Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Bonwick, James

BONWICK, JAMES (1817–1906), Australian author and archivist, born in London on 8 July 1817, was eldest son of James and Mary Ann Bonwick. His grandfather was a farmer and maltster at Lingfield, Surrey. Educated at the Borough Road school, Southwark (cf. Bonwick's account in An Octogenarian's Reminiscences, 1902), he was appointed master of the British School at Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, in June 1834, when not quite 17, and showed efficiency as a teacher. During 1836 he was master in a large boarding-school at Bexley. In June 1837 he was appointed to the British School at Liverpool. In 1840 he and his wife he married in this year were chosen by the Borough Road school committee, acting on behalf of the government of Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania), to conduct the Model School of Hobart Town, where they arrived on 10 October 1841.

Bonwick, resigning this appointment in 1843, opened a school on his own account. After eight years in Van Diemen's Land, he removed to Adelaide in 1849 and started a school at North Adelaide. From Adelaide he joined in the rush to the Victorian goldfields in February 1852, and returning to Melbourne published the 'Life of Gold Digger,' and started in October 1852 the 'Gold Diggers' Magazine,' which proved a failure. For a time he was an unsuccessful land agent.

From July 1856 to the end of 1860 he was an efficient inspector of denominational schools in the colony of Victoria. Partial paralysis due to a coach accident on one of his tours of inspection led to his resignation. He then took up lecturing, and opened a school at St. Kilda, near Melbourne, which he carried on until his permanent return to England in 1884. Then he was soon appointed archivist to the government of New South Wales, and until midsummer 1902 he was actively employed in collecting material for the official history of the colony. Two volumes were completed and issued (1889-94). After 1894 a change of plan was effected and the documents were printed in extenso under the title of 'Historical Records of New South Wales.' Seven volumes appeared between 1893 and 1901, bringing the record down to the opening years of Governor Macquarie's term of office. Bonwick died at Norwood on 6 February 1906, and was buried in the Crystal Palace district cemetery, Beckenham, Kent. He married on 17 April 1840 Esther, daughter of Barnabas Beddow, a baptist minister of Exeter, and had three sons and two daughters.

Bonwick was a voluminous writer on many subjects, but his contributions to early Australian history are alone of permanent value. The most noteworthy of these are 'The Last of the Tasmanians' (1870); 'Daily Life of the Tasmanians' (1870); 'Curious Facts of Old Colonial Days' (1870); 'First Twenty Years of Australia' (1882); 'Port Phillip Settlement' (1883); 'Romance of the Wool Trade' (1887); and 'Early Struggles of the Australian Press' (1890). 'An Octogenarian's Reminiscences' (1902) gives a complete list of his works.

[The Times, 8 Feb. 1906; Geographical Journal, xxvii. 1906; Mennell's Dict. of Australasian Biog., 1892; An Octogenarian's Reminiscences, 1902; personal knowledge.]

C. A.