The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Fitzroy, Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Charles Augustus

Fitzroy, Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Charles Augustus, K.C.B., K.C.M., ninth Governor of New South Wales and first Governor-General of her Majesty's Australian possessions, was the only son of Lord Charles Fitzroy by his first wife, Frances, daughter of Edward Miller-Mundy, of Shipley, Derby, and was born in 1796. Sir Charles Fitzroy's grandfather, the third Duke of Grafton, sometime Prime Minister of England, was the object of the envenomed attacks of Junius. His half-brother, Admiral Fitzroy, famous for his storm warnings, was Governor of New Zealand from 1843 to 1845. Having entered the army, Captain Fitzroy, as he was then called, was for some time Governor of Prince Edward Island, and. from 1842 to 1845 of Antigua. In 1846 he was appointed to succeed Sir George Gipps as Governor of New South Wales, and arriving in Sydney on August 2nd of that year, was sworn in on the following day. The year after his arrival in the colony a distressing accident occurred. On Dec. 7th, 1847, whilst he was driving his wife, Lady Mary Fitzroy, in the neighbourhood of Parramatta, the horses took fright, and one of the wheels struck against a tree, causing the occupants to be thrown out, Lady Mary being killed on the spot. The deceased, to whom Sir Charles Fitzroy was married on March 11th, 1820, was the eldest daughter of Charles, fourth Duke of Richmond. Shortly after his arrival Sir Charles Fitzroy avowed his entire neutrality in regard to all matters of local concern, and it was well that he did so, as the public mind was then greatly agitated on some of the most momentous questions affecting the welfare of Australia as a whole. Mr. Gladstone, when Secretary for the Colonies in the Peel Government, from 1845 to 1846, roused great bitterness by suddenly mooting the renewal, of transportation and actually constituting a new colony in the Port Curtis district of what is now Northern Queensland by the name of Northern Australia, with at view of making it a receptacle of British convictism on a large scale. The scheme, however, collapsed on Mr. Gladstone's retirement from office, and Northern Australia reverted to the jurisdiction of New South Wales in 1849. In 1847 a long-standing difficulty was settled by the concession of some sort of fixity of tenure to the squatters, In 1848 the New South Wales Legislative Council, acting in a manner quite contrary to the public sentiment, passed a resolution of Wentworth's approving the importation of a certain number of selected convicts, provided they were accompanied by an equal number of free emigrants sent out at the imperial expense. Earl Grey (the then Colonial Secretary) revoked the Order in Council of 1840 by which the colony had been declared to be a place to which criminals could not be deported, and started transportation on the old unsatisfactory lines, much to the indignation even of the Legislative Council. Sir Charles Fitzroy encouraged Earl Grey in his action all through, and thus appropriated a good deal of the unpopularity which the temporary renewal of transportation involved. As the result, however, of a vehement agitation, it very quickly ceased, and was formally terminated in 1853. In 1851 the gold discoveries were made, and it was a good deal owing to Sir Charles Fitzroy's prudent management that the results of the "fever" evolved were not so disastrous in New South Wales as in Victoria, where expenditure and extravagance ran riot. In the same year Victoria won the long-sought boon of severance from the mother colony, and in May the old purely official Legislative Council of New South Wales was transmuted into an assemblage in which the elective principle was partially recognised, the new chamber being opened by Governor Fitzroy on Oct 16th, 1851. This popularisation of the Constitution only whetted the appetite for a further instalment of constitutional government, and before Sir Charles Fitzroy left the colony the boon of responsible government in connection with a bicameral Legislature was conceded to New South Wales. The first sod of the Sydney and Goulburn Railway was turned by Governor Fitzroy's daughter on July 3rd, 1851. In Oct. 1852 the Sydney University was inaugurated, and in the next year a branch of the Royal Mint was opened in Sydney. The progress made in New South Wales and throughout Australia during Sir Charles Fitzroy's unprecedentedly long term as Governor was enormous, and predisposed the colonists to short memories of former grievances, so that before he left Sydney on Jan. 28th, 1855, Sir Charles Fitzroy was presented with a public testimonial of £2,000. On the motion of Mr. James Macarthur, the Legislative Council also passed resolutions acknowledging the practical ability, sound judgment, and eminent success, which had characterised his rule; a condemnatory amendment, proposed by the redoubtable Dr. Lang, being rejected by twenty-eight votes to six. Sir Charles Fitzroy died on Feb. 16th, 1858. In connection with the Constitution Act of 1850, which authorised the separation of Victoria from New South Wales, and otherwise liberalised government in Australia, the Governor of the mother colony was constituted Governor-General of all her Majesty's Australian possessions, including Western Australia. Under the new régime Sir Charles Fitzroy held four separate commissions as Governor of New South Wales, Van Diemen's Land, South Australia, and Victoria. He was not, under his commission as Governor-General, to interfere with the internal interests of Van Diemen's Land, South Australia, Victoria, and Western Australia, whose lieutenant-governors would correspond directly with the Colonial Office; but he had "general authority to superintend the initiation and foster the completion of such measures as those communities may deem calculated to promote their common welfare and prosperity." In case of necessity he would repair to another colony and assume and retain the government during his residence there, the functions of the Lieutenant-Governor being meanwhile completely suspended. Remote Western Australia alone was exempt from such a contingency. The title of Governor-General was continued to Sir Charles Fitzroy's successor, Sir W. Denison, and then dropped. Sir Charles Fitzroy formally proclaimed his new dignities on June 12th, 1851.