JOHN DRUMMOND, DISGRACED NAVAL OFFICER, HOBART TOWN, V.D.L.
An inwards piece of mail was addressed to John Drummond Esq, Naval Officer, Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land. There was a red PAID SHIP LETTER/ [Crown]/ 7 MR 7/ 1818/ LONDON postmark, as well as a manuscript ‘1/9' in red paying the single rate to N.S.W. The entire’s letter was headed ‘Enfield Highway 5th 1818'. The vendor stated that it was the second earliest inwards mail to Tasmania, and an estimate of AUD 10,000 was placed on it (Figure 1).
The second entire was addressed to John Drummond, Naval Officer at the Derwent, Van Diemens Land and had the identical red PAID SHIP LETTER/ [Crown]/ 6 JA 6/ 1819/ LONDON with a manuscript 1/9 rating (Figure 2).
John Drummond ‘flourished’ during the years 1808 to 1832 (‘fl.’: this quaint term of ‘flourished is used by the Australian Dictionary of Biography denoting that little or nothing is known of him before and after these dates). He was a public servant, the second son of Captain Francis Pinkerton Drummond (1749-1820) of the 98th Regiment and a descendant of William Drummond of Midlothian, the celebrated 17th century Scottish poet and historian.
John took over certain of his father’s interests in Scotland by deed executed in 1808. Within the next few years he married Elizabeth, who was born in New South Wales in 1793, the eldest daughter of Captain MacKellar of the N.S.W. Corps and a convict, Sarah Cooley. To his father this was a most unfortunate marriage and in 1814 Drummond was appointed Naval Officer at Hobart Town. With his wife and first son, John Duncan Wellington, he travelled to Sydney in the Marquis of Wellington, arrived in Sydney in January 1815, and to Hobart in July of that year, having been joined in Sydney by Mrs. Drummond’s 2 sisters, Isabella and Lilias McKellar (sic).
Drummond gave satisfaction in his official position in VDL. He was active in the suppression of smuggling, and received 2 land grants totalling more than 1200 acres (406 hectares), though bushranging activities prevented their cultivation. He was involved in a pistol duel with ensign Lascelles in October 1815, was a member of the Waterloo Club (set up in 1816 to honour the victory at Waterloo); in addition he was a member of Masonic Lodge 227, Hobart. In May 1817 he was active in trying to check the improper behaviour of Lt. Jeffreys of the Kangaroo.
Drummond's downfall came in his domestic behaviour. An intimate association developed between him and his sister-in-law, Lilias McKellar, who was living in his household. In August 1817 Lilias bore him a child, which she allegedly murdered, whereupon he buried it. At the coroner's inquest a Hobart jury found that the child had been murdered by Lilias with aid from Drummond and a servant woman. The three were committed for trial in Sydney where, though the burial was not denied, they were acquitted of the charge of murder for want of sufficient evidence. Drummond, who had been immediately suspended from office, appealed to Governor Lachlan Macquarie for reinstatement.
He asked that details of the trial to be suppressed in the Sydney Gazette, since the publicity would distress his respected family in Britain. Macquarie grant this request, nevertheless thought that Drummond was unfit to serve the government and dismissed him in December 1817. Drummond’s successor John Beaumont was appointed by Macquarie as Naval Officer and treasurer of the police fund. Lilias, who was only about 20 at the time of her indiscretion, subsequently married Nathaniel Elliot in Hobart in June 1820 and she died in December 1896. Mrs Drummond remained loyal to her husband throughout, though distressed by his association with her sister; and she bore him a son in 1816 at Hobart, and another in 1819 at Sydney.
Drummond sailed for England with his wife and sons in the Admiral Cockburn in March 1820, and settled at Addlestone, Surrey. From there he administered his Scottish interests, and when the deed of 1808 was registered in 1823 he was described as 'Sir John Francis Drummond, formerly Naval Officer at the Derwent, Van Diemen's Land'.
As can be seen little information is known about John Drummond, and much of what is known is somewhat peripheral of him. Although the contents of both letters have been seen by me, neither I nor the staff at The Australian Dictionary of Biography have been able to decipher a coherent story from them. Both letters were sent from the same address 107 Sloane Street from his brother who in the second letter implores him to return to England because his wages are so poor. The brother is apparently unaware that he had been dismissed from service over a year earlier.
This paper was largely derived from the Australian Dictionary of Biography.
Addendum: This item was found in Governor Lachlan Macquarie's journal dated Wednesday 1 October 1817: The Govt. Brig Elizabeth Henrietta commanded by Mr. Whyte arrived this morning from the Derwent - whence she sailed on the 16th Ult. having a number of Prisoners on board for Trial at the Criminal Court - with a number of Evidences. Mr John Drummond the Naval Officer of Hobart Town is amongst the Prisoners came up for Trial on a charge of murdering his own Child.