Thomas Davey (governor)

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Thomas Davey
Thomas Davey.jpg
2nd Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen's Land
In office
4 February 1813 – 9 March 1817
Preceded by David Collins
Succeeded by William Sorell
Personal details
Born 1758
Tiverton, Devon, England
Died 2 May 1823
London, England
Spouse(s) Margaret

Thomas Davey (c. 1758 – 2 May 1823) was the second Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen's Land, Australia.

Early life[edit]

Few details are known of his early life, but Thomas Davey was serving in the army or navy in 1777, and went to Australia as a lieutenant-colonel of the Royal Marines with the First Fleet 10 years later. He left Sydney at the end of 1792, at the time of the mutiny at the Nore was a captain of marines, and fought at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. In September 1811 (he was then a major of marines), through the influence of Lord Harrowby, he was appointed lieutenant-governor of Tasmania in June 1812. It is said that he left England without informing his wife, but she got wind of his departure and, rushing, managed to get aboard. Upon being informed of her arrival Davey lost his temper and hurled his wig at the wall. In the interim he had been made a colonel. He arrived in Sydney on 25 October 1812 and reported to Governor Lachlan Macquarie, whose orders he had been instructed to observe. He remained in Sydney for nearly four months, and did not land at Hobart until 20 February 1813. All his possessions were lost en route and Davey put in a claim of substantial length.

Van Diemen's Land[edit]

Proclamation board labelled "Governor Davey's Proclamation" painted in Van Diemen's Land about 1830 in the time of Governor Arthur. This was designed to show that colonists and aboriginals were equal before the law, and incorrectly depicted a policy of friendship and equal justice which simply did not exist at the height of the Black War.

Davey appears to have had no qualifications for his position. He was indolent and without sense of dignity, and indulged fully in the hard-drinking that was a characteristic of the period. He is still remembered for his invention of the cocktail "Blow my Skull", the recipe for which is found in Edward Abbott's The English and Australian Cookery Book.

Macquarie had received a private letter from the authorities warning him to keep a close watch on Davey, and on 30 April 1814 reported that his conduct was pretty correct, "except for making locations of land to persons not entitled", he had every reason to believe that he "is honest and means well" but that his character made him a "very unfit man for so important a station". Nearly a year later Macquarie again reported very adversely, and in April 1816 Earl Bathurst in a dispatch to Macquarie recalled Davey, but suggested that he should be allowed to resign, and that a grant of land should be made to him.

Davey was confronted by one of the largest, most daring and successful bushranging gangs of Australian history, that of Michael Howe. Davey was checked and humiliated time and time again by Howe's exploits. Signing himself as "The Governor of the Rangers" in letters to Davey, Howe threatened to set the colony on fire from end to end and Davey feared that there would be a general uprising of the convicts.

Davey handed over his position to Governor William Sorell on 9 April 1817. Considerable grants of land were made to him, but he was not successful with them and he sailed to England from Sydney in August 1821. He died on 2 May 1823 and was survived by his wife and daughter, both much respected, who remained in Tasmania. Though quite unfitted for his position the accounts of Davey that give him no redeeming qualities go too far. He was of a weakly, amiable nature, but much progress was made during his administration, the most important act being that Hobart was made a free port. He encouraged the proper treatment of aborigines, and his bringing in of martial law in an attempt to check bushranging at least showed he could act firmly on an occasion. The wisdom of this action has been questioned, but it certainly had the approval of the colonists. It should be remembered also that Davey's powers were very limited, and that he was unfortunate in his subordinate officials; some of them had little ability and at least two were men of bad character, serving in Howe's gang.


Port Davey, an inlet on the south west coast of Tasmania, was named after Thomas Davey.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The romance of Australian place names.". The Australian Women's Weekly (National Library of Australia). 27 May 1964. p. 59. Retrieved 14 October 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

Preceded by
David Collins
Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen's Land
Succeeded by
William Sorell