The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Bourke, General Sir Richard

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Bourke, General Sir Richard, K.C.B., sometime Governor of New South Wales, eldest son of John Bourke, of Thornfield, co. Limerick, Ireland, by his marriage with Anne, daughter of Edmund Ryan, of Boscobel, co. Tipperary, was born on May 4th, 1778, and educated at Westminster School and Oxford University, where he matriculated at Oriel College in 1793, and graduated B.A. at Exeter in 1798. Sir Richard, who succeeded to his father's property in 1795, entered the army in 1798, and served with great distinction in Holland in the next year's campaign, being severely wounded in the face. After being, for a short time, Superintendent of the Military College at Marlow, he was appointed Quartermaster-General in South America in 1806, and in the following year was present at the storming of Monte Video. He served in the Peninsular year from 1809 to 1814, was raised to the rank of major-general in 1821, and acted as Lieut.-Governor of the Cape of Good Hope from 1826 to 1828. Sir Richard assumed office as Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief of New South Wales and its dependencies in Dec. 1831, and held the reins until Dec. 1837, when he left the colony amidst the regrets of the people. Sir Richard, who was created K.C.B. in 1835, and was made colonel of the 64th regiment on his leaving New South Wales in 1837, became lieut.-general in Jan. 1851, and general in November of the same year. He was one of the witnesses to the will of the Right Hon. Edmund Burke, with whom he claimed kinship; and he edited, in conjunction with Charles, 5th Earl Fitzwilliam, an edition of that great statesman's correspondence. Sir Richard, who was High Sheriff of co. Limerick in 1839, married, on March 1st, 1800, Elizabeth Jane, youngest daughter of John Bourke, of Carshalton, Surrey, Receiver-General of the Land Tax for Middlesex, by his wife, Mary Battye of Yorkshire. This lady died at Parramatta, N.S.W. on May 7th, 1832, and was interred there. Sir Richard died on August 12th, 1855, at his seat at Thornfield, where his only surviving son Richard resided. A monument was erected to Sir Richard Bourke's memory in the Domain, Sydney, the inscription on which well summarises his services as Governor of New South Wales, at a time when the Queen's representatives in Australia were allowed a much greater initiative than is the case at present. It runs as follows: "This statue of Lieutenant-General Sir Richard Bourke, K.C.B., is erected by the people of New South Wales, to record his able, honest, and benevolent administration from 1831 to 1837. Selected for the government at a period of singular difficulty, his judgment, urbanity, and firmness justified the choice. Comprehending at once the vast resources peculiar to this colony, he applied them, for the first time, systematically to its benefit. He voluntarily divested himself of the prodigious influence arising from the assignment of penal labour, and enacted just and salutary laws for the amelioration of penal discipline. He was the first Governor who published satisfactory accounts of public receipts and expenditure. Without oppression or detriment to any interest he raised the revenue to a vast amount, and from its surplus realised extensive plans of immigration. He established religions equality on a just and firm basis, and sought to provide for all, without distinction of sect, a sound and adequate system of national education. He constructed various public works of permanent utility. He founded the flourishing settlement of Port Phillip, and threw open the wilds of Australia to pastoral enterprise. He established savings banks, and was the patron of the first Mechanics' Institute. He created an equitable tribunal for determining upon claims to grants of lands. He was the warm friend of the liberty of the Press. He extended trial by jury after its almost total suspension for many years. By these, and numerous other measures for the moral, religious and general improvement of all classes he raised the colony to unexampled prosperity, and retired amid the reverent and affectionate regret of the people, having won their confidence by his integrity, their gratitude by his services, their admiration by his public talents, and their esteem by his private worth." Sir Richard, though in the first instance he discountenanced the formation of a settlement at Port Phillip, ultimately induced the Home Government to recognise it. In 1837 he visited the incipient colony, and was the author of most of its existing nomenclature, giving the present names to Hobson's Bay, and the city of Melbourne itself, and his own family designation to the metropoltian county, and to one of the principal streets of the embryo capital of what was to become the great colony of Victoria.