen's Land in 1846, and arrived at Hobart on 25 January 1847.

He was Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen's Land from 1847 to 1855, Governor of New South Wales from 20 January 1855 to 22 January 1861, and Governor of Madras from 1861 to 1866.

In his early days in Tasmania he spoke too frankly about the colonists in communications which he regarded as confidential, and this accentuated the feeling against him as a representative of the colonial office during the anti-transportation and responsible government movements.

He showed great interest in the life of the colony, and helped to foster education, science and trade, during the period when Tasmania was developing into a prosperous colony.

The Anti-Transportation League

In 1846, Grey's predecessor, Gladstone had suspended transportation of males to Tasmania for two years, and Grey had erroneously given the impression in dispatches to Denison that it would not be resumed, and Denison had passed thisview on to the Legislative Council.

Subsequently, the British Government began sending convicts in large numbers.

The Anti-Transportation League formed to oppose transportation had the support of nearly all the leading colonists of Tasmania, and as the other colonies took the same stand success became certain. The last ship with convicts for Tasmania sailed towards the end of 1852.

Governor of New South Wales

In September 1854 he received word that he had been appointed Governor of New South Wales, and when he left Hobart on 13 January 1855 he received a cheque for £2000 from the colonists to purchase a piece of plate as a memento of his sojourn among them.

After correspondence with the Secretary of State he was allowed to accept this.

One of his last official acts was to support the Legislative Council's request that the colony's name be changed to Tasmania.

In 1856, Denison became both Governor of New South Wales and "Governor-General in and over all our Colonies of New South Wales, Van Diemen's Land, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia", a new title, which implied a role in encouraging co-operation between the colonies.

In response to the Crimean War, he strengthened Sydney's defences, strengthening the batteries on Dawes Point and building Fort Denison. He inaugurated the bicameral system of representative government in New South Wales and showed wisdom and tact in his dealings with the problems which arose, including the handing of executive power to the new Parliament.

He successfully opposed the Colonial Office's initial decision to put New England and the Clarence Valley in the new colony of Queensland.

In 1859, he appointed Queensland's first Legislative Council and began the process of electing a Legislative Assembly, inaugurated on 22 May 1860.

While he opened the colony's first railway in 1855, he ignored the problem of different rail gauges despite his role as Governor-General, although he was more active in developing arrangements for paying for postal connections with the United Kingdom, ameliorating inter-colonial tariffs and co-operation over the provision of lighthouses.

Norfolk Island

Denison was responsible for closing the penal colony on Norfolk Island and for resettling the mutineers of the Bounty from Pitcairn Island.

He initially instructed that the Island, except for certain public reserves would be vested in the Pitcairners, and was then forced by the Colonial Office to withdraw the vesting of land, leading to a lasting grievance.

When visiting New Zealand gave sensible advice to Colonel Gore Browne, which if followed, might have averted the New Zealand land wars.

In November 1860 he received word that he had been appointed governor of Madras, and left Sydney on 22 January 1861.

Died
19 January 1871 aged 66 at East Sheen, Surrey, England


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