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Russell, Bourn (1794–1880)

from Maitland Mercury (NSW)

A line in our Sydney telegram says, "The Hon. Bourn Russell died here yesterday." An old Maitland townsman has gone to his rest, full of years—Mr. Russell must have been well-advanced towards eighty—after a well-spent, active, honoured life.

Our knowledge of Captain Russell began in 1843. He was then one of the most prominent business men in West Maitland, energetic alike in his own and in public affairs. Previously to his settling in the colony, he had been, we understand, owner and master of a large vessel, in which he traded to the islands in the South Seas and elsewhere. When he came to Maitland he was a man of good means and full of enterprise, and he established in West Maitland one of the largest wholesale and retail store businesses north of Sydney. His wholesale business, as he has told us, kept some £40,000 afloat between the purchase of the goods in England, and their sale in West Maitland. Since then, with the growth of the town, more extensive mercantile establishments have been created. But in the day of comparatively small things, Captain Russell's business was a great one. Among the acts of his mercantile career may be mentioned his having induced the Commercial Bank to establish a branch here. Between 1841 and 1844 occurred the memorable commercial panic which ruined so many men of good means in Sydney and other towns in New South Wales. This was perhaps, the most severe commercial affliction the colony has ever known, both essentially and measured in regard to the power of resistance to it. Among other persons whom it overcame was Captain Russell. He failed and was left with little more than his energy and his good name, to begin the battle of life over again.

Fortunately a marriage-settlement made years before had secured to Mrs. Russell a small property at Stoney Creek, near West Maitland. Here Captain Russell, with characteristic heartiness and vigour, started a boiling-down establishment, when, in about 1846, it had been found out that to boil down sheep and cattle for their tallow was commercially profitable. Aided by his sons, Captain Russell worked hard, and the reward of his energy was once more a modest independence. The result of a search for coal in his ground was also successful, and pits were put down, yielding coal which, as "Russell's," was long a favorite fuel about Maitland. Ultimately, having acquired means sufficient to make his declining days comfortable in well-earned ease from toil, Captain Russell removed to Sydney. One of his sons, the Government Astronomer, had there become one of the most famous and respected of the scientific men of Australia.

During the early period of his long residence in Maitland, Captain Russell (to use the title always applied to him in familiar talk), took an active and leading part in public matters. Once or twice, he delivered chatty lectures, describing his experiences in the island trade. He was not an eloquent speaker, but he was able at all times to express his meaning in plain language, and could and did hit his opponents very hard indeed with verbal weapons. He could, however, bear the inevitable retort better than many men. We suppose he enjoyed the little conflicts that are inseparable from a share in public life; at any rate, they did not scare him from being useful as a townsman. Latterly, when growing years supplied an ample excuse, he retired within the seclusion of his home. His last appearance in Maitland as a public man, was, we think, at the meeting held in the School of Arts, to express sympathy with Prince Alfred under the circumstances of the attack at Clontarf. In private life, Mr. Russell was courteous and mild, and maintained the demeanour of a well-bred gentleman.

For many years Mr. Russell has been a member of the Legislative Council. After the grant of responsible Government, he was twice a candidate for a seat in the Assembly, but was beaten — once by the late Mr. Weekes, and once by the late Mr. James Dickson, both of whom, though much younger, went hence before him. In the Upper House, he was found usually in his place when leading questions were debated, but he spoke very seldom. We are not aware whether a long illness preceded the death of this venerable gentleman, once so familiar a figure in our streets.

Original publication

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Citation details

'Russell, Bourn (1794–1880)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/russell-bourn-28335/text36002, accessed 16 December 2019.

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