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CAPTAIN EDWARD CHARLES FROME, ROYAL ENGINEERS (1802-1890)

The cover is stampless with a manuscript ‘8' crossed-out with a manuscript PM’s endorsement of ‘P.O/Clare’ and a manuscript ‘O.P. Service’ with a postmark of G.P.O ADELAIDE/[crown]/ MA 6/ 1849/ SOUTH AUST. and it is addressed to Captain Frome R.E., Victoria Square (Figure 1).

Edward Charles Frome, soldier and surveyor, was born on 7 January 1802 at Gibraltar, the son of Rev. J. T. Frome of Woodlands, Dorset, England. He was educated at Bexley and Blackheath, and at 15 entered the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. He received his commission in the Royal Engineers in 1825 (lieutenant, 1826; captain, 1840) and served on the construction of the Rideau Canal in Canada in 1827-33. Two years later he wrote his Outline of the method of conducting a trigonometrical survey (London, 1840), which ultimately went through four editions. He was the superintendent of instruction of junior Royal Engineers at Chatham when the South Australian colonization commissioners appointed him for 10 years as the third surveyor-general of South Australia. He arrived in Adelaide in the Recovery with his wife, their three children and a party of sappers in September 1839.

An immense task confronted him for less than a third of the land sold by the commissioners had been surveyed, and hundreds of settlers were clamouring for their country sections, yet Frome had to give priority to the special surveys which entitled large buyers to the pick of the land throughout the province. Many of the sections already occupied near Adelaide had been wrongly marked and correction by Frome was difficult, but by 1841 many roads and secondary towns were marked and a trigonometrical survey of the limits of the settlement was completed.

Frome had to reorganize a reduced department, but he lowered the surveying cost per acre from 1s.7d. to 4d. He also undertook without pay the duties of colonial engineer. The older parts of Adelaide gaol, still in use after more than a century, were completed under his supervision. His bridges over the Torrens River were less enduring as two were swept away by floods in six years.  In 1839-43 he was a member of Council of the Government, but he showed little interest in politics. He was the first to visit the lake named after him, and his report accurately described the poor nature of the surrounding country. He evidently liked exploring and offered to lead the 1844 expedition if Captain Sturt were not available.

After the depression lifted in 1845, the discovery of copper and resumption of immigration increased the demands for roads and surveys. Frome’s duties were increased but he still found time to serve on boards of the hospital and of the public cemetery and as a justice of the peace. Prolonged overwork weakened his health and on 20 February 1849 he left Adelaide and returned to England. He served with the Royal Engineers in Mauritius, Heligoland, Scotland, Ireland and Gibraltar, winning promotion to major in 1851 and lieutenant-colonel in 1854, before becoming lieutenant-governor of Guernsey in 1869. He retired in 1877 with the rank of general and died in 1890 at Ewell, in Surrey.

Frome never saw military action but served the Empire well as a competent, energetic and versatile officer. He had 5 daughters and a son with Jane Light. He had useful talents as an artist, and his landscape paintings of places he explored are in art museums, but the chief value of his pictures is the historical content. A picture of Frome ca.1890 is shown in Figure 2.

This paper was largely adapted from the online version of the Australian Dictionary of Biography.


 
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