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Queensland Places - Somerset - Henry Marjoribanks Chester

By JOL Admin | 24 October 2014

Henry Marjoribanks Chester is prominent in the history of the Torres Strait region by virtue of his having been one of the Police Magistrates at Somerset.  Henry Chester was born in 1832 in England and immigrated to Queensland in 1864, where he worked for a time in the Union Bank of Australia.  He was then appointed Commissioner of Crown Lands and Police Magistrate for the Warrego Pastoral District.  He subsequently served as Land Agent at both Gladstone and Gympie.

In 1869, he was appointed Police Magistrate at Somerset, replacing Frank Jardine who had been granted leave of absence.  Chester was under the impression that his appointment was permanent and was disappointed when he had to stand aside when Frank Jardine returned in August 1870.  Chester stayed at Somerset until around 1872, involving himself in various business enterprises, as well as undertaking some exploration of the area.  Eventually he was re-employed to fill the vacancy brought about by the death in office of Police Magistrate Aplin, taking charge on 20 October 1875.

On 25 September 1877, Chester took charge of the new settlement at Thursday Island, before moving on to serve as Police Magistrate at several other Queensland locations including Cairns, Croydon, Cooktown, Clermont and Gladstone.

One of the major highlights in Chester’s long and varied career was his sailing north in the Pearl from Thursday Island to take possession of the supposedly unoccupied eastern half of New Guinea when, under instructions from the then Premier of Queensland, Sir Thomas McIllwraith, he planted the Union Jack at Port Moresby on 4 April 1883.  This act of occupation, with its complex political background, was later disowned and disavowed by the British government.

Henry Chester died in Brisbane on 3 October 1914.

Henry Marjoribanks Chester, State Library of Queensland Neg. No. 166768


This image, published at the time in various newspapers and publications, shows an artist’s impression of Henry Marjoribanks Chester, at the time of the raising of the British flag at Port Moresby.

You may also be interested in two recent blog posts on the history of the Somerset settlement Part 1 and Part 2

Brian Randall, Queensland Places Coordinator, State Library of Queensland.


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