Alexander Davidson was born circa 1792 in Calcutta, Bengal, India to Alexander Davidson (c1765-1810) and Ann Ellen Mary Isabel Rice (1770-1854) and died 20 October 1856 Yarra Bank, South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia of unspecified causes. He married Mary Falconer (1814-) 3 July 1831 in Kolkata, India.

Major Alexander Davidson, is famous for having brought native workers from India to Melbourne in 1843, and for his eccentricity.

When Alexander Davidson bought native workers from India to Melbourne in Apr 1843, the deed for which he became famous, his rank was Major, and for this reason he is usually known as Major Alexander Davidson.

What made Alexander Davidson's Apr 1843 importation of native workers from India newsworthy in Melbourne was he had them working in public to "level and mend" the road surface of Collins Street in Melbourne in May 1843. The Indian servants in his employ, reported to have been either 11 or 14, or, in exageration, up to 20, were regarded as "a novelty". It was also reported that the aboriginals of the Melbourne tribe were "flabbergasted" at their "novel appearance" and pronounced them "no good blackfellow that". Subsequently it was reported on more than one occassion that the local aboriginals did not like Alexander Davidson's native workers from India, and came to hold considerable animosity towards them. Major Alexander Davidson owned the Acheron Pastoral Run, in North-Central Victoria, from 1845 to 1849 and some of his employees from India worked on the farm, one of whom is known to have been killed by aboriginals in Nov 1845.

Apr 1843, however, is not the first time that Alexander Davidson had brought servants/labourers from India into Australia (Melbourne). Alexander Davidson (and others on the same ship) brought small numbers of servants/labourers from India into Australia in Dec 1831 (Hobart), and native servants were again reported to be on a later ship to Australia with Alexander Davidson in Mar 1838 (Sydney). Tasmanian newspapers from 1831 onwards, where passenger lists for ships arriving in Hobart were often reported, reveal that it was not unusual for travellers from India to bring small numbers of servants/labourers out from India with them, nor if leaving Australia to subsequently return with them to India. What is not known is how many native servants from India came into Australia earlier than 1831 through Sydney where passenger lists were not always fully or even partially reported, or when they were reported, servants aboard ship, as in the case of the "Caroline" noted below, may not have been identified as natives of India.

Earlier than Alexander Davidson's importation of Indian servants into Hobart in Dec 1831, there is the example of native servants from India being brought into Sydney on 31 Jul 1831 aboard the "Caroline" from Madras and Calcutta, and reported in the newspapers of the day. The "Caroline" was listed to have 21 male prisoners (convicts) from India for Sydney under the care of Captain Thomas Betts and 10 "Sepoy" or native soldiers from India. These 10 "Sepoy" soldiers would been have returned to military service in India on the next available ship. However, also noted in the passenger list, were 5 servants (adults) and 3 servant boys brought into Sydney by Captain Thomas Betts (2 adults), his brother-in-law, cousin and business partner Alfred Betts (1 adult + 3 boys), Colonel Parker of the Bengal Infantry (1 adult) and Captain George Edward Nicholas Weston (1 adult). It is not immediately obvious that these are native servants from India until the Betts family joins the "Vibelia" on 18 Nov 1831 to sail to Hobart arriving there on 25 Nov 1831 with their "six native servants" in the steerage.

Earlier than the "Caroline" of Jul 1831, there was the notorious case of William Browne (1762-1833). William Browne was a merchant and landowner who settled in Sydney in Apr 1816 after living in Calcutta, and brought 9 Indian servants with him aboard his trading ship "Mary". By 1819 he had in total 39 Indian servants, male and female, that he had imported on his ship "Mary" as it had plied between Calcutta and Sydney. Some of his Indian servants complained to authorities they had been mistreated. Governor Macquarie ordered an investigation and a special inquiry was set up. The Indian workers gave statements to a Special Bench of Magistrates in 1819. The contracts of employment with William Browne were cancelled by the government, after which 4 male servants, Subball, Hanniff, Rimdiall, and Pearbux, signed new contracts of employment with William Browne for an additional 12 months, not returning to Calcutta until 1820. The other 35 Indian servants were sent back to Calcutta by the Government aboard the "Mary" in 1819. After 1819 William Browne continued to import and employ Indian servants, but in smaller numbers, as in the 1828 census of New South Wales there is found an Indian servant working for William Browne.

Even earlier than William Browne (1762-1833), there was the Indian servant brought in by Governor Lachlan Macquarie (1762-1824) in 1810. George Jarvis was an Indian servant employed by Lachlan Macquarie in his household. He left Sydney with Lachlan Macquarie in 1820.

Not to be confused with Alexander Davidson (c1801-1874)

Major Alexander Davidson should not be confused with Alexander Davidson (c1801-1874), the government-assisted immigrant from Scotland, who owned the Satimer Pastoral Run, near Portland, from 1848 and built "Wando Villa" at Portland in 1864. These are two different men, both squatters in Victoria in the late 1840s.

India before Dec 1831

The first time that Alexander Davidson turns up in the records is on 16 Dec 1825 when he is identified as belonging to the 13th Native Infantry (of the Honourable East India Company's Forces), and is appointed as the Assistant to Agent to Governor General on the North East Frontier, which was based at Goalpara and is a political position.

The next record is of the death of his first wife, the "Lady of Capt. Alexander Davidson", aged 18 years, on 28 Sep 1826 at Goalpara, India. He is described as of the 13th Native Infantry, assistant political agent of the North East frontier.

He is next recorded in a letter of Dr M. Burrow, dated 19 Feb 1830, as "Captain Alexander Davidson of the Honourable East India Company", stationed at Goalpara, who presented Dr Burrow with some Gibbon specimens.

At his wedding on 3 Jul 1831 to his second wife, Miss Mary Falconer, the marriage announcement reads: "At Calcutta, Capt. Alex. Davidson, 13th regt. Native Infantry, assistant to Agent to Governor General, North East frontier, to Miss Falconer." In this role he was stationed at Goalpara.

First time in Australia, Dec 1831 to Aug 1832, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

On 13 Dec 1831 Alexander Davidson and his pregnant bride arrive at Hobart on the "Research" from Calcutta, India. He is described as Capt. Alexander Davidson of 13th Bengal Native Infantry, with his wife & 4 servants: 1 being Ann Clutterbuck, and 3 being natives of India (Haidv, Toby & Getware). There were 2 additional native servants on board, the first (Golab) for C.Whitmore, Esq., East-India Company's Service; and the second (Joseph) for A.Reid, Esq., East-India Company's Service. Also on board were horses, and 6 prisioners (convicts) from India for delivery at Hobart.

In Mar 1832 is written in relation to the Van Dieman's Land Society that "Capt. Davidson, the political agent for the North West(sic) Frontier of Bengal, who lately arrived here from India, has presented to the museum of the society, a beautiful model of a mowing machine".

In Jun 1832 occur two events of import. First on the 16th his son Alexander David Scott Davidson is born. Second he stocks the farm that he has bought at Ross, Tasmania, and called "Cashmere", with Cashmere goats from India. He shows his eccentricity by parading the goats through the streets of Hobart. This is not to be the last time that he parades stock through the streets of a Capital city.

On 16 Jul 1832 he is witness at the wedding of his friend David Smith to Mary Ann Herbert in Hobart. David Smith is staying on Alexander's farm at Ross, and returns to the "Cashmere" farm with his bride after the wedding. Then on 31 Jul 1832, while Alexander, his wife and baby son are away from the farm, the farm is attacked by bushrangers. In a dramatic letter David Smith writes to Alexander about the events, and describes how he almost lost his life to the bushrangers.

Spooked by the events involving the bushrangers, Alexander makes immediate plans to return with his wife and baby son to India. "Capt. and Mrs. Davidson, and child" boarded the ship "England" and sailed for Sydney on 9 Aug 1832 with the intention of obtaining passage back to India. Also on board the boat sailing to Sydney were "three servants, natives of India" who were likely to have been 3 native servants who he had initially brought with him from India. Meanwhile he had left his goods and chattles behind to be auctioned off in Hobart. Sold was his Furniture, Plate, Glass, China, Books, Carriages, &c - as he was "leaving the Colony" - including a ladies' work box, fitted with much taste, & children's cots. He left his friend David Smith as manager of his farm in Ross, Tasmania.

It is not known how long Alexander Davidson stayed in Sydney with his family before taking passage on another ship endeavouring to return to India. It is known, however, that 3 months later, in Nov 1832, they were in Penang, Malaysia as part of their return journey.

Return to India, Jan 1833 to Dec 1837

Alexander Davidson arrived back in Calcutta, India on 13 Jan 1833. He was aboard the barque "Caledonia" which had left Penang, Malaysia on 25 Nov 1832. Aboard was Mrs Davidson and child, Capt. Davidson 13th Regt. Native Infantry, other passengers, and 8 natives, 3 of whom were likely to have been those natives of India that he had taken with him to Hobart just over 1 year earlier.

On 3 Apr 1833 Capt Alexander Davidson was returned to his former position at Goalpara: "Political Department - Capt Davidson to be principal assistant to the agent to the Governor General, north-eastern frontier stationed at Goalpara."

In Mar 1835 he has his farming operation in Tasmania, Australia, closed down. Sold by auction is "THE STOCK, &c., of Capt. Davidson, near Ross, — consisting of Sheep, Horses, Working Bullocks, Cows, Calves, Pigs, Bullock and Horse Carts, Ploughs, Harrows, Cart Harness, Bows, Yokes, Chains, Lambs, Wool, Wheat, Oats, Tools, Household Furniture". Amongst the horses sold is a foal that was born earlier in that year called "Peter Finn".

On 7 Aug 1835 his first daughter is born at Goalpara. It is not known for how long this child lived, just that she did not travel to Australia with the family in 1843. In Aug 1835 he is described as "Capt. Alexander Davidson is principal assistant to the agent to the Governor General, north-eastern frontier." He is also described in 1 book as a magistrate.

On 22 Jun 1836 his only son dies at Goalpara at the age of 4 years and 6 days.

On 1 Jul 1837 Alexander attends the first meeting of the Australian Assocation of Bengal in the town hall at Calcultta and becomes a subscriber. The Australian Association of Bengal is interested in improving travel from India to Australia.

Also on 16 Sep 1837 his daughter Caroline is born in Goalpara. She is to become his only surviving child, the only child to travel with the family to Australia in 1843.

On 14 Dec 1837 he is given leave to go to Australia for 2 years for his health. He is described as of the 13th Native Infantry, prinicpal assistant to the Governor General's Agent, North East frontier.

On 20 Dec 1837 Alexander, his wife and daughter Caroline are aboard the "Gaillardon" leaving for Australia. This is the first ship chartered by the Australian Association of Bengal. He is described as Capt Davidson, 13th Bengal Native Infantry. The ship leaves Calcutta with 18 "convict servants". This is obviously a misprint, but it is now impossible to know how many of these 18 were convicts for Hobart, and how many were "native" or workers from India. 11 of these people were disembarked in Hobart, and 7 "native servants" were disembarked in Sydney. Which passengers aboard the "Gaillardon" had workers from India with them as servants is not recorded, but some of these 7 would have been employed by Alexander Davidson.

Second time in Australia, Mar 1838 to before Dec 1839, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

The "Gaillardon" sails to Sydney via the Swan River (Perth), Western Australia (13 Feb 1838) and Hobart, Tasmania (23 Mar 1838). At Hobart some of the passengers are disembarked. Alexander and his family are among the passengers who sail onto Sydney.

On 30 Mar 1838 the "Gaillardon" arrives in Sydney. The remaining passengers, including Capt. Alexander Davidson and his family, are disembarked. 7 Indian servants, some of whom would have been in his employ, are also disembarked in Sydney. In Sydney he also has a male Chinese servant abscond in Apr 1838 taking 50 soverigns with him.

On 24 Jul 1838, during his time in Sydney on leave, royal assent was given to promote him to Brevet Major of the Honourable East India Company's Forces backdated to 28 Jun 1838. (This was one promotion of many made on that day.) A Brevet Major is a higher rank title for meritorious conduct or gallantry without extra pay or authority.

In August 1838 26 packages of furniture from India arrive in Hobart for him by the "Emerald Isle". As he is living in Sydney with his family he has arranged transport of the same to Sydney.

On 19 Nov 1838 his daughter Caroline is baptised at the Scots Church, St David's, in Sydney. Her year of birth of 1837 is recorded, and her parents full names, including her mother's maiden name of Falconer.

On 29 Jul 1839, during his time in Sydney on leave, is announced a transfer within the Honourable East India Company's Forces to take effect from the 8 Oct 1839: Capt. & Brevet Major Alexander Davidson is transfered from the 13th Native Infantry to the newly formed 2nd European Regiment to be 3rd Captain.

It is not known exactly when Alexander returned to India with his family, just that he had 2 years leave from 17 Dec 1837 to 17 Dec 1839. He may have been unaware of his promotion to Brevet Major or his transfer to the newly formed 2nd European Regiment until after his return to India.

Return to India, before Dec 1839 to Dec 1842

Captain & Brevet Major Alexander Davidson returns to his former position at Goalpara.

For the 1842 year it is recorded that from 1 Jan 1842 to 22 Apr 1842 Major Alexander Davidson had charge of the district as Principal Assistant, then he proceeded to Calcutta on a medical sick certificate. He had been promoted from Captain to Major before 22 Apr 1842 as this is the first time that he is refered to in the records as Major. He does not take long to inform his friends in Australia of his promotion, as in October 1842 the foal that had been sold off his farm in 1835, "Peter Finn", is placed at stud and advertised as formerly belonging to Major Alexander Davidson of the Indian Army, and foaled in 1835 in Van Dieman's Land on his former farm.

On 19 Dec 1842 medically unfit Alexander Davidson, now a Major, leaves Calcutta with his wife and daughter Caroline bound for Australia aboard the "Hooghly". Prior to leaving he orders some furniture to be shipped out from Madras to Australia.

Third (& final) time in Australia, Apr 1843 to his death in 1856, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

On 17 Feb 1843 the furniture that Alexander Davidson had ordered from Madras, India arrived at Launceston, Tasmania on the "Phantom" - 46 packages of furniture and 100 bags of rice. At the time Alexander is in-transit from Calcutta to Australia on the "Hooghly". Delivery of his goods to Melbourne, where he settles, is not able to be arranged until after his arrival.

The "Hooghly" sails to Port Phillip (Melbourne) via the Swan River (Perth), Western Australia (21 Mar 1843) and Hobart, Tasmania (21 Apr 1843). At Hobart some of the passengers and horses are disembarked, as well as 7 male government prisioners (convicts) from India. The newspaper reports that Major Davidson has with him 1 European & 14 native servants (from India).

On 30 Apr 1843 the "Hooghly" arrives in Melbourne. The remaining passengers, including Major Alexander Davidson and his family, are disembarked. It is announced in the newspapers that he has arrived to settle in Port Phillip. It is also noted that the "Hooghly" is carrying rice & sugar &c. Also of import to the newspapers is that Major Alexander Davidson has brought with him "coolies" (servants from India in his employ) and farm stock. The reports from the stop-over in Hobart were that he had "14" native servants with him, while the reports from his arrival in Melbourne were that he had 11 ("eleven"). No matter how many native servants from India that Major Alexander Davidson brought with him, the large number that he brought with him caused a stir in Melbourne, evidenced by an exaggerated report from Melbourne on 30 May 1843 was that he had "about 20 coolies" working for him.

Parades farm stock through streets of Melbourne.

(more to come...)


Offspring of Alexander Davidson and Mary Falconer (1814-)
Name Birth Death Joined with
Alexander David Scott Davidson (1832-1836) 16 June 1832 Hobart, Tasmania, Australia 22 June 1836 Goalpara, India
Daughter Davidson (1835-c1835) 7 August 1835 Goalpara, India 1835 Goalpara, India
Caroline Davidson (1837-1921) 16 September 1837 Goalpara, India 8 June 1921 Colchester, Essex, England William Acland Douglas Anderson (1829-1882)



Footnotes (including sources)