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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

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John Atkinson (1795–1893)

One by one our old colonists have been dropping off, especially during the last ten or twelve years their number has sensibly diminished. But probably the oldest of them all has now succumbed. Mr John Atkinson expired at the residence of his daughter, Mrs Hobkirk, Windmill Hill, at two o'clock Wednesday morning in his 99th year. Having reached such an extreme age, it is hardly necessary to enquire what specific disease was the immediate cause of death. It is a fact, however, that he had enjoyed marvellously good health until the last few days, when he seemed to suddenly collapse. Dr. Maddox attended the deceased through his last illness.

Mr Atkinson was born in London in the year 1795, his father being a master mariner. In his father's vessel he travelled from Russia, carrying troops to aid the allies in overthrowing the destined monarch of the world. As proof of his age there is a certificate on parchment granted very early in this century proving his entry to a certain guild, but this is only one link in the chain of evidence. He arrived in Hobart Town in 1817, but removed to Sydney in 1819. In 1821 he was told by the celebrated Dr. Bland that he could not live many months, as he had hopeless liver disease, and it was this illness which induced him to visit Mr Thomson, of Rosetta, in the St. Leonards district. Our island colony at that time comprised 7400 souls, but the bracing climate even at that early date was appreciated by visitors. Mr Atkinson returned to Sydney, but in the year 1832 he finally determined to settle here, and arrived just four years after the great flood. To speak with him was to conjure with a wizard; he told in an exact, vivid fashion of dark days and of sunshine. He remembered the outbreak of small-pox in Sydney in 1828. He described the awful punishments that were visited upon delinquents. He could tell of the unfortunate blacks—of outrage and of murder. He could point out the exact spot where the bushranger Jingler was shot on his own private property, right alongside the old road to the White Hills. He spoke of Wentworth, Liextendat Ritchie Lalthrop Murray Cobcroft, and Sir John Robertson's father in an easy, jaunty fashion, as if they were mere apprentices—men who now are almost forgotten. He saw the infancy of Australasian settlement, and he almost lived to see the commonwealth come to man's estate. For many years Mr Atkinson was a prominent member in the small community which then comprised Launceston. For a long time he discharged the duties of official assignee under the Insolvency Act, and was very widely known in that capacity. With all the grand men of that early period he was ever eager to promote the general welfare, and took part in all the movements for that purpose. He wrote a very neat hand, and even in extreme old age would examine papers and business matters with acumen. In his 'raw state' he was clumsy, but after a short residence in the colonies he became a skilled mechanic. He used to pass this criticism on himself when 87 years of age, and at that time his principal amusement lay in the hand-carving of tortoise shell and mother of pearl. Deceased was a member of the Masonic Fraternity, having joined the order in 1821. He leaves six surviving children—four daughters and two sons, 38 grandchildren, and 15 great grandchildren. The former comprise—Mrs Laidley, of Sydney; Mrs Palmer, of Gippsland; Mrs Hobkirk, who resides in Launceston; Mrs Mason, wife of Arch-deacon Mason, of Hobart; Mr James Atkinson, surveyor, of Queensland; and Mr T. R. Atkinson, of the Tasmanian Civil Service, Hobart.

As far as British politics are concerned Mr Atkinson lived under four sovereigns, and during his life his language has been carried into the corners of the earth; space has been annihilated and a girdle has been put round the globe. Steamboats, railways, telegraph lines and cables were developed in his life time, and his country-men have been foremost in every enterprise. It is remarkable that Mr Atkinson has been the contemporary of such celebrities in the last century as the silver-tongued orator, Edmund Burke; of Scotland's bard, Robert Burns; of the father of his country, George Washington; and of our own, Captain Cook. France is reduced in circumstances, and the engineer of German federation has been successful in his project. United Italy now holds up her head. In his lifetime the sewer of Europe has become a great republic, and there the president of triumphant democracy has tried to make all men equal, and has struck the fetters off the limbs of the slaves. The colossus of the north preserves its earth hunger, and continues to lick up the wastelands of Europe and Asia. The sick man has languished, and the European powers have absorbed some of his business, and are watching his decay. The mother of the world has had its affairs brought into court, and the Celestial Empire after a reign of lead has declared free ports, and had opium crammed down its throat. He has witnessed domestic strife on every continent, but the big battalions have always restored order.

Original publication

Citation details

'Atkinson, John (1795–1893)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 16 April 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


26 October, 1795
London, Middlesex, England


20 December, 1893 (aged 98)
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia

Cause of Death

general debility

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