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William Henry Geary

Alexandra Hasluck:
Captain Geary—Lieutenant William Henry Geary, R.N.—to give him his true rank, had trained in the West Indies service of the Royal Navy, receiving his Lieutenancy in 1823. He joined H.M.S. Acorn, Captain Ellice, in 1826. After leaving that vessel he, like many other retrenched naval men, sought employment in merchant shipping. Hasluck: 68.

... This command did not suit Captain Geary’s plans. A violent quarrel took place between the two men. It had been boiling up ever since the Gilmore had arrived at the Cape of Good Hope and dropped anchor on 30 October. Four days later, Captain Geary had married Miss Susan Smythe, one of his passengers, by special licence, in the English Church. Captain Geary was in no hurry to depart, being in the mood to enjoy his honeymoon among the colonial comforts of Cape Town; but his employer Thomas Peel resented the wasted time, for they were already overdue at Swan River and still a month’s sail from there. Peel made himself very unpleasant, and the Gilmore departed on 7 November, bound for Fremantle. The very biased Swan River Guardian several years later referred to this time: ‘On the passage of the Gilmore to Swan River, Mr Peel’s disposition began to show itself and he was only kept in order by the spirited conduct of Captain Geary . . .’ and Peel from his subsequent actions as shown in letters by Mrs Ann Smythe and Adam Elmslie, certainly had a grudge of some sort against the Smythe family. Now, in December, all this came to the surface. Angry words passed, perhaps even blows. Captain Geary may have felt himself insulted beyond endurance. At all events the Hobart Colonial Times was able to announce piously:

It appears that a duel was fought between Mr PEEL and the Commander of the vessel in which that gentleman came passenger. We fear that those who could not keep their patience more within bounds during a passage on board ship, will be found to possess but little of that cool, methodical sort of courage that is required to buffet the difficulties inseparable from any attempt to found a new country ...

No references to a duel are to be found in Western Australian archives, but there is a letter of Captain Jervoise, commander of H.M.S. Success, apparently in answer to one from Governor Stirling, that gives food for thought:

Cockburn Sound, 6 January 1830
Sir, I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 4th inst. stating circumstances connected with the outrages committed on board the Gilmore, and suggesting to me ‘the necessity which exists in the present circumstances of this Infant Settlement, to sepress [sic] by every proper means a tendency to insubordination and violence on the part of Persons visiting its shores’.
I beg leave in reply to assure you of my readiness to offer any co­operations for the welfare and safety of the Colony that I may be legally authorized to exert.

This letter was addressed to the Governor, but noted on it in pencil, in evident surprise by Peter Brown [Broun], the Colonial Secretary, is: ‘No letter was sent from this office to Captain Jervoise’, showing that in the first instance the matter had passed only through Captain Stirling’s hands.
Captain Jervoise was the senior commander among the Navy vessels lying in Cockburn Sound at the time. If, indeed, there was a duel between Thomas Peel and Captain Geary, a former officer of the Royal Navy, some of the naval gentlemen may have helped in officiating. Duelling was illegal according to British law; if death resulted, a charge of murder could be laid, therefore the less said about the affair the better, so long as honour was satisfied between the principals. This particular affair might never have been known of, except that someone connected with it was more talkative than he should have been, and this someone might well have been Captain Pryce of the ship Nancy. [footnote: Henry Pryce, born 23/6/1786, entered the Navy 20/5/1796. After a good career, he was promoted to the rank of commander 19/7/1821. After that he joined the merchant navy.] Pure coincidence might explain the paragraphs about Peel’s altercation with Stirling and the duel with Geary appearing in the Hobart Colonial Times just after the Nancy’s arrival at that port; but the Nancy had also been at Cape Town and at Swan River at the same time as the Gilmore, as shipping reports show. Captain Pryce was also a former officer of the Royal Navy, like Geary; and another bond between them is supplied by Archdeacon Scott, who found them consorting together at Fremantle, and planning to make a fast penny by speculating in land. He refers to them as ‘Mr Geary of the Gilmore, Mr Pryce of the Nancy, both arrant rogues.. .’ If Pryce had acted as Geary’s second in the duel, he would have been able, in an expansive moment, to give The Colonial Times this titbit. Some members of the ‘silent service’ are more garrulous than others.
No apparent harm came to this duel. ... Hasluck: 72-74.

William Henry Geary (c.1795-1869) was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, commanding the Speedwell in 1822. He captained the Gilmore on its passage to the Swan River settlement in Western Australia in 1829, marrying Susan Smythe en route, in Cape Town. Among the passengers was entrepreneur/developer Thomas Peel, as the 500-ton merchant vessel was contracted to convey Peel’s 180-strong contingent of emigrants bound for the Swan River with the intention of establishing a settlement there. Geary returned to England, successfully applied for a grant of land in Australia and settled in Port Macquarie where he was appointed Harbour Master in 1832. He later moved to Moreton Bay, and became the first Harbour Master of Brisbane in 1852.  Susan died a week after moving to Brisbane, aged only 42, and he did not remarry. Children of the marriage: Henry Vincent 1830, Edward Montagu 1833, Medora Ann 1835, Leila Helen 1836, Susan Clemence 1838, Godfrey Nairne Benjamin 1840, Emma Louise 1843, Anna Martha 1846, Douglas Lonsdale 1849. (familytreecircles page)

Geary was married to Elizabeth Catherine MILLER, so if he went through a form of marriage in Cape Town, it must have been bigamous. Elizabeth died June 1867 in Hackney and her death certificate (below: click/tap for larger size) shows her as the wife of William Henry Geary RN.

geary cert

References and Links

Hasluck, Alexandra 1965, Thomas Peel of Swan River, OUP, Melbourne.

Biographical information and death certificate courtesy of Margaret Baddeley.


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