Skip to main page content (AccessKey S)
Major-General Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane, 1st Baronet, GCH, GCB, lived from 23 July 1773 to 27 January 1860. He was a successful soldier who went on to become Governor of New South Wales. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Thomas Brisbane was born at the family home of Brisbane House, a little north of Largs in North Ayrshire. He was the son of Sir Thomas Brisbane and Dame Eleanora Brisbane. His education was concluded at the University of Edinburgh, where he studied astronomy and mathematics. After graduation he was commissioned as an ensign in the 38th Regiment where he formed a lasting friendship with another junior officer, Arthur Wellesley, later to become the Duke of Wellington.
Brisbane rose rapidly in rank, serving in Flanders and the West Indies. He retired on grounds of ill health in 1805, returning to Brisbane House where, in 1808, he built Scotland's first observatory. In 1810 he returned to full time service as a colonel, and in the same year was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in London. In 1812 he was promoted to brigadier-general and served under the Duke of Wellington in the Peninsula War. He was knighted in 1815, then commanded a brigade in North American before returning home in 1818.
In November 1819 Brisbane married Anna Maria Makdougall, whose unusual surname he added to his own. In 1821, on Wellington's recommendation, he was appointed to be Governor of New South Wales. On taking up his new post he introduced a series of reforms. He also authorised the establishment of a convict settlement on Moreton Bay, which later grew into the city now known as Brisbane. He also continued his interest in astronomy, now with an entirely new sky to look at, and established Australia's first observatory at Parramatta west of Sydney.
Brisbane returned to Scotland in 1825, where he furthered his interests in astronomy and in the development of the Brisbane estate and his wife's family estate near Kelso. He became President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1833, and the following year was elected president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. He died on 27 January 1860 in Largs and is buried in the family vault near Largs Old Kirk.