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Richard Bourke

(1777—1855) army officer and colonial governor


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(1777–1855), an Irish landowner and British army officer, was the first liberal governor of NSW, holding office from 1831 to 1837. He supported the emancipists' claim for civil and political rights and for the establishment of an elected Assembly. As an instalment of reform, he pushed through the nominated Council a measure to provide civilian juries in criminal cases, with ex-convicts being eligible for jury service. This alarmed the free emigrant landowners, who attempted to discredit Bourke in England by claiming that another of his measures—a limitation on the powers of magistrates—was endangering convict discipline. The liberals and emancipists rallied to support the governor. This bitter party warfare was designed to influence the British government's decision on the colony's future constitution, a matter which it did not settle until well after Bourke's departure. His lasting legacy was his Church Act, which provided public funds on the same basis to Anglican, Presbyterian, and Catholic churches. His plan to replace public support for church schools by a national system of education met too much opposition and had to be dropped. The liberals and emancipists honoured him with a statue which stands outside the State Library in Macquarie Street, Sydney. His biography has been written by Hazel King (1971).

From The Oxford Companion to Australian History in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Australasian and Pacific History.


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