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William Charles Wilkes, convict Queenslander

About the convict

Mr. Wilkes had a fluent and spirited pen, and many old readers of the "Courier" will remember his keen and pungent paragraphs in the weekly notes of the late fifties and early sixties.
The Queenslander, 29 August 1914, p.29
Head and shoulders portrait of a man with a moustache wearing a suit
Role: Editor of the Moreton Bay Courier and Separationist
Born: c.1816
Convicted: 14 February 1833 at Middlesex Gaol Delivery (Old Bailey - London)
Crime: Stealing in dwelling-house
Sentence: Transportation for life
Ship: Neva
Transported: Arrived in New South Wales on 21 November 1833
Died: Sydney on 21 November 1873. Buried in Camperdown Cemetery
Notes: Conditional Pardon issued on 1 February 1848

Further reading

Transcribed from the newspaper Brisbane Courier, 16 May 1873, p.3

Title header for the newspaper "The Brisbane Courier" ca.1889


We are informed by telegraph that Mr. William Wilkes, late editor of the Empire, and formerly a resident of Brisbane, died at Sydney on Tuesday last.  The announcement will be received with feelings of regret by the majority of old colonists, to whom the deceased was personally known, and who was generally esteemed for the many good qualities he possessed both of head and heart.  His was a useful career; and though as regards the life that has passed away, we must say with the poet -
The day is done, and thus darkness
Falls from the wings of night;

we are reminded at the same time that
The night shall be filled with music;
in other words, that a life well spent is not soon forgotten.  "We live," says Bailey, "in deeds, not years - in thoughts, not breaths – in feelings, not in figures on a dial," and it is something of this sort of life that we have to trace in the present sketch.

In 1843 or 1844, Mr. Wilkes came to this colony - then known as the Moreton Bay District - with Mr. Burnett, who was commissioned by the Government of New South Wales to survey the heads of the Clarence River.  He was a young man of prepossessing appearance, was well-connected, and had received a good education.  He accompanied Mr. Burnett on his journey overland, and acted as his confidential assistant.  He remained in Brisbane after Mr. Burnett's departure, and was employed as a storekeeper by Mr. G. S. Le Breton, in whose service he continued for a number of years.  He also became an occasional contributor to the Brisbane Courier, at that time a weekly newspaper, which had been started by Mr. A. S. Lyons, but which, in 1846, fell into the hands of Mr. J. Swan, the present Mayor of Brisbane.  In 1849, Mr. Wilkes became editor of the Courier, and in that capacity he continued for nearly ten years, when he removed to Sydney.  Under the heading "News and Notes by a Sydney Man," he then contributed periodical letters to the Courier; and eventually he became editor of the Sydney Empire.

During his residence in Queensland he identified himself with all the leading movements of the day.  He took the liberal side in politics; opposed the introduction of convict labor, then favoured by the squatters; did good service in the cause of education; and was one of the principal promoters of the Separation movement, to the success of which he contributed in no small degree by his able championship.  For his services in this respect Queensland is deeply indebted.  On the 18th of July, 1864, when on a visit to Brisbane, he was presented with a cup and a purse of sovereigns, of the value of 100 pounds, in recognition of these services.  On that occasion, a well-attended meeting was held; Mr. R. R. Mackenzie (now Sir Robert), took the chair, and observed, in the course of a short address, "that the name of Mr. Wilkes would ever be identified with that great triumph, the Separation of Moreton Bay from New South Wales.  It must, he thought, be most pleasing to Mr. Wilkes to know that his able advocacy - while editor of the leading journal of Queensland - of separation from the sister colony was so well appreciated, and that the exertions then made by him were universally recognised by the people of Brisbane."  It is unnecessary to quote further on this point.  Old residents will yet remember the powerful appeals that were penned by Mr. Wilkes – appeals that could not be refuted, and that were eventually crowned with success.  It was prophesied by the opponents of the movement that "Separation would be the destruction of Queensland."  Mr. Wilkes laughed at this, and the subsequent prosperity of the colony proves that he was right.

Beside being an able writer, thinker, and politician, Mr. Wilkes courted the Muses, and wrote many good pieces, as, for example, "The Raid of the Aboriginals," a comic sketch, which met with general favour.  Among his prose contributions those purporting to be written by "The Windmill Reporter" may be mentioned.  His genial disposition and love of society exposed him to many temptations.  Being what is called "good company" he was much sort after, and was a general favourite; but this position had its pains as well as it's pleasures.  A man of great ability, kind-hearted, and liberal in sentiment, his temperament ill-fitted him to withstand the strain put upon him in his social surroundings - and in this respect only he failed.  On other points, he has left "footprints" in Queensland that may be followed.

Disclaimer: This has been transcribed directly from the original document.  Any mistakes are from the original document.

Transcribed from the newspaper The Queenslander, 29 August 1914, p.29

Title header for the newspaper "The Queenslander" ca.1904


The late Mr. William Wilkes arrived in Moreton Bay in the year 1843, and for some time assisted in the survey of the Burnett district in association with the late Mr. Burnett, after whom the Burnett River is named.  He was afterwards interested in pastoral pursuits with the late James Canning Pearce, who then held Crow's Nest station.  Later on he engaged in several commercial undertakings in Brisbane, and when the "Moreton Bay Courier" started in 1846, under the editorship of the late Mr. A. S. Lyons, Mr. Wilkes became a contributor.  He subsequently became editor of the paper, in which capacity he continued to act till 1856.  In that year he removed to Sydney, and attached himself to the literary staff of the old "Empire," then owned by the late Mr. (afterwards Sir) Henry Parkes.  In 1857 he commenced sending to the "Moreton Bay Free Press" his "News and Notes, by a Sydney Man."  Shortly before separation he transferred this correspondence to the columns of the "Courier," to which paper he continued to contribute for several years.  Mr. Wilkes had a fluent and spirited pen, and many old readers of the "Courier" will remember his keen and pungent paragraphs in the weekly notes of the late fifties and early sixties.  Mr. W. J. Connolly, who for many years occupied important Government positions in the Northern portion of the State, but now of Laidlaw Parade, East Brisbane, is a nephew of Mr. Wilkes.

Response to the above published biography

Transcribed from the newspaper The Queenslander, 17 October 1914, p.29



Sir, - Referring to the illustration and article contained in your issue of August 29, the following additional facts might prove very interesting to many old pioneer Queenslanders: Besides his honourable association with the "Courier" and other journals, Mr. William Wilkes was secretary of the Queensland Separation Committee, to which organisation the separation of this colony from New South Wales was mainly due.  He was the son of Captain R. Wilkes, H.E.I.C.S.  He married Catherine Connolly, and had three daughters, the eldest of whom (Eliza Harriet) married J. C. Coldham-Fussell, of Hodnet, North Sydney, New South Wales; the second daughter (Mary Christina) married R. Hunter, of Bathurst, New South Wales; the third daughter remaining unmarried.  The eldest grandson and son of Eliza Harriet is V. Coldham-Fussell, of Granada, North Queensland; the second is E. Coldham-Fussell, Inspector of Stock, Roma district.  Another is J. Coldham-Fussell, vicar of Morrinsville, New Zealand.  I believe a grandson of Surveyor Burnett is manager of Inverleigh station, and another is settled on the Logan River. – I am, sir, &c.,


Disclaimer: This has been transcribed directly from the original document.  Any mistakes are from the original document.

Transcribed from the Brisbane Courier, 22 June 1926, p.2

Title header for the newspaper "The Brisbane Courier" ca.1889

Under the story -

""The Courier". Some of the Men Who Have Guided it's Destiny–"

"The Brisbane Courier Eightieth Birthday"

William Wilks

Mr. Wilks was editor of the "Courier" during the early and middle fifties.  After his retirement from this position he returned to Sydney, and was for some time engaged on the Sydney "Empire" and the "Evening News".  For several years he contributed to the "Courier" a weekly letter under the heading, "News and Notes, by a Sydney Man".  While on the "Courier" he identified himself with the Separation movement, and was appointed hon. secretary to the committee.  Mr Wilks paid a brief visit to Brisbane in 1864, and, taking advantage of his presence in the city, a number of his friends met in the old School of Arts at the corner of Queen and Creek streets (site of the present Q.N. Bank) for the purpose of presenting him with a testimonial and a silver cup in recognition of his services to the cause of Separation.  About 100 persons were present, including a number of ladies.  Mr. R. R. Mackenzie, who was invited to take the chair and make the presentation, said they were all glad to see Mr. Wilks again in Brisbane, where he had come to see his old friends, who, if their number was smaller than heretofore, were not less sincere in their appreciation of his services, and in their wishes for his future welfare.  It would be gratifying to him to know that the advantages of Separation from New South Wales, for which he had worked so hard and written so well in the "Courier," were now beginning to be felt and appreciated, both in Brisbane and in the colony at large.

The chairman then presented Mr. Wilks with a cheque for 100 guineas which had been raised by his Brisbane friends, and a handsome silver cup, which bore the following inscription: "Presented to William Wilks, Esq., by his friends and admirers in Brisbane, for his valuable services in the cause of Separation from New South Wales.  Brisbane, July, 1864."

Mr. Wilks, in reply, said the kindness of his reception in Queensland had been quite overpowering.  Everywhere he had gone he had met warm-hearted friends.  Persons whom he had never before seen had extended to him the right hand of fellowship.  He felt that perhaps he had done something, however small, to assist them in maintaining their rights, privileges, and liberties.  He thanked them for their gifts and for the testimonial, and hoped that nothing would deter the men of Queensland from increasing the advantages they had gained by separation from New South Wales.

Many gentlemen in the room congratulated Mr. Wilks, and at his invitation a few accompanied him to host McAdams', where the Cup was duly wetted.

Disclaimer: This has been transcribed directly from the original document.  Any mistakes are from the original document.