William Wyatt

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For the English scholar, see William Wyatt (scholar).
William Wyatt.jpeg

William Wyatt (1804 – 10 June 1886[1]) was a pioneer settler and philanthropist in South Australia.

Early life[edit]

Wyatt was born in Plymouth, Devon, England, the son of Richard Wyatt. He was apprenticed at 16 years of age to a Plymouth surgeon, Thomas Stewart.[1] Wyatt continued to study medicine and obtained the qualification of M.R.C.S. in February 1828. For some time he was honorary surgeon to the Plymouth dispensary and was curator of the museum of the Literary and Scientific Institution.

Career in Australia[edit]

Wyatt emigrated to South Australia as surgeon of the ship John Renwick. He arrived at Adelaide 14 February 1837, and practised there for a short time. In August he was appointed city coroner and also served as the third part-time Protector of Aborigines 1837 until 1839.

"Unlike his successor and the German Missionaries, Wyatt did not live at Piltawodli. According to Foster (1990b: 39) he was "criticised for not 'going among' the Aborigines and for failing to provide information to the public about their culture." Nonetheless, Wyatt does provide valuable, though sometimes unreliable, information on the Kaurna language. After the German mission sources, it remains the next most important source and includes a sizable number of terms not recorded elsewhere.
A manuscript copy of Wyatt's wordlist, 'Vocabulary of the Adelaide Dialect' (Wyatt, 1840)14 in the Library of Sir George Grey in the South African Public Library, Cape Town, contains only 67 words, though this is unlikely to represent the extent of Wyatt's knowledge of Kaurna at that time. A more comprehensive paper published later lists approximately 900 Kaurna and Ramindjeri words. The cover page notes that the material was "principally extracted from his official reports" most of which would have been written when Wyatt served as Protector from 1837 to 1839. Assuming Wyatt's (1840) wordlist in the Grey collection is complete, presumably Wyatt went through his papers and extracted words he had recorded in the early days of the colony. The University of Adelaide Library copy, donated by the author, contains three corrections in Wyatt's own hand, where n has been typed instead of u. This wordlist was also published in J.D. Woods ed. (1879) without correction of the three typographical errors. Wyatt identifies certain vocabulary items with a subscript e or r as Encounter Bay or Rapid Bay words respectively. In 1923, Parkhouse republished Wyatt's paper in three separate wordlists designating them 'Adelaide', 'Encounter Bay', and 'Rapid Bay' with changed spellings, substituting u for Wyatt's oo."[2]

In May 1838 he was on the committee of the South Australian School Society, and was also on various other committees. On 28 February 1843 he was chairman of a meeting called to discuss the best means of civilizing the aborigines, in 1847 he was appointed coroner for the province of South Australia, and in 1849 he was a member of the provisional committee of the South Australian Colonial Railway Company.

Wyatt was appointed Inspector of Schools for South Australia in 1851 (retiring in 1874)[3] and for the remainder of his life was in every movement that touched the educational or welfare of the colony. He was a governor of the Collegiate School of St Peter, one of the original governors of the State Library of South Australia, a founder and vice-president of the Acclimatization Society, on the board of the Adelaide Botanic Garden, and was chairman of the Adelaide Hospital 1870–1886. He was a member of the Agricultural and Horticultural Society and its president from 1849 to 1850. He was also secretary of the medical board for over 40 years.

Late life[edit]

In his final years though growing infirm, Wyatt still attended to his many duties, and passed some hospital accounts for payment just a week before his death in his eighty-second year on 10 June 1886. He bought some town lots at the first land sale held at Adelaide on 27 May 1837, which laid the foundation of a considerable fortune. He did many acts of philanthropy in a quiet way and showed much interest in the social life of Adelaide, but never entered politics. He was married and left a widow, his only child to have survived past infancy was murdered by a drunken workman.[4] He published in 1883 a small Monograph of Certain Crustacea Entomostraca, and he contributed the chapter on the Adelaide and Encounter Bay aboriginal tribes to the volume on the Native Tribes of South Australia (published 1879).


  1. ^ a b Alan Rendell (1967). "Wyatt, William (1804 - 1886)". Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2. MUP. pp. 626–627. Retrieved 2008-03-08. 
  2. ^ Amery, Rob (2000). Warrabarna Kaurna! : Reclaiming an Australian language (null ed.). Lisse [u.a.]: Swets & Zeitlinger Publishers. p. 289. ISBN 90-265-1633-9. 
  3. ^ "Presentations to Dr. Wyatt". The South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1858 - 1889). Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia. 29 June 1874. p. 3. Retrieved 26 May 2012. 
  4. ^ "Topics of the day". The South Australian Advertiser. South Australia. 30 December 1872. p. 2. Retrieved 26 December 2016 – via National Library of Australia.