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Sutherland, David (1801–1879)

from South Australian Register

We have this morning to record the death of Mr. David Sutherland, who for many years held a conspicuous place among our public men, and whose name will be long remembered as that of one who without fee or reward, but, on the contrary, at great cost to himself, did good service to the State. Mr. Sutherland, who was a native of Scotland, arrived in the colony in 1840, and entered into business as a general merchant in conjunction with the house of which Sir John Forbes was the head. He lost no time in identifying himself with public affairs, and very shortly after his arrival became a member of the committee appointed in opposition to State-aid to religion. He next, in conjunction with Sir George Kingston and others, acted on a committee formed to introduce something like system into the statistics of the colony, and not long after was made a member of the Hospital Board. In 1842 the high compliment was paid him by the Governor of appointing him one of the members of the Immigration Board — a body upon whom devolved the onerous and responsible duty of finding employment for and distributing aid amongst the labouring population at a period of extreme depression. The manner in which he and his colleagues discharged this difficult and delicate duty afforded satisfaction to their fellow colonists, and secured for them the special thanks of the Imperial authorities, conveyed in despatches received at the close of 1843, as well as of his Excellency Sir George Grey. From that time forward Mr. Sutherland took an active part in public matters. His connection with Sir John Forbes lasted until the break-up of the firm, when he purchased Dunrobin, near Brighton. Upon that fine property he resided for many years, carrying on farming operations. It would not be easy to recount the numerous ways in which he laboured for the benefit of his adopted country. As a member of the Central Road Board for eight years, as a member of the Brighton District Council, as President of the District Chairmen's Association, as a member of the Central Agricultural Society, and in many other capacities he made himself exceedingly useful. He was returned as a member of the Assembly in 1860, and remained in the House for seven or eight years, representing Noarlunga in the first instance, and afterwards Encounter Bay. While in Parliament he distinguished himself by the interest he took in such practical subjects as immigration and roads, the appropriate title of 'Colossus of Roads' having been conferred upon him by one of his humorous fellow members. His career in the Legislature will be chiefly remembered by the passing at his instigation of an Act to set apart one-third of the Land Fund for purposes of immigration. The intention of the hon. member, and those who assisted him in passing the measure, which took the name of Sutherland's Act, was no doubt good, but in the end the Act became a source of complication and embarrassment. Immigration having been suspended, the funds dedicated to immigration purposes accumulated to such an extent as to become a sore temptation to needy Treasurers. By-and-by the device of borrowing the money was retorted to, and it was not long before this facile means of turning it to account resulted in the conversion of the hard cash into Government bonds. In 1872 the last of the money was thus mopped-up, and as it was inconvenient to redeem the bonds the simple expedient was resorted to of repealing the Act and destroying them. It is worthy of mention that the late Sir Richard Hanson took great interest in the passing of Sutherland's Act, and rendered valuable assistance to its author in settling the principles upon which it was based. The goodwill shown by the late Chief Justice in this matter to Mr. Sutherland was illustrative of the kindly feelings entertained by the former towards the latter up to the period of his death. A communication of which Mr. Sutherland was particularly proud was a letter from Sir Richard Hanson, dated March 2, 1876, warmly commending him to the favourable notice of the Government as a candidate for employment in connection with emigration matters. Owing largely to the zeal and assiduity with which he had addressed himself to the discharge of his public duties, Mr. Sutherland's circumstances in later years became very much straitened. In 1868 he applied to the Government for employment, and had the satisfaction of having his application endorsed by some forty members of Parliament. A session or two ago a petition was presented to Parliament, calling attention to the manifold services rendered by Mr. Sutherland, pointing out that he was now an old man, who had spent the best years of his life in working for the public without any private advantage, but at actual pecuniary loss to himself, and asking that some allowance should be made him. The matter was never brought on for discussion, the feeling among members being that it would be an exceedingly bad precedent to vote public money for the purposes set forth. But although the deceased gentleman received no grant from Parliament, he continued as long as strength lasted to devote himself as occasion offered to the exposition in private of the subjects dear to his heart. Latterly he has been unable to stir from his house, but it is only a few days since he was obliged to take to bed. His chief complaint was a break-up of the system, due to sheer old age. His death occurred on Saturday last at Magill.

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'Sutherland, David (1801–1879)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/sutherland-david-14741/text25900, accessed 17 October 2019.

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