Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Duncan, William Augustine

DUNCAN, WILLIAM AUGUSTINE (1811–1885), journalist, a native of Aberdeenshire, was born in 1811, and educated for the Scottish national church. He subsequently embraced catholicism, was accepted as a student at the Scots Benedictine College, Ratisbon, and afterwards at the new college at Blairs, Kincardineshire, but having offended the authorities there by too outspoken criticism on a sermon, he gave up all thoughts of entering the priesthood. He started a publishing and bookselling business in Aberdeen, out of which he came some five years later rather poorer than when he began. He then resorted to teaching and to writing for the press, and was an earnest advocate of the Reform Bill of 1832 and of Lord Stanley's Irish education scheme. In July 1838 Duncan went out to New South Wales, becoming a publisher in Sydney. The following year he was appointed editor of a newly established Roman catholic journal, the ‘Australasian Chronicle.’ On relinquishing this post in 1843 he issued a paper of his own, ‘Duncan's Weekly Register of Politics, Facts, and General Literature.’ In 1846 he was appointed by Sir George Gipps sub-collector of customs at Moreton Bay, and soon after settling at Brisbane he was placed on the commission of the peace, made water police magistrate, guardian of minors, and local immigration commissioner. In January 1859 he succeeded Colonel Gibbes as collector of customs for New South Wales, which appointment he held until 1881. On his return to Sydney, after thirteen years' absence, he declined the chairmanship of the National Board of Education; but afterwards accepted an ordinary seat at the board, of which he remained a prominent member until its dissolution. Duncan was afterwards on the council of education, and was also chairman of the free public library. For his services to the colony he was awarded the distinction of C.M.G. in 1881, together with a pension from the colonial government. He died in 1885.

Duncan, whose acquaintance with modern languages was unusually extensive, translated from the Spanish of Pedro Fernandes de Queiros an ‘Account of a Memorial presented to his Majesty [Philip III., king of Spain], concerning the Population and Discovery of the Fourth Part of the World, Australia the unknown, its great Riches and Fertility, printed anno 1610,’ Spanish and English, 8vo, Sydney, 1874, to which he appended an introductory notice. He was the author of ‘A Plea for the New South Wales Constitution,’ 8vo, Sydney, 1856, of pamphlets on education, and an unpublished history of the colony until the government of Sir George Gipps.

[Heaton's Australian Dict. pp. 59–60; Times, Aug. 1885, p. 7, col. 6; Colonial Office List, 1885, p. 332; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

G. G.