FITZROY, Sir Charles Augustus (1796-1858)


FITZROY, Sir Charles Augustus (1796-1858)
governor of New South Wales
son of General Lord Charles Fitzroy, second son of the third Duke of Grafton, was born on 10 May 1796. He entered the army and was gazetted lieutenant in 1812 and captain in 1820. He was promoted lieutenant-colonel in 1825 and made deputy adjutant-general at the Cape of Good Hope. Returning to England he was elected to the house of commons in 1831. He retired from the army, was knighted in 1837, and in the same year appointed lieutenant-governor of Prince Edward Island. Four years later he became governor and commander-in-chief of the Leeward Islands. In 1845 he was appointed governor of New South Wales. His predecessor Sir George Gipps (q.v.) had been a strong governor who had incurred the enmity of many of the colonists. It is not unlikely that one of the reasons for the appointment of Fitzroy was that he was likely to be more conciliatory in his methods.
Fitzroy, who had married in 1820 Lady Mary Lennox, daughter of the fourth Duke of Richmond, arrived at Sydney with his wife and son George on 2 August 1846. Another son and a daughter arrived later. Almost immediately he was asked to use his influence to procure the disallowance of an act of the Tasmanian legislature imposing a duty of 15 per cent on products imported from New South Wales. Fitzroy brought before the British government the advisability of some superior functionary being appointed, to whom all measures passed by local legislatures should be referred before being assented to. In the long discussion over the separation of the Port Phillip district, Fitzroy showed tact and himself favoured bi-cameral legislatures for the new constitutions. The necessity of some kind of a federation between the various colonies was recognized, and as a step towards this Fitzroy was given a commission in 1850 appointing him governor-general of the Australian colonies. During his governorship great strides were made in the development of New South Wales. Transportation of convicts ceased, a university was founded at Sydney, a branch of the royal mint was established and responsible government was granted. Fitzroy terminated his governorship on 17 January 1855. The legislative council passed a complimentary farewell address, but it was not carried unanimously. In December 1847 his wife had died as the result of a carriage accident, and the subsequent conduct of Fitzroy and his two sons caused some scandal. When the address was brought forward Dr Lang (q.v.) moved an amendment stating that Fitzroy's administration had been "a uniform conspiracy against the rights of the people" and ending with a statement "that the moral influence which has emanated from government house during his excellency's term of office has been deleterious and baneful in the highest degree". Lang obtained only five supporters, but they included Charles Cowper (q.v.) and Henry Parkes (q.v.). After Fitzroy's return to England he married Margaret Gordon in December 1855. He died at London on 16 February 1858. He was created K.C.B. in 1854.
Whatever faults there may have been in Fitzroy's character, he was an impartial administrator who took much pain in making himself acquainted with the outlying parts of the colony. He was tactful and industrious, not afraid to accept responsibility when it was necessary, and generally bore his part well in a period of many transitions.
F. Watson, Introductions to vols. XXV and XXVI, Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, and dispatches therein; The Official History of New South Wales; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography; The Gentleman's Magazine, 1858, vol. I, p. 449.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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