Edward Charles Close (1790–1866)

Close, Edward Charles (1790–1866)

by Nancy Gray

This article was published:

See: Biography – Edward Charles Close – Australian Dictionary of Biography (anu.edu.au)

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Edward Charles Close (1790-1866), settler and churchman, was born on 12 March 1790 at Rangamati, Bengal, the only child of Edward Close, merchant, and Marrianne, daughter of Michael Collinson. Educated in England, he entered the army in 1808, serving throughout the Peninsular war as a lieutenant in the 48th Regiment. On 3 August 1817 he arrived in New South Wales with a detachment of his regiment in the Matilda and after several years in Sydney was transferred to Newcastle. As acting engineer, he was responsible in 1821-22 for putting down mooring chains and removing dangerous shoals from Newcastle Harbour. He built a fort near the signal station and erected an iron beacon in which a large coal fire was lit each night at sunset. This light on Beacon Hill functioned until 1857, when it was replaced by the Nobby’s Head lighthouse.

On 27 September 1821 at St John’s, Parramatta, Close married Sophia Susannah, only daughter of John Palmer and his wife Susan. Late next year he resigned from the army to settle on his 2560-acre (1036 ha) grant, Illulaung, the place of green hills, which adjoined the government reserve for the township of Morpeth, at the head of navigation of the Hunter River.

Appointed to the magistracy in 1825 Close was one of the magistrates who had to report on the shooting of four Aboriginals by mounted police under the command of Lieutenant Nathaniel Lowe. Three of the natives had been killed while escaping from captivity, and the fourth was taken from the police office at Maitland and shot. Governor (Sir) Ralph Darling, an opponent of martial action against the Aboriginals, sent the acting attorney-general, William Henry Moore, to investigate the magistrates’ report more fully. Close regarded this as an accusation of improper conduct, and was so unco-operative and resentful that Moore’s investigation proved fruitless. Lowe was tried in Sydney in 1827 for ‘deliberate murder upon a man in custody and without the means of acting offensively’ but the credibility of the crown witnesses was impugned, and he was acquitted.

Close was removed from the magistracy for his attitude in this affair, but Darling raised no objection to his appointment in 1829 to the Legislative Council, an office which he accepted reluctantly and found increasingly onerous. He complained of the expenditure of time and money involved in attending sessions of the council, and of the frequent delays and postponements which occurred. His resignation was accepted in 1838. Meanwhile part of Illulaung was subdivided and an important trading centre developed along the Morpeth waterfront. In 1836 Close built a school which his own children attended and in which Protestant services were conducted regularly. He was treasurer of the Maitland church funds, trustee of the savings bank, first president of the Maitland Hospital, and warden of the district council in 1843-52.

Edward Charles Close junior laid the foundation stone of St James’s Church of England, Morpeth, on 2 January 1837. The site was given and the total cost of the construction met by Edward Close in fulfilment of a vow, made during the Peninsular war, that if his life were spared he would build a church as a thank-offering. St James’s was consecrated on 31 December 1840 by Bishop William Grant Broughton and enlarged in 1864 by the substantial benefaction of Mrs Close’s cousin, John Campbell. The difficulty of obtaining a suitable home for the first bishop of Newcastle, William Tyrrell, was overcome when Close offered Closebourne, his recently built home at Morpeth, to the church. The house was purchased in 1848, became the headquarters of the diocese of Newcastle, and until 1911 was the residence of its bishops. Close built Morpeth House, where his wife died on 26 June 1856, aged 53. He continued to participate in local affairs for some years, chiefly as clergyman’s warden at Morpeth, an office which he held for twenty-four years. He died on 7 May 1866 and was buried beside his wife in the Anglican section of Morpeth cemetery.

His surviving sons, Edward Charles, M.L.A. for Morpeth in 1859 and 1862, Robert Campbell and George Thomas Palmer, and his only daughter, Marrianne Collinson, who married George Campbell of Duntroon, provided an endowment for the clergy of St James’s, and the citizens of the district presented the large east window of the church, as memorials to Edward Close. A life-size portrait, presented by friends in recognition of his services, hangs in the committee room of Maitland Hospital.

Sound common sense and honesty of purpose won for Close the respect of his fellows, outweighing his disabilities as a public speaker and his assumption, on occasion, of unwarranted authority. He conducted his estate in the English manorial tradition, providing educational and medical facilities for his employees and tenants, as well as bonfires and bell-ringings on ceremonial occasions. His continuing and practical support of the church earned him the lasting regard of its clergy, so that his name is indissolubly linked with the foundation of the Church of England in the Hunter valley.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 12-14, 19
  • P. Elkin, Morpeth and I(Syd, 1937)
  • H. Collinson Close, ‘Edward Charles Close, Pioneer of Morpeth, and “Father of the Hunter”’, Journal and Proceedings(Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 13, part 4, 1927, pp 224-44
  • Australian, 3 Jan, 1 Mar 1827
  • Sydney Gazette, 21 May 1827.

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