People Australia

  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites
  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites
  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites

Browse Lists:

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Adam Wallace Elmslie (1781–1873)

by Jane Lydon and Caroline Ingram

This article was published:

Adam Wallace Elmslie (1781–1873) was born at Arnold, Nottinghamshire, England, in 1781.[1] He was the son of John Elmslie (1739–1822), a London-based West India merchant and absentee owner of considerable Jamaican estates, and his wife (and cousin) Jane Wallace (c.1760–1801).[2] Elmslie’s parents lived at 21 Berners Street, London, and had twenty-one children, among them: John Gray (1777), James (1778–1865), John (1779–1829), Peter Thomas (1780–1802), Adam Wallace (1781–1873), George (1783–), Elizabeth (1784–?), Elizabeth Bridget (1785–1845), Jane (1786–1867), Mary (1787–?), William (1788–1862), Agnes (1789–1846), Helen (1791–1872), Frances (1795–1876), Sophia Jane (1798–1868), Henry Simpson (1799–1836), Caroline (1800–?), Louisa (1800–70), and Harriet (1801–?).[3] His mother died eleven days after the birth of her last child; his father also had another ‘reputed’ daughter, Ann Fuller.[4]

Elmslie’s career was varied, seeing him act at different times as a proprietor of plantations in the West Indies, a West Indies merchant, agent for colonial land speculator Thomas Peel, and secretary of the Jamaica Steam Navigation Company.[5] He was university educated.[6] In 1813 he married Sarah Ann Lloyd (c.1792–1867), the daughter of  William Lloyd and his wife Ann.[7] They had at least twelve children: Sarah Ann (c.1809–75), Mary Eliza (1810–1900), Kenward Wallace (1812–41), Arthur Cruickshank (1813–93), Edward (1815–73), Adam Wallace (c.1820–75), William (1822–80), Edgar (1824), Stuart Blanche Caroline (c.1826–?), Louisa Lilla (1828–91), Alice Gray (1835–1918), and Alexis Gordon (1838–70).[8]

While Elmslie asserted in 1832 that his ‘West Indies family business had failed,’ evidence of his extended family’s slavery earnings and investments suggest that he and his siblings continued to profit into the late 1830s.[9] His father bequeathed his Jamaican estates and their enslaved in trust for his five sons in equal shares as tenants in common. This property included the sugar plantations ‘Grays Inn with its penn [sic] Fairy Land, together 2100 acres; Serge Island with 660 acres and an adjoining tract called Alexandria of 461 acres; a parcel of land in St Thomas-in-the-East called Mt Tarbut and another tract of 406 acres there called White River, together with the “negro and other slaves, live and dead stock”.’[10] Elmslie partnered with his brother-in-law John Wybergh Shaw to form Shaw and Elmslie, West India Merchants. However this venture was not a success: bankruptcy proceedings against the firm were commenced in 1824 and were still proceeding in 1836.[11] After 1834 the bequest was divided among Elmslie’s three brothers and one of his sisters-in-law as compensation for the loss of their ‘property’ in enslaved people and slave-worked estates; he received nothing.[12] As his brother William received a two-fifth share, it seems likely that Elmslie sold his share to him, perhaps to fund his impending venture to Swan River.

In 1829 Elmslie accompanied Thomas Peel to the Swan River colony as his agent, arriving on 15 December aboard the Gilmore with two of his children, Sarah Ann and Arthur Cruikshank.[13] The Gilmore was one of three ships carrying about 540 people that arrived as part of Peel’s Swan River Association scheme, part-funded by merchant Solomon Levey, of Cooper and Levey.[14] This large group of colonists initially lived at Clarence, in a makeshift camp on the shores of Cockburn Sound. Many of the labourers lived in canvas tents, but the Elmslie family lived in a prefabricated timber dwelling with glass windows and a wooden floor.[15] Archaeological excavations indicate that they may have had to evacuate the house in a hurry when it was burnt, probably in a bushfire.[16] After only three months in the colony, Elmslie managed to secure a return passage for his daughter to England aboard the Wanstead but, en route in Hobart, she met and married merchant Thomas Hewitt.[17]

Elmslie brought with him livestock, provisions, and equipment suitable for setting up a home and farm, which he hoped would entitle him to a large grant of land. This capital was valued at £1,000 but only about one third was considered applicable to be valued for a land grant and he was given 4,306 acres.[18] He did not end up taking possession of the full grant, instead taking one hundred acres of land on the Helena River near Guildford and two hundred acres of land near Clarence. He never lived on these grants, returning to England before he had the chance to do so.[19]

In letters to a friend (probably a relative, James Elmslie Esquire) over 1830 and 1831, Elmslie wrote about his prospects for investment and the quality of the land. In January 1830 he described much of the land as poor—‘nothing but rock on a bed of sand’—but referred to his hopes of gaining a 5,000 acre grant on the Murray River, south of Perth. He also argued that he should be able to make a better living by importing provisions into the colony rather than by agriculture, if he had funds to do so. This appears to have been a thinly veiled request for money, which was not granted; he also hints at a previous arrangement between the two men in which 1,000 to 2,000 acres of this grant might be set aside for his correspondent.[20] In September 1830 Elmslie wrote to Daniel Cooper about Peel’s failed venture in the colony, stating that settlers had been ‘duped by [Peel’s] artifices and fair promises.’ He referred to Peel’s ‘natural badness of disposition from pride, insufferable insolence and overbearing manner’ and argued that Clarence had been almost abandoned and that the scheme had failed due to his mismanagement. He was also scathing about the quality of the land, calling it ‘a sterile desert region of interminable sand, desert and forest, unfruitful and unimprovable, except in strips of land along the sides of rivers and patches here and there scattered over the waste.’[21] In March 1831 Elmslie wrote of a possible grant: ‘…overlooking the [Swan] river with a few acres of meadow in front well adapted for building on; the situation for that purpose is really beautiful. It is about seven miles above Guildford on the North Bank of the Swan.’[22] He also referred to another 5000 acres on the river that he wanted to purchase for his brother William. He complained of his health, yearned for his wife and children, and praised his son’s hard work.

Severely shaken by the death of a young colonist at Rockingham as a result of an attack by the local Aboriginal people, on leaving the colony for Tasmania in July 1831 Elmslie requested military protection for the remaining settlers at Clarence, including his seventeen-year-old son Arthur.[23] Before departing he assured the colonial secretary, Peter Broun, that he was only going for family reasons, but on arrival in Tasmania he unsuccessfully attempted to transfer his land grant from the Swan River colony.[24] When the ship that was to return him to the Swan River colony was declared unseaworthy, he returned to England in October 1831 aboard the Duckenfield.[25] After reuniting with his family in Epsom, Surrey, Elmslie wrote to Viscount Goderich, secretary of state for the colonies, stating his opinion of the land at the Swan River colony as ‘a barren, sandy, rocky wilderness’ and asking that he might swap his land grant for one in Tasmania.[26] Elmslie was the source for Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s famous attack on the colony and especially Peel, in which Wakefield declared the colony a failure because ‘those who went out as labourers no sooner reached the colony than they were tempted by the superabundance of good land to become landowners’ and claimed that many of these labourers died from starvation.[27]

Elmslie’s son Arthur stayed behind in the Swan River colony, leaving for Tasmania in March 1832 aboard the Eagle.[28] He departed Tasmania in 1833 for New Zealand, where he remained.[29] In 1828 Elmslie’s sister, Harriet, married Richard Robert Madden, a professional anti-slavery advocate. Madden was appointed colonial secretary in Western Australia in 1848, where he attempted to ameliorate the treatment of First Nations peoples by applying humanitarian provisions derived from his Caribbean, West African, and Cuban anti-slavery experience.[30]

Between 1836 and 1838 Elmslie became secretary of the Jamaica Steam Navigation Company, whose proprietors included ten members of the Elmslie family, at a salary of £300 per annum. This family-sponsored venture was presumably funded from compensation they had received.[31] The company initiated steam navigation in the Americas and operated three steamers on the route from Kingston to Cartagena. However, in 1839 it was dissolved, its demise hastened by the advent of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company.[32] Allegations of mismanagement were made by the company’s auditor, who attributed Elmslie’s failure to properly maintain the company’s share register to its inability to identify defaulters when additional cash calls were made on the shares. The spokesman for a committee of shareholders appointed to prepare accounts for the doomed company in April 1838 stated that Elmslie ‘gave no assistance and threw every possible obstacle in their way.’[33]

The 1851 census recorded that Elmslie was living at Bocage, Jersey, as a retired West India proprietor; in 1861 he was living at Box, Wiltshire.[34] He died on 5 February 1873 at Montebella, Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset, aged ninety-three.[35] Despite Elmslie’s claims of ruin in 1832, he and his extended family continued to extract substantial profit from their Jamaican estates and their human ‘property’ for decades after the abolition of slavery. His family’s diversification from the Caribbean slave economy to the new Australasian settler colonies of Western Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand exemplifies a broader imperial re-orientation.



[1] Baptism of Adam Wallace Elmslie, 1781, St Nicholas parish register, Nottinghamshire Archive, England, Ancestry; 1861 England Census, Rg 9, 1281, f. 27, p. 16, The National Archives UK (TNA), Ancestry; ‘Deaths,’ Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 13 Febuary 1873, 5.

[2] ‘Died,’ Morning Post (London), 19 August 1801, 4; Burial, Jane Elmslie, St Mary Lewisham, DW/T/1028, London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), Ancestry; Scottish Notes & Queries 2nd series vol. VII (Aberdeen: the Rosemount Press, 1906), 100,

[3] ‘Died,’ Monthly Mirror (London), September 1801, 218. Only some of these individuals were examined for this entry. Baptism and burial, John Gray Elmslie, St Bartholomew by the Exchange, London, 1777, P69/Bat1/A/002/Ms04375, LMA, Ancestry,; Baptism, James Elmslie, St Bartholomew by the Exchange, London, 1778, P69/Bat1/A/002/Ms04375, LMA, Ancestry,; Baptism, Elizabeth Bridget Elmslie, St Catherine Coleman, London, 1785, P69/Kat1/A/003/Ms017834/001, LMA, Ancestry,; Baptism, Agnes Elmslie, St Katherine Coleman, P69/Kat1/A/003/Ms017834/001, LMA, Ancestry,; ‘Obituary,’ Henry Simpson Elmslie, Gentleman’s Magazine 161 (October 1836): 446; Baptism Harriett Elmslie, St Marylebone Westminster, 1801, P89/MRY1/083, LMA, Ancestry.

[4] Will of John Elmslie of Berners Street, Middlesex, 1822, PROB 11/1663/75, TNA.

[5] Will of John Elmslie, 1822, PROB 11/1663/75, TNA;  Scottish Post Office Directories, Pigot & Co.’s new commercial directory of Scotland for 1825-6, 176,; Shane Burke, ‘A Culture For All: Servant Class Behaviour at the Swan River in the Context of the British Empire,’ Studies in Western Australian History (2016): 31; Edward Gibbon Wakefield, England and America: A Comparison of the Social and Political State of Both Nations, vol. II, (London: R. Bentley, 1833), 33; ‘Jamaica Steam-Navigation Company,’ Times (London), 9  March 1837, 6.

[6] ‘Deaths,’ Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 13 February, 1873, 5.

[7] Baptism, Sarah Lloyd, St Michael Betchworth, Surrey History Centre; Surrey Church of England Parish Registers, P22/1/9, Ancestry,;  ‘Death, Sarah Elmslie, ‘Deaths,’ Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 15 February 1867,  5; Marriage, Adam Wallace Elmslie and Ann Lloyd, Saint Giles In The Fields, Holborn, DL/T/036/016, LMA,  Ancestry,

[8] Baptism Sarah Ann Elmslie , St Marylebone Westminster, LMA, P89/MRY1/084, Ancestry; Death, Sarah Ann Hewitt, FreeBMD England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index; Baptism, Mary Eliza Elmslie, St Marylebone Westminster, LMA, P89/MRY1/012, Ancestry; ‘Death,’ Lyttelton Times, 24 September 1900, 1, Papers Past; Baptism Kenward Wallace Elmslie, St Marylebone Westminster, P89/MRY1/013, LMA, Ancestry; Death Kenward Wallace Elmslie, Francis Clark, The East India Registry and Directory 1842, (London: Wm. H. Allen & Company, 1842), 241; Baptism Arthur Cruikshank Elmslie, Westminster St Marylebone, P89/Mry1/015, LMA, Ancestry; ‘Death,’ Colonist (Nelson) 18 December 1893, 3, Papers Past; Baptism, Edward Elmslie, St Olave, Hart St, London,  P89/MRY1/012, LMA, Ancestry; ‘Death, Edward Elmslie,’ Western Daily Press (Yeovil),  27 October  1873, 4; Baptism William Elmslie, Baptism register Woodford, St Mary the Virgin, 1822, D/P 167/1/9, Sussex Archives, Ancestry; Death William Elmslie, ‘Deaths,’ Standard (London), 31 August 1880, 1; Baptism Edgar Elmslie, St Marylebone Westminster, /Mry1/025, LMA, Ancestry; Burial, Edgar Elmslie, St Mary Lewisham, Dr/T/10/046, LMA, Ancestry; Marriage Adam Wallace Elmslie and Emily Guerin, marriage register, Grouville, Jersey, G/C/06/A3/1, Jersey Archive, Ancestry; Burial Adam Wallace Elmslie, Hove St Andrew parish register, Par 386/1/5/3, East Sussex and Brighton and Hove Record Office, Ancestry; Stuart Blanche Caroline Elmslie, 1871 England Census, RG10, 2460, 13, 18, TNA, Ancestry; Baptism, Louisa Lilla Elmslie, baptism register, All Saints West Ham, D/P 256/1/6, Essex Archives;  Death Lilla Louisa Lamb, FreeBMD, England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index; Baptism, Alice Gray Elmslie, St Mark Kennington, 2 March 1842, P85/Mrk/004, LMA, Ancestry; Burial Alice Gray Barker, The Diocese of Worcester Bishop’s Transcripts, B736/Ba2245/130, Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Service, Ancestry; Baptism, Alexis Gordon Elmslie, St Mark Kennington, 2 March 1842, P85/Mrk/004, LMA, Ancestry; Death, Alexis Gordon Elmslie, ‘Deaths,’ 10 November, 1870, Western Daily Press, 4.

 [9] Adam Wallace Elmslie to Viscount Goderich, 31 May 1832, Records of the Colonial Office, CO201/229, TNA, Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP); Alexandra Hasluck, Thomas Peel of Swan River (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1965), 90–92.

[10] Will of John Elmslie, 1822, PROB 11/1663/75, TNA.

[11] ‘From the London Gazette, Saturday, Jan. 3,’ Times (London), 5 January 1824, 2; Marriage, John Wybergh Shaw and Elizabeth Bridget Elmslie, Marriage Register, St Marylebone Westminster, 1811, P89/MRY1/182, LMA, Ancestry; ‘In Re Shaw And Elmslie,’ Time, (London), 29 November 1833, 3.

[12] Five shares of £4323 1s 10d [254 Enslaved] were awarded to John Elmslie senior’s sons (and son’s widow Eliza) after abolition, that is, a total of around £21,615 and 1270 enslaved. See for example ‘William Elmslie’, Legacies of British Slavery database,

[13] Alphabetical list of passengers, 1829, AU WA S2084 cons5000 657, State Records Office of Western Australia (SROWA).

[14] Alexandra Hasluck, ‘Thomas Peel (1793–1865),’ Australian Dictionary of Biography,; Ian Berryman, ‘Solomon Levey, Thomas Peel, and the founding of the Swan River Colony,’ Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal 10, no. 6 (1989): 463; Deed of copartnership between Daniel Cooper and Solomon Levey, 5 May 1826, A 5441, State Library of New South Wales (SLNSW).

[15] Shane Burke, Peter Di Marco, and Simon Meath, ‘The land “flow[ing] … with milk and honey”: Cultural landscape changes at Peel Town, Western Australia, 1829–1830,’ Australasian Historical Archaeology 28 (2010): 5–8; Lauren G. Tomlinson and Shane Burke, ‘The Archaeology of Resilience: A Case Study from Peel Town, Western Australia, 1829–30,’ International Journal of Historical Archaeology(2022): 384–85.

[16] Tomlinson and Burke, ‘The Archaeology of Resilience’.

[17] ‘Advertising,’  Tasmanian (Hobart),  23 April 1830, 8,; Adam Wallace Elmslie to Viscount Goderich, 31 May 1832, Records of the Colonial Office, CO201/229, TNA, AJCP; ‘Family Notices,’ Hobart Town Courier, 12 June 1830, 3, Mary Ann Friend wrote in her diary that ‘Miss Elmslie, the young lady I brought from Swan River had several offers. She formed an attachment with one of the first Merchants and was married from under our care. My husband took care to secure good settlements and she had three hundred a year settled upon her,’ Typescript of Mary Ann Friend's journal of a voyage to Hobart with account of the settlement on the Swan River, Journal, Papers of Mary Ann Friend, MN 1413, ACC 4453A, p. 28, 33, State Library of Western Australia (SLWA),

[18] Adam Wallace Elmslie to Peter Brown, 9 December 1830, AU WA S2941 cons36 11 49-59, SROWA; Adam Wallace Elmslie to Viscount Goderich, 31 May 1832, Records of the Colonial Office, CO201/229, TNA, AJCP.

[19] Adam Wallace Elmslie to Viscount Goderich, 31 May 1832, Records of the Colonial Office, CO201/229, TNA, AJCP.

[20] Adam W. Elmslie to James Elmslie, 30 January 1830, Letters of Captain T.G.S. Ward, National Library of Australia, M407-409, as filmed by the AJCP,

[21] Adam Elmslie to Daniel Cooper, SAFE/A 292, Volume 3: Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell correspondence, 69–75, State Library of New South Wales (SLNSW),

[22] Adam W. Elmslie to James Elmslie, 10 March 1831, Adam Wallace Elmslie Letters, ACC 603A, SLWA.

[23] Adam Wallace Elmslie to Colonial Secretary, AU WA S2941 cons36 16 102, SROWA; ‘The Courier,’ Hobart Town Courier, 30 July 1831, 2,

[24] Adam Wallace Elmslie to Peter Brown, 13 June 1831, S2941 cons36 16 ff. 24 and 54, SROWA; ‘Shipping Intelligence,’ Launceston Advertiser, 25 July 1831, 228,; Adam Wallace Elmslie to Viscount Goderich, 31 May 1832, Records of the Colonial Office, CO201/229, TNA, AJCP.

[25] ‘Shipping Intelligence,’ Tasmanian (Hobart), 29 October 1831, 4,; Adam Wallace Elmslie to Viscount Goderich, 31 May 1832, Records of the Colonial Office, CO201/229, TNA, AJCP. He was joined onboard the Duckenfield by Levey’s partner, Daniel Cooper, who was also returning to England with his family. J. W. Davidson, ‘Cooper, Daniel (c. 1785–1853),’ Australian Dictionary of Biography,

[26] Adam Wallace Elmslie to Viscount Goderich, 31 May 1832, Records of the Colonial Office, CO201/229, TNA, AJCP.

[27] ‘My authority for this statement is a gentleman, lately in England, who went to the Swan River as Mr Peel’s agent.’ And footnote: ‘Mr Peel’s agent, Mr. Elmsley’. Edward Gibbon Wakefield, England and America vol.II,  (London: R. Bentley, 1833), 33, 34.

[28] ‘The Courier,’  Hobart Town Courier, 7 April 1832, 2,; ‘Elmslie, Arthur,’ Arrivals, Names Index, Libraries Tasmania, CUS30/1/1 P88,,%22&qu=NI_NAME%3D%22Arthur%22#.

[29] ‘Elmslie, Arthur,’ Departures, Names Index, Libraries Tasmania, CUS33/1/1 p. 522,; Angela Wanhalla, Matters of The Heart: A History of Interracial Marriage in New Zealand (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2013).

[30] C.J. Woods, ‘Madden, Richard Robert,’ Dictionary of Irish Biography,; Jane Lydon, Anti-Slavery and Australia: No Slavery in a Free Land? (London: Routledge, 2021), 146–48.

[31] Henry Pinckard, Observations on the Management and Extraordinary Losses of the Jamaica Steam Navigation Company, London (London: Maurice and Co., 1838) 29.

[32] The Royal Mail was founded in July 1839, and the British government granted a royal charter in November. Roland E. Duncan, ‘William Wheelright and Early Steam Navigation in the Pacific 1820–1840,’The Americas 32, no. 2 (1975): 257–81.

[33] Pinckard, Observations.

[34] 1851 Channel Islands census, HO107, 2529, f. 267, p. 36, TNA, Ancestry; 1861 England Census, Rg 9, 1697, f. 7, p. 7, TNA, Ancestry.

[35] ‘Deaths,’ Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 13 February 1873, 5.


Original Publication

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Jane Lydon and Caroline Ingram, 'Elmslie, Adam Wallace (1781–1873)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 July 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012