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William Boswell Dean (1817–1891)

Widespread regret will be expressed at the announcement of the death of another old colonist, and one whose name is closely connected with the early history of the North West Coast, Mr William Boswell Dean, who passed away yesterday afternoon at his residence, Pinkie, East Tamar, at the age of 74.

Mr W. B. Dean was born in West Kent, England, and was the tenth of the remarkable family of twenty children, the youngest of the family being Mrs R. Winspear, of East Devonport. His father was a miller, and subsequently sold his property and removed to London, his son William being apprenticed as a shipbiscuit baker at the Royal Arsenal Works, Deptford. Before his apprenticeship was completed, however, Mr W. B. Dean, who was of an adventurous disposition, throw up his position in order to emigrate to New Zealand, which was then attracting considerable attention at home. Two vessels were despatched by the New Zealand Land Company from England in 1837 for Port Nicholson (where the town of Wellington was afterwards laid out), one laden with emigrants and the other with stores and wooden houses in frame. The vessel with the emigrants, of whom Mr W. B. Dean was one, arrived a month before the vessel with the stores, which had left London first but had called at the Cape of Good Hope. The emigrants were therefore in somewhat of a fix, but Mr Dean turned the matter to account by getting some bricks from the ship to build an oven, buying five barrels of flour from the captain, and starting business as a master baker. It was a successful venture, as the demand exceeded the supply, and there was no competition to cut down prices. After the arrival of the storeship matters became more settled, and Mr Dean continued and enlarged the business he had commenced, and did very well at it. Shortly after the town of Wellington was founded Lady Franklin visited the new settlement, and was tendered a banquet by the settlers, the management being entrusted to Mr Dean, who received much praise for the creditable display he managed to make under very disadvantageous circumstances. In the same year as Lady Franklin's visit Mr Dean decided to leave Wellington, where matters were still very rough, for Tasmania, of which he had heard good accounts, and he took the first opportunity of coming to Launceston, where he opened business as a baker in a small place in St. John street, a few doors above York-street, and not far from the Phoenix Bakery, and subsequently owned by him. He was of an energetic and speculative turn of mind, and soon engaged in many ventures, some of which proved highly profitable, others the reverse. In 1850 he and Mr Cocker had gone along the N.W. Coast in a sailing craft to Circular Head with a goodly store of sovereigns to purchase paling and produce for the Melbourne market, and the vessel being driven into the Forth through stress of weather they started overland for the Mersey, lost their way, and after nightfall came on a splitter's hut not far from the Mersey, where they remained all night. Mr Dean wore a belt stuffed with sovereigns, the weight of which had been an encumbrance and source of vexation in travelling through the bush, but he feared no man, and flung it into a corner as soon as they were settled in the hut, but the two occupants though rough were honest. Next morning Mr Dean was struck by the strange appearance of the fire, and found it was made up with coal, of which an outcrop occurred close by. On arrival in Launceston he directed the attention of moneyed men to the Mersey coal field, and a period of speculation and excitement ensued, but though some £50,000 was spent by various companies in working the coal seams not one proved remunerative. Mr Dean removed to the Mersey and started a saw mill, but an accident through a log rolling on him cost months of illness, and would have proved fatal to a less robust constitution. It was, however, partly the cause of the mill venture proving unprofitable. As chairman of the Mersey Settlement Association he was a prime mover in attracting settlement to the extensive agricultural area of Kentishbury of which Sheffield is now the centre, but his labours and investments on the Coast benefitted others more than himself, and he returned to Launceston to resume his old trade. In 1886 he sustained a paralytic stroke, and in the following year removed to Pinkie, some three miles out of Launceston, where, he has since resided. He has been falling in health for some time past, suffering from diabetes, which in the end proved fatal.

Mr Dean took a warm interest in public affairs, and was a fearless partisan. He was the oldest total abstainer in Launceston, and supported the temperance cause liberally with his purse as well as by his example and precept. Shortly after his arrival in Launceston he contributed £50 towards the establishment of the Temperance Advocate, long since defunct, and he bought the allotment in York-street on which the Temperance Hall was subsequently erected. When Good Templarism was at its height he gave £25 in prizes for essays upon the aims and objects of the Order, which were given away at a Good Templar celebration in the old Pavilion in the City Park, and he also gave £50 towards the Juvenile Industrial Exhibition so successfully held in the old Oddfellows' Hall in St. John street. It is no breach of confidence now to state that it was his hand that initiated the movement for an Industrial Exhibition, which was so vigorously taken up by Alderman Button, and has developed into the Tasmanian Exhibition we hope to successfully open in Launceston in October next. Mr Dean was a valued contributor to the press. A series of ten articles over his well-known signature, "B," " Tasmania as a Field for Immigration," were republished in a home paper, and did much to bring the colony into notice, and amongst other contributions were an interesting series on "Bushranging in Tasmania," and "Brady and His Associates," besides innumerable old reminiscences, and vigorous letters.

Mr Dean was married to a daughter of the late Mr Best, of West Devonport, who survives him, and has left five sons, of whom Alderman H. J. Dean is the eldest, and three daughters, one of whom is married. The funeral will take place tomorrow, the cortege arriving at Tamar-street bridge at 4 p.m.

Original publication

Citation details

'Dean, William Boswell (1817–1891)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 25 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


West Kent, Kent, England


19 January, 1891 (aged ~ 74)
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia

Cause of Death


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