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WILLIAM NAIRN GRAY, ILLAWARRA N.S.W. POLICE MAGISTRATE & LAND COMMISSIONER

This 1850 Victorian cover has an 1850 2d ‘Half Length’ stamp cancelled by the ‘butterfly 14/V’ of Ovens and it is addressed to Wm Gray Nairn, Geelong. There is nothing to suggest the name of the sender. The reverse was not seen (Figure 1).

My interest in William Nairn Gray was initially piqued by a website concerning house names in the Colony of Victoria. The information was quite limited but intriguing, a good starting point to research the man, and it read:

"The Colonial Land Commissioner, William Nairn Gray, ordered a prefabricated iron house from Edinburgh, Scotland. The house arrived at Geelong, Victoria in 1855 in a series of crates, but unfortunately Mr. Gray had died the previous year. The house was sold very cheaply the following year and was to be known as Corio Villa. This villa proudly overlooks Corio Bay in Geelong." The Corio Villa was a single-storey prefabricated iron house designed by Bell & Miller, architects and engineers, manufactured in Edinburgh by Charles D. Young & Co., and assembled in Geelong by Alfred Douglass in 1856. The house is unique in Australia, for after shipping to Australia, the factory and the molds were destroyed by fire. An up-to-date view of Corio Villa is seen in Figure 2.

With the assistance of a reference librarian at the National Library of Australia, Gray’s death certificate was found in "The Victorians Pioneer Index 1837-1888". The limited information was found in seven lines:

"Name: Gray, William Nairn

Father: Charles

Mother: Ann

Age: 47

Birthplace: Forfarshire (Scotland)

Year (of death): 1854

Reg. no. 3471".

His death at the early age of 47, presumably was unexpected. The Australasian Biographical Archive which lists many middle-ranking officials had no entry, nor did the on-line Australian Dictionary of Biography on him.

The earliest listing for William Nairn Gray I have found to-date was in a website concerning ‘The Blue Books record of the Illawarra New South Wales Bench of Magistrates’ referring to clerks that were employed. One clerk was unnamed, another H.A.B. Bennett was the first named employed from November 1832 until November 1834, and he was replaced by William Nairn Gray. Another website contradicts this information as follows: Captain Allman was resident Police Magistrate at Illawarra until 15 February 1834 when he was transferred to Goulburn and was replaced by William Nairn Gray on 4 March 1834. This second site states that on 1 August 1836, W. N. Gray was replaced by Alfred Holden as resident Police Magistrate of Illawarra.

During his tenure as Police Magistrate resident in Wollongong, Nairn made two complaints to the Colonial Secretary against Mr. H.A. Bennett (Clerk to the Bench) about the latter’s drunkenness and to the Colonial Treasurer in regards to Bennett’s Public Money accounts being deficient to the sum of £26.11.6.

A third website describing the 1846 inward correspondence of William Nairn Gray. The Colonial Secretary states that there were several complaints against Gray; one of which was that he had misappropriated convict labour to build a race-course and to enlarge his own garden for profit. To refute the charges, Gray enclosed a plan of the trifling alterations to his garden, and listed the mighty public works he had performed. I cannot be sure if this correspondence occurred whilst Nairn was employed in N.S.W. or whether he had moved to Geelong, Victoria by then. The latter is a real possibility, for now as Land Commissioner, he might have had greater access to convict labour in this position.

 


 
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