Henry Colden Antill is an 'unsung hero' of the colonial days of New South Wales. He was a soldier of impeccable behaviour, a just magistrate, a businessman with integrity, upheld the principle of equality of opportunity for ex-convicts, a considerate husband and father, an environment-friendly landowner before that was fashionable, and a fair employer of both convict and free. Next to the governor himself, Henry Antill was arguably the most-enlightened person in the colony post The Rum Rebellion. As Lachlan Macquarie's aide-de-camp he was privy to all discussions and decisions, travelled throughout the settlements with Macquarie and was the governor's 'ears'.
Born on 1st May 1779 in New York, Henry Colden Antill was of British stock, his great-grandfather, Edward Antill, having migrated from England to the American colonies in 1680. Henry was a son of John Antill, a Major in the New Jersey Volunteers, who fought under the King's banner in the war of American independence; as a result of which his property was confiscated. After the war John and his family removed to Canada where Henry spent his youth. Henry's mother was Margaret Colden.
Henry was commissioned in the British army in 1796 as an ensign in the 73rd Regiment. He served in India and at Seringapatam was severely wounded in the shoulder. In 1799 he was promoted Lieutenant and about this time became associated with Captain Lachlan Macquarie, with whom he formed a firm friendship. The 73rd Regiment returned to England in 1807. Antill was promoted Captain on 11th January 1809.
In April 1809, Macquarie was commissioned to go to New South Wales as Governor of the Colony. He would be taking his own regiment, the 73rd, which was to replace the New South Wales Corps. It was Macquarie who had to sort the mess created by the mutinous and treasonous New South Wales Corps and re-establish proper law and order.
They arrived at Sydney Cove on 31st December 1809 aboard HMS Dromedary. On 1st January 1810, when Macquarie officially became Governor, Antill was appointed his aide-de-camp (ADC).
Antill was promoted Major in 1811. He accompanied the governor on his tours throughout the settled areas, including a visit to Van Diemen's Land in 1811. In 1815 he was in the vice-regal party which officially opened the road to Bathurst. In 1818 he accompanied Macquarie on an inspection of Newcastle and in 1820 he took part in an excursion to the newly-discovered land south of the Cowpastures as far as Lake George. Antill was also a member of various committees concerned with the welfare of orphans, public schools and aboriginals. He was involved in much work as co-executor with Thomas Moore of the estate of Andrew Thompson. He became a close friend of Dr William Redfern (and brother-in-law, their wives being sisters), and firmly supported the emancipist cause.
Henry Antill found that he was central in the re-building of colonial society, post Rum Corps. Those who had sided with the treasonous coup against the King's government either left the colony or learned quickly to 'hold their tongue'. As ADC (and close friend) to the new governor, Antill could influence policy without becoming enmeshed in politics or seeking self-indulgence. New towns were sited with striking architecture, religion and education developed, literature and music were encouraged, industry and agriculture blossomed. Exclusives lost their monopoly and emancipists received equal opportunity.
Henry married Eliza Wills, the daughter of an emancipist, on 9th October 1818 in St Phillip's Church of England, Sydney, New South Wales. Henry would become the uncle by marriage of Tom Wills (1835-80), Australia's first great cricketer and the inventor of Australian Rules football.
Henry and Eliza would have ten children, nine of whom attained adulthood - six sons and three daughters:
In 1821 Macquarie received instructions to return to England, with the 73rd Regiment. He would be replaced as Governor. Henry retired from the army as a Major, on half-pay, so that he could remain in the colony following the departure of the regiment for England. He was 42 years of age and had given the military 25 years of exceptional service.
Henry was appointed a director of the recently-created Bank of New South Wales (now Westpac Bank) in 1819-21, such was his stature in the community even at this early stage. He was appointed a justice of the peace in 1821. In 1829 became resident magistrate and superintendent of police for the Picton district, at a salary of £150, whereupon he relinquished his half-pay. As a magistrate he was painstaking and unlike most of his fellows was even accused of 'showing undue sympathy towards the convicts who were brought before him'.
Henry and Eliza settled on the land first at Moorebank, near Liverpool, and then in 1825 on a 2,000-acres (809 ha) grant near Picton received on 9th July 1822 for his eleven years of services as ADC. He named this estate Jarvisfield, in honour of Macquarie's first wife, Jane Jarvis, whom he had known in India. He was granted an additional 900 acres (364 ha) in 1826, which he named Coldenham. His agricultural and pastoral pursuits flourished. He took up more land in the Molonglo Valley (near present-day Canberra) where several of his sons received their early pastoral training. In 1844 he subdivided part of his Jarvisfield estate on the north side of Stonequarry Creek and so made possible the founding of the town of Picton. He donated land in Menangle Street for St Joseph's Roman Catholic Chuch and in Menangle Street West for St Mark's Church of England (Anglican) and graveyard.
Henry passed away, aged 73 years, on 14th August 1852 at Jarvisfield and was buried in the family vault which he had built on the estate. He was survived by his wife (who passed away on 30th September 1858 and was buried beside Henry's remains in the family vault), six sons, three daughters, and two grandchildren (of 70 who would be born afterward). Antill was well known for his generosity and for his earnest religious outlook which included strict observance of the Sabbath.
Thank you to Jeanne Solity for establishing this profile on 19th January 2014.
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