Lemprieres in Australia and Tasmania

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Lemprieres in Australia

Thomas Lempriere self portrait 1835.jpg
An 1830 self portrait of ThomasLempriere

The story of artist Thomas James Lempriere and his family

A black and white photograph of Lempriere's painting of Macquarie Harbour dated 1830

Thomas James Lempriere

Thomas James Lempriere (1796–1852) artist and government official, was born on 11 January 1796 at Hamburg, Germany, where his father, Thomas Lempriere, a Jersey banker and merchant, was working. An adventurous early life included being imprisoned with his father by Napoleon at Verdun in 1803, although the 7-year-old boy was soon returned to his mother, Harriet née Allen, in England.


He served the Commissariat Department in France, Flanders and the West Indies (1815–16), then was employed in the counting house of cousins, T and W March and Co, London. Under their auspices, Lempriere sailed for Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) on the Regalia, arriving in Hobart in 1822 to commence his own business. Following a short and unsuccessful period as a merchant, he joined the Commissariat Department and remained in its employ until his death at sea on 6 January 1852 en route to Aden, having been invalided home to England from a post in Hong Kong.

Another painting from Macquarie Harbour


A shipboard romance resulted in his marriage to Charlotte Smith in 1823, and their large family was born over twenty years from 1824. Lempriere was prominent in the development of the Bank of Van Diemen's Land, but his Hobart business failed and by September 1825 he was insolvent. He rejoined the Commissariat Department and as well as working in Hobart Town, his duties took him to posts at the major penal settlements in Van Diemen's Land: Macquarie Harbour, Maria Island and Port Arthur. He served at the last in 1833-48 and there wrote his account of the penal settlements which was published in parts in the Tasmanian Journal of Natural Science (Hobart Town 1842-46).


He was of note as an artist of sketches, scenic water colours and portraits in oils. At least 135 of his works are in private or state collections. His interest in painting was not developed until comparatively late in life and he displayed an almost childlike pleasure when the sculptor Benjamin Law commended his efforts in January 1837: 'He was greatly astonished that anybody at such an age had begun to paint, a compliment to my abilities, but alas showing how much I have aged'.

Portraiture was Lempriere's forte and comprises the major part of his work. His best-known portraits are probably the early ones of his commandant at Port Arthur, Captain Charles O'Hara Booth, and his wife Elizabeth Charlotte, but Lempriere's diaries document many others, a good percentage of which survive, largely with the families for whom they were painted.

Other activities

He planned the Port Arthur church, took services there and was a prominent Mason. From his time at Sarah Island, Lempriere collected fish specimens for the marine naturalist, Sir John Richardson, and mammals, birds and insects for William Swainson, to whom he was introduced through a gift of Swainson's Naturalist's Guide. Lempriere formed a museum at Port Arthur in 1837 and kept tidal and meteorological information, and a skate named in his honour (Raja lemprieri) testifies to his scientific interests. Lempriere played the bugle horn and key bugle and was a Francophile and inveterate diarist.

Merchants' notes

Lempriere Weaver and Co.jpg
Lempriere and Co private trader note.jpg

It seems highly likely that these private trader notes from 1923 are connected to Thomas Lempriere's time as a merchant, because other similar promissary notes have been found bearing the signature Thomas James Lempriere. Strangely, the notes are denominated in Spanish Dollars.

Wool traders

The Lempriere family name is prominent in Australian wool trading.

The Lempriere family became involved in wool trading from the inception of auction sales in the colony of Victoria in the 1850s. Records from the first auctions held in Geelong in 1857 show the firm of Tondeur Lempriere as the purchaser of 139 bales from the clip of a Mr Dennis at a price of one shilling and eleven and a half pence per pound.

The company was formed by Augley Lempriere, grandson of Thomas James Lempriere (see above) and two of his brothers. They moved from Tasmania to Victoria encouraged by the Gold Rush and became general merchants in wool under the trading name Tondeur Lempriere.

The general trading company of Lempriere Brothers continued to be active in the wool market until 1905, when Audley Lempriere, the grandfather of the present Chairman, split from his brothers to form the specialist wool trading company of A R Lempriere.

A.R.Lempriere developed a flourishing business, which developed during the twenties to become a significant voice in the Australian wool market, with offices in Sydney and Perth and a world - wide clientele. The business was left to his second son William (Bill) at the age of 26, following his death in 1931.

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