WILMOT, Sir John Eardley Eardley (1783-1847)


WILMOT, Sir John Eardley Eardley (1783-1847)
governor of Tasmania
son of John Wilmot and grandson of Sir John Eardley Wilmot, chief justice of the court of common pleas, was born in England on 21 February 1783. He was educated at Harrow and was called to the bar in 1806 (Dict. Nat. Biog.), was created a baronet in 1821, and in 1822 published An Abridgment of Blackstone's Commentaries. This was followed in 1827 by A Letter to the Magistrates of England on the Increase of Crime, by Sir Eardley Eardley-Wilmot, Bart. F.R.S., F.L.S. and F.S.A. He was a member of the house of commons for some years, in March 1843 was appointed lieutenant-governor of Tasmania, and arrived at Hobart on 17 August. He probably owed his position to the interest he had taken in the subject of crime; his plea that prisoners under the age of 21 should be segregated and a special endeavour made to reform them suggests that he was in advance of his period. Soon after his arrival he came into conflict with one of the judges by reprieving a prisoner sentenced to be hanged. His justification was that he would not inflict death for offences not on the records of the court, and that in this case only robbery had been proved. He visited various parts of the island and seemed likely to be a popular governor. Many prisoners were arriving, expenses were rising, and the governor was much hampered by instructions received from the colonial office. He endeavoured to raise the duties on sugar, tea and other foreign goods, but the opposition from the colonists was great and the new taxes were withdrawn. The colonial office was unable to understand that convict labour could not be made to pay its way, and Wilmot was made responsible for the faults of a system he had no power to amend. He endeavoured to save expenses by reducing salaries of officials, but the chief justice for one denied the power of the council to reduce his salary. Six members of the council objected to the form of the estimates and withdrew from the council which reduced the number present below a quorum, and much public feeling arose against the governor. In April 1846 Wilmot was recalled. The official statements relating to his recall were of the vaguest character, such as that he had not shown "an active care of the moral interests involved in the system of convict discipline". Privately Gladstone, the new colonial secretary, informed Wilmot that he was not recalled for any errors in his official character, but because rumours reflecting on his moral character had reached the colonial office. There was no truth in these charges nor was there time for Wilmot to receive any reply to his indignant denials, and requests for the names of his accusers. He died on 3 February 1847 worn-out by worry and anxiety. Too late Gladstone endeavoured to make some amends in a letter to one of Wilmot's sons. Wilmot married, (1) Elizabeth Emma, daughter of Caleb Hillier Parry, and (2) Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Robert Chester. There were sons and daughters of both marriages. There is a monument in memory of Wilmot at Hobart, erected by public subscription.
Wilmot was a victim of his period. He endeavoured in every way to carry out his duties, but the time was ripe for responsible government and, like his contemporary, Sir George Gipps (q.v.). he incurred much ill-deserved odium for acts that were part of the system he was endeavouring to administer. The colonial office had little conception of the real difficulties of the convict situation, and Gladstone's ill-judged action was the final blow.
Burke's Peerage, etc., 1937; Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vol. XXV; J. West, The History of Tasmania; G. W. Rusden, History of Australia; K. Fitzpatrick, Historical Studies, Australia and New Zealand, April 1940; J. F. Hogan, The Gladstone Colony.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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