GAWLER, George (1795-1869)

GAWLER, George (1795-1869)
second governor of South Australia
was born on 21 July 1795, the son of Captain Samuel Gawler who was killed in battle in India in 1804. George Gawler was educated at the military college, Great Marlow, and proved to be a diligent and clever student. In October 1810 he obtained a commission as an ensign in the 52nd regiment and in January 1812 went with his regiment to the Peninsular war. He was a member of a storming party at Badajoz, and was wounded and saved from death by a private soldier who lost his own life. He was in Spain until 1814. The regiment returned to England and Gawler, now a lieutenant, fought at Waterloo. He remained in France with the army of occupation until 1818, and in 1820 married Maria Cox. Both were sincerely religious and when the 52nd was sent to New Brunswick in 1823 they did much social and religious work. Gawler returned to England in 1826 and from 1830 to 1832 was engaged in recruiting. He reached the rank of lieutenant-colonel in 1834 and in 1837 received the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order, third class. In 1838 he was appointed governor of South Australia in succession to Captain Hindmarsh (q.v.).
Gawler arrived in South Australia on 12 October 1838 with his wife and five children and found a colony of 5000 people at Adelaide, many of whom were anxious to go on the land, but could not do so until it was surveyed. It was fortunate that the governor had been given wide powers for he found that, though little or no money was available, emigrants were still pouring in. He appointed Captain Sturt (q.v.) surveyor-general and encouraged in every way the completion of the necessary surveys. Before he left Adelaide in May 1841, 6000 colonists had settled on the land. He also built government offices, police barracks, a gaol, and a government house, thus providing much needed work for stranded emigrants. He organized a police force, as he had no military to enforce his authority, and he encouraged and helped the development of the religious and educational life of the colony. All this had involved much expense and Gawler under his emergency powers drew drafts £270,000 in excess of the revenue. In February 1841 Gawler heard that two of his bills had been dishonoured, but it was not until 25 April that he became aware that all his bills since 1 September 1840 had been rejected. On 12 May 1841 Captain (afterwards Sir) George Grey (q.v.) arrived to take his place. Gawler's recall was sent in the same vessel. He left the colony a few weeks later and attempted to justify his conduct by writing to the colonial office. This was useless as it had been determined that he should be made the scapegoat for the apparent failure of the colony. He spent the remainder of his life in England, practically in retirement, taking a special interest in philanthropic and religions questions. He left the army in 1850 and his last years were spent at Southsea where he died on 7 May 1869. A son, Henry Gawler, returned to Adelaide and for some time was attorney-general without a seat in parliament.
Gawler's work was long misjudged, largely because his successor Grey, in his dispatches, made the worst of his predecessor's acts, without suggesting the difficulties under which he had worked. Gawler was a gallant and energetic officer who, when he found the settlers faced with disaster, saw at once what it was necessary to do, and saved the colony. Though Mills in his Colonization on of Australia accepts the view that Gawler had been guilty of carelessness and extravagance and cannot be wholly acquitted of blame, the extraordinary difficulties with which he was faced are acknowledged. Sturt and other men on the spot generally agreed that his administration had greatly benefited the settlement, and the select committee on South Australia reported that the critics of his expenditure were "unable to point out any specific item by which it could have been considerably reduced without great public inconvenience". Gawler in being recalled suffered the common fate of early governors, and, however much he may have been blamed in his lifetime, later investigations have given him an honoured place among the founders of South Australia.
A. Grenfell Price, Founders and Pioneers of South Australia; R. C. Mills, The Colonization of Australia (1829-1842); Mrs N. G. Sturt, Life of Charles Start; Rev J. Blacket, History of South Australia; The Centenary History of South Australia.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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