William Sorell


William Sorell (AOT, PH30/1/111)

William Sorell (17731848), lieutenant-governor of Van Diemen's Land from 1817 to 1824. After assuming office his first duty was to restore order due to a bushranging crisis. The popular administrator established a system of convict control in which he employed convicts in public works, successfully assigned others to settlers, and in 1822 established Macquarie Harbour as a place of secondary punishment. A large inflow followed the first direct shipment of convicts from Britain to the colony in 1818, and around the same time large numbers of free settlers started arriving. This dual combination and the rapid granting of land to the settlers led to a strong economy, expansion and pastoral growth. The impact of the agricultural expansion of European settlement on the Aboriginal population appears to have been largely unperceived by Sorell. He experience problems through defective personnel, malpractice and corruption, despite which he bequeathed a strong and structured administration to his successor.

As a result of a concern in Britain that transportation might no longer be an effective deterrent or the means of reformation in the colonies a commissioner, JT Bigge was sent to enquire into the situation. Bigge was also directed to enquire into Sorell's private life, as it had earlier been disclosed that it was not his own wife with whom he was living. During Sorell's seven year term, morals and the balance of free settlers had changed, and in 1823 he received notice of his recall. Sorell was given no further imperial appointment.

Further reading: L Mickleborough, William Sorell in Van Diemen's Land, Hobart, 2004; L Mickleborough, 'Lieutenant-Governor Colonel William Sorell's Dilemma of Public and Private Life in Van Diemen's Land', THRAPP 49/1, 2002.

Leonie Mickleborough