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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Eyre, Edward John

< The Dictionary of Australasian Biography

Eyre, Edward John, son of the late Rev. Anthony Eyre, vicar of Hornsea and Long Riston, Yorks, was born on August 15th, 1815, and educated at Louth and Sedbergh Grammar Schools. In 1833 he emigrated to Sydney, and entered upon pastoral pursuits, with some success, in the Lower Murray district, where he was subsequently appointed Resident Magistrate and Protector of the Aborigines. Mr. Eyre early began to interest himself in exploration, and in 1836 conducted an expedition across the Australian continent from Sydney to Swan River, W.A. He was afterwards a settler in South Australia, and in 1840 started on a journey for the South Australian Government into the interior. His object was to explore Lake Torrens and penetrate to the heart of the continent. After visiting Lake Torrens, he struck into the Flinders Range; but, owing to the scarcity of food and water, found himself unable to proceed northwards through the impenetrable bush. At last he succeeded in rounding the Great Bight, whence he pushed on to King George's Sound, in the company of one Englishman (Baxter) and three aborigines. The party endured great privations, and after two months of hardship two of the natives murdered Baxter and decamped with the provisions. Mr. Eyre, left alone with a solitary aboriginal, pushed on, and was eventually rescued by a French whaling ship, the Mississippi, and reached Adelaide in July 1841. In 1845 he returned to England, and in 1847, when Earl Grey separated the colony of New Zealand into two provinces and appointed lieut.-governors, Mr. Eyre was nominated to this office for the South Island, Sir George Grey being then Governor-in-Chief. During his term of office he lived mostly at Wellington; but his powers as lieut.-governor were inconsiderable, owing to the overshadowing authority of the Governor-in-Chief. In 1853 he retired and went to England, and in December of the following year was appointed Governor of the island of St. Vincent, and subsequently Lieut.-Governor of the Leeward Islands. On July 13th, 1864, he was made Captain-General and Governor-General-in-Chief and Vice-Admiral of Jamaica. It was during his tenure of office that the insurrection broke out in Oct. 1865, but owing to his energetic measures it was completely crushed. His action, especially in relation to the execution under sentence of court martial of George William Gordon, a mulatto of property, was, however, much canvassed in England, and he was recalled, and a commission of inquiry appointed to investigate the charges against him. The result was to exonerate him from blame; but his accusers, not content with the issue, instituted proceedings against him, which lasted for four years, but came to nothing. A "Jamaica committee" was formed to carry on the prosecution, which led to a defence fund being started. Mr. Eyre was then prosecuted for murder before the magistrates of Market Drayton, in Shropshire, but they declined to commit him for trial. Subsequent proceedings before the Court of Queen's Bench also proved abortive. Mr. Eyre is the author of "Discoveries in Central Australia," 1845; "Journals of Expeditions and Discovery into Central Australia, and Overland from Adelaide to King George's Sound," 1846. He resides at Steeple Aston, in Oxfordshire.