REDFERN, William (1778-1833)

REDFERN, William (1778-1833)
was probably born in 1778. He qualified as a medical man by passing the examinations of the Company of Surgeons, London, and was a surgeon's mate in the navy at the time of the mutiny at the Nore in 1797. It is not known exactly what part he played in the mutiny, but after being condemned to death the sentence was altered to transportation for life. He arrived at Sydney in December 1801, and from June 1802 to May 1804 acted as an assistant surgeon at Norfolk Island. He was given a free pardon in 1803, and in 1808 was examined in medicine and surgery by a board of medical men, who certified that he was "qualified to exercise the profession of a surgeon, etc.". In the same year Colonel Foveaux (q.v.) appointed him to act as an assistant surgeon, evidently desiring to regularize his position. Foveaux, in asking that this appointment should be confirmed, stated that Redfern's "skill and ability in his profession are unquestionable, and his conduct has been such as to deserve particular approbation". Macquarie (q.v.) soon after his arrival stated that he found that hitherto no transported men had been received into society at Sydney. He felt, however, "that emancipation, when united with rectitude and long-tried good conduct, should lead a man back to that rank in society which he had forfeited". He was aware that the attempt to do this would need much caution and delicacy, and stated that up to then he had "admitted only four men of that class to his table", of whom Redfern was one. When D'Arcy Wentworth became principal surgeon in 1811 Redfern succeeded him as assistant surgeon. In 1817 he became one of the founders of the Bank of New South Wales.
Redfern expected to succeed D'Arcy Wentworth as principal surgeon and in 1818 Macquarie recommended him for the position, which was, however, given to James Bowman in 1819. Redfern immediately resigned from the Colonial Medical Service. In this year Macquarie made him a magistrate, but this was objected to by Commissioner Bigge (q.v.) and the appointment was not sanctioned. Redfern had a large private practice as a physician, and though somewhat brusque in manner was much liked and trusted. He visited England in 1821 as a delegate for the emancipists endeavouring to obtain relief from their disabilities, and in January 1824 he was at the island of Madeira for the benefit of his health. His wife, who was then in London, made application on his behalf for an additional grant of land, which was granted. He was evidently then in good circumstances. He retired from practising as a physician in 1826, and for about two years engaged in scientific farming which had been a hobby of his for some time. He went to Edinburgh about the end of 1828 and died there towards the close of July 1833. He married in 1811 Sara Wills, who survived him with a son.
Flanagan in his History of New South Wales states that Redfern's offence at the time of the mutiny at the Nore "consisted in advising the mutineers to be more united". In spite of all Macquarie's efforts and Redfern's general good conduct and standing as a physician, it was impossible to entirely break down the prejudice against him, and Flanagan also tells us that "a stringent rule was necessary to keep the junior officers at the table when he appeared in the mess-room as the guest of the colonel". The naming of a suburb of Sydney after Redfern may perhaps be taken as a tardy apology to the memory of a good physician and worthy Australian pioneer.
Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vols. VI, VII, IX to XI, ser. III, vol. II, ser. IV, vol. I; Norman J. Dunlop, Journal and Proceedings Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. XIV, pp. 57-105; W. C. Wentworth, A Statistical Account of the British Settlements in Australia, 3rd ed., vol. I, pp. 395-410.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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