Robert Knopwood


Robert Knopwood's grave at St Matthew's church, Rokeby (AOT, PH30/1/2767)

Robert Knopwood (17631838), clergyman, was the son of a gentleman farmer in Norfolk. The family struggled against debts and Robert's only inheritance was the family silver. After gaining his MA at Oxford, he entered the Anglican ministry in 1788. One of his first sermons, the theme of which was repeated often during his life, demonstrated his belief that his duty was to make known the Christian Gospel which should be put into practice by his hearers. He joined the Navy as a chaplain in 1801, was appointed to Collins' expedition, and arrived at Port Phillip in 1803. From that time he acted not only as cleric but also as magistrate.

Knopwood kept a diary which gives a valuable record of colonial life in a new colony. He was a genial character who mixed with all classes of people; and despite later criticism by higher authority managed to give a relatively unbiased account of the early turbulent years of settlement. Governor Macquarie was not an admirer criticising Knopwood's support of Collins against Bligh and Knopwood has been criticised for his harshness as a magistrate, but his treatment of guilty persons was typical for the times. His adoption of a 'poor orphan child', Elizabeth Mack (later Morrisby) showed the sympathetic side of his nature, and he became a friend and supporter of Catholic chaplain Conolly. Despite recurrent attacks of illness, he continued to carry out his clerical duties, and died in 1838, his last sermon stating his view of humanity: 'it consists of supporting the Man, and maintaining the Christian'.

Further reading: G Stephens, Knopwood, Hobart, 1990; M Nicholls (ed), The diary of the Reverend Robert Knopwood, Hobart, 1977.

Mary Nicholls