William Paterson (explorer)

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William Paterson
1st Commandant at Port Dalrymple
In office
16 February 1804 – 24 March 1808
Succeeded byJohn Brabyn
Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales
In office
13 December 1794[1] – 1 September 1795
Preceded byFrancis Grose
Succeeded byOffice Vacant
In office
24 March 1806 – 26 January 1808
Preceded byOffice Vacant
Succeeded byGeorge Johnston
Personal details
Born(1755-08-17)17 August 1755
Montrose, Scotland
Died21 June 1810(1810-06-21) (aged 54)
At sea aboard HMS Dromedary off Cape Horn
SpouseElizabeth Driver
Military service
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Branch/serviceBritish Army
Years of service1781–1810
Unit98th Regiment of Foot
73rd Regiment of Foot
CommandsNew South Wales Corps

Colonel William Paterson, FRS (17 August 1755 – 21 June 1810) was a Scottish soldier, explorer, Lieutenant Governor and botanist best known for leading early settlement at Port Dalrymple in Tasmania. In 1795, Paterson gave an order that resulted in the massacre of a number of men, women and children, members of the Bediagal tribe.[2]

Early years[edit]

A native of Montrose, Scotland, Paterson was interested in botany as a boy and trained in horticulture at Syon in London.[3] Paterson was sent to the Cape Colony by the wealthy and eccentric Countess of Strathmore to collect plants, he arrived in Table Bay on board the "Houghton" in May 1777. He made four trips into the interior between May 1777 and March 1780, when he departed. In 1789 Paterson published Narrative of Four Journeys into the Country of the Hottentots and Caffraria,[4] which he dedicated to Sir Joseph Banks.[5]


Paterson was originally commissioned as an ensign in the 98th Regiment of Foot and served in India. He later transferred to the 73rd Regiment of Foot after the 98th's disbandment in 1787. In 1789, he was promoted to captain in the New South Wales Corps, serving under Major Francis Grose.[6] After some time spent recruiting, he arrived in Sydney in October 1791. From November 1791 until March 1793 he served in command on Norfolk Island. Whilst there he collected botanical, geological and insect specimens and sent them to Banks. He also provided seed to the Lee and Kennedy and Colvill nurseries.[7] He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in May 1798.[8]

In 1794 he served for a year as Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales. In 1800 he was re-appointed to the post and served a second term until 1808.

In May 1795, following the alleged killing of two settlers Paterson ordered two officers and 66 soldiers to:

destroy as many (Aboriginal Australians) as they could meet with ... in the hope of striking terror, to erect gibbets in different places, whereon the bodies of all they might kill were to be hung ...[9]: p 288 

Seven or eight Bediagal people were killed.[2][10] A crippled man, some children and five women (one being heavily pregnant) were taken to Sydney as prisoners. One of the women and her baby had serious gunshot wounds. The child died not long after as did the newborn baby of the pregnant woman.[9]: p 299 

In 1801, Paterson fought a duel with John Macarthur and was wounded in the shoulder.[11]

He led an expedition to the Hunter Region in 1801 and up the Paterson River (later named in his honour by Governor King).[12] The expedition discovered coal in the area that would later become the vast South Maitland Coalfields; it was a discovery of great economic significance.[13] In 1804, he led an expedition to Port Dalrymple, in what is now Tasmania, exploring the Tamar River and going up the North Esk River farther than European had previously gone.[12]

Between 1804 and 1808 Paterson was also appointed Commandant at Port Dalrymple, the administrator of the colony in the north of Van Diemen's Land.[14] In 1806, Paterson's duties as commander of the New South Wales Corps required him to return to Sydney, but he went back to Van Diemen's Land in 1807, and stayed until December 1808. During this time he corresponded regularly with the eminent naturalist Sir Joseph Banks, sending a number of specimens.[11]

The New South Wales Corps selected Paterson as acting Governor of New South Wales on 1 January 1809 after the deposition of Governor Captain William Bligh in the so-called "Rum Rebellion." He was replaced by the newly arrived Lachlan Macquarie by the end of the year. He left Sydney for England on 12 May 1810, but died on board HMS Dromedary while off Cape Horn just a few weeks later.[11]

His widow Elizabeth married Francis Grose, Paterson's predecessor as Lieutenant Governor, in April 1814, but Grose died a month later. Elizabeth died in Liverpool, England in 1839.[11]

The standard author abbreviation Paterson is used to indicate this person as the author when citing a botanical name.[15]


  1. ^ "Governors". Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser (Vic. : 1842 – 1876). Vic.: National Library of Australia. 6 January 1868. p. 4. Retrieved 7 November 2012.
  2. ^ a b Connor, John (2005), The Australian frontier wars, 1788-1838, Sydney: UNSW Press, ISBN 9780868407562
  3. ^ Smith, N., 'William Paterson: amateur colonial botanist, 1755–1810’, Australian Garden History, 17 (1), 2005, pp. 8–10.
  4. ^ Hottentot is a now deprecated term referring to the people of the Western Cape of South Africa, while Caffraria referred to the Eastern Cape.
  5. ^ Paterson, Lieut. William (1789). A Narrative of four Journeys into the Country of the Hottentotts and Caffria. In the Years One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy-Seven, Eight, and Nine. London: J Johnson.
  6. ^ "Officers of His Majesty's New South Wales Corps of Foot" in Bladen (ed.) 1978, p. 223
  7. ^ Smith, N., 'William Paterson: amateur colonial botanist, 1755–1810’, Australian Garden History, 17 (1), 2005, pp. 8–10.
  8. ^ "Lists of Royal Society Fellows 1660–2007". London: The Royal Society. Retrieved 15 July 2010.
  9. ^ a b Collins, David (1804). An Account of the English Colony in NSW.
  10. ^ "Sydney". The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser. 12 May 1805. p. 3. Retrieved 25 October 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  11. ^ a b c d Macmillan, David S (1967). "Paterson, William (1755–1810)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. pp. 317–319. ISSN 1833-7538. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  12. ^ a b Bladen, F. M., ed. (1897), Historical records of New South Wales, Volume 5—King, 1803–1805, Sydney: Charles Potter, Government Printer, pp. 494–500, archived from the original on 30 March 2011
  13. ^ "EAST GRETA COAL MINING CO., LTD". Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954). 7 October 1921. p. 6. Retrieved 18 September 2018.
  14. ^ Serle, Percival (1949). "Paterson, William". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus & Robertson. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  15. ^ International Plant Names Index.  Paterson.


Further reading[edit]

  • Alexander, Alison (editor) (2005), The Companion to Tasmanian History, Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart. ISBN 1-86295-223-X.
  • Vernon S. Forbes and John Rourke (1980), Paterson's Cape Travels, 1777 to 1779, Johannesburg, Brenthurst Press. ISBN 0-909079-12-9
  • Leonard Guelke and Jeanne K. Guelke (2004), 'Imperial eyes on South Africa: reassessing travel narratives', Journal of Historical Geography.[1]
  • Robson, L.L. (1983) A history of Tasmania. Volume 1. Van Diemen's Land from the earliest times to 1855, Melbourne, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-554364-5
  • Anne-Maree Whitaker (2004), 'Mrs Paterson's keepsakes: the provenance of some significant colonial documents and paintings', Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society.[2]
  • Brendan Whiting (2004), Victims of Tyranny: The Story of the Fitzgerald Convict Brothers, Harbour Publishing. ISBN 0-646-43345-8

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales
Succeeded by
Office vacant
Preceded by
Office Vacant
Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales
Succeeded by
Preceded by
New position
Commandant at Port Dalrymple
Succeeded by