The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Brisbane, General Sir Thos. Makdougall

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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography by Philip Mennell
Brisbane, General Sir Thos. Makdougall

Brisbane, General Sir Thos. Makdougall, Bart., G.C.B., G.C.H., D.C.L., sometime Governor of New South Wales, was descended from the ancient family of the Brisbanes of Brisbane, Ayrshire, and was born on July 23rd, 1773, at Brisbane House, Largs, the seat of his father, Thomas Brisbane, his mother being Eleanor, daughter of Sir Wm. Bruce. He entered the army in 1789 as ensign in the 38th Infantry, stationed in Ireland, where he became acquainted with the Duke of Wellington, then a lieutenant in a cavalry regiment. In 1793 Captain Brisbane took part in all the affairs of the Flanders campaign from St. Amand to Nimeguen, and in 1796 he served in the West Indies, under Sir Ralph Abercromby. In 1810 he was appointed Assistant Adjutant-General to the staff at Canterbury, which he held till he obtained command of a brigade under the Duke of Wellington, whom he joined at Coimbra in 1812, and under whom he served during the remainder of the Peninsular war. At the battle of the Nive he highly distinguished himself, and for his bravery received the thanks of Parliament. In 1813, on the recommendation of the Duke of Wellington, Sir Thomas was appointed to a command in Canada, and in 1821 was nominated to succeed General Macquarie as Governor of New South Wales, where he remained four years, viz., from Dec. 1821 to Dec. 1825. In New South Wales he improved the condition of the convicts, substituting useful labour for the treadmill and giving them tickets of leave for good conduct. He was mainly, however, a man of science, and established an observatory at Parramatta, where he is said to have fixed the positions of and catalogued 7,385 stars, hitherto scarcely known to astronomers. For his work "The Brisbane Catalogue of Stars" he received the Copley medal from the Royal Society, and the universities of Cambridge and Oxford conferred on him honorary degrees. During his term of office in New South Wales, he introduced good breeds of horses into the colony at his own expense, and encouraged the cultivation of the sugar-cane, vines, tobacco, and cotton. His government is memorable as inaugurating free immigration on a large scale. To arrivals who paid their passages to the Colony he gave every encouragement to settle. He conferred on them grants of land, and assigned to them as many prisoners as they were able to employ. Very speedily, as Mr. Blair narrates, the fine lands of the colony were covered with flocks and herds, and the applications for prisoners became so numerous that at one time two thousand more were demanded than could be supplied. Hence began an important change in the colony. The costly Government farms were one after another broken up, and the prisoners assigned to the squatters. The unremunerative public works were abandoned, which all tended to good, as when the convicts were thus scattered they were more manageable and more likely to reform, than when gathered in large crowds. In Macquarie's time not one prisoner in ten could be usefully employed; seven or eight years after, there was not a prisoner in the colony whose services were not eagerly sought and well paid for by the squatters. The area of cleared land was thus doubled, and the export of wool quintupled. Financially, however, he was not an administrative success, and this led to his early recall. On his return from Australia, Sir Thomas established an astronomical and magnetic observatory at Makerstown, and published three large volumes of observations in the "Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh." He was created a baronet in 1836 and G.C.B. in 1837, and in 1841 was made a general in the army. On the death of Sir Walter Scott he was also elected President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He founded two gold medals as rewards for scientific merit in connection with the Royal Society and the Society of Arts respectively. He died at his residence, Brisbane House, Largs, Ayrshire, on Jan. 27th, 1860. The capital of the colony of Queensland is named after him. Sir Thomas married, in 1819, Anna Maria, daughter of Sir Henry Hay Makdougall, but left no surviving issue. During his peninsular campaigns he took regular observations with a pocket sextant, and, as the Duke of Wellington said, "kept the time of the army." As showing his ruling bent, it is related of him that, whilst sheathing his sword after the Battle of Vittoria, he exclaimed, looking round from a lofty eminence, "What a glorious site for an observatory!"