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Sir Thomas Brisbane
1773 – 1860


23 July 1773 at Brisbane House in Noddsdale, near Largs in Ayrshire, Scotland, the son of Sir Thomas Brisbane and Dame Eleanora Brisbane.
Early Years

Brisbane was educated in astronomy and mathematics at the University of Edinburgh.

He joined the British Army the 38th (1st Staffordshire) Regiment of Foot in 1789 and had a distinguished career in Flanders, the West Indies, Spain and North America.

He served under the Duke of Wellington, and in 1813 he was promoted to Major-General.

He saw much action during the Peninsular War, including leading a brigade in the 3rd Division that broke through at Battle of Vitoria and continued as a brigade leader in the War of 1812, where in 1814 he led a brigade at the Battle of Plattsburgh, which Brisbane claimed they could have won if they had been allowed to launch a full infantry attack.

During the battle, he used the Charles C. Platt Homestead as his headquarters.]

For his services in the Peninsula, Brisbane received the Army Gold Cross with one clasp for the battles of Vitoria, the Pyrenees, Nivelle, Orthez, and Toulouse; and the silver war medal with one clasp for the Nive.

He married Anna Maria Makdougall in November 1819.
Governor of New South Wales

In 1821, on the recommendation of Wellington, Brisbane was appointed Governor of New South Wales, a post he held until 1825.

While Governor he tackled the many problems of a rapidly growing and expanding colony working to improve the land grants system and to reform the currency.

He set up the first agricultural training college in New South Wales and was the first patron of the New South Wales Agricultural Society.

He conducted experiments in growing tobacco, cotton, coffee and New Zealand flax in the colony.

Brisbane took over the government on 1 December 1821, and at once proceeded to carry out some of the reforms recommended in the report of John Thomas Bigge.

Brisbane did not always receive loyal support from his administrative officers, and in particular from Frederick Goulburn, the colonial secretary.

A reference to Brisbane's dispatch to Earl Bathurst dated 14 May 1825 shows that Bigge's recommendations had been carefully considered, and that many improvements had been made.

Brisbane did not limit his attention to Bigge's report. and early in April 1822 he discovered with some surprise the ease with which grants of land had hitherto been obtained.

He immediately introduced a new system under which every grant had the stipulation that for every 100 acres (400,000 m2) granted the grantee would maintain free of expense to the crown one convict labourer.

He also encouraged agriculture on government land, streamlined granting of tickets of leave and pardons and introduced, in 1823, a system of calling for supplies by tender.

When Dr. Robert Wardell and William Wentworth brought out their paper the Australian in 1824, Brisbane tried the experiment of allowing full latitude of the freedom of the press.

Moreton Bay

In 1823 Brisbane sent Lieutenant John Oxley to find a new site for convicts who were repeat offenders.

Oxley discovered a large river flowing into Moreton Bay.

A year later, the first convicts arrived at Moreton Bay. Brisbane visited the settlement in 1826.

Oxley suggested that both the river and the settlement be named after Brisbane.

The convict settlement was declared a town in 1834 and opened to free settlement in 1839.

Faction Fights

Brisbane was doing useful work, but he could not escape the effects of the constant faction fights which also plagued previous governors.

Henry G. Douglass, the assistant-surgeon, was the centre of one of the bitter conflicts.

Consequently, charges of various kinds against Brisbane were sent to England.

The worst of these, that he had connived at sending female convicts to Emu Plains for immoral purposes, was investigated by William Stewart, the lieutenant-governor, John Stephen, assistant judge, and the Rev. William Cowper, senior assistant-chaplain, and found to be without the slightest foundation.

Brisbane discovered that Goulburn, the colonial secretary, had been withholding documents from him and answering some without reference to the governor, and in 1824 reported his conduct to Lord Bathurst.

In reply, Bathurst recalled both the governor and the colonial secretary in dispatches dated 29 December 1824.

Return to Scotland

Brisbane left Sydney in December 1825 and returned to Scotland.

In 1826 he added the name of Makdougall before Brisbane, and settled down to the life of a country gentleman and took interest in science, his estate, and his regiment.

He was elected president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1832) in succession to Sir Walter Scott, and in 1836 he was created a baronet.

In the same year he was offered the command of the troops stationed in Canada and two years later the chief command in India, but declined both.

He continued his astronomical researches, and did valuable work.


Brisbane died much respected and honoured on 27 January 1860 in Largs.

His four children predeceased him.

He is buried in the Brisbane Aisle Vault, which is in the small kirkyard next to Skelmorlie Aisle, Largs Old Kirk.


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