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James Mudie

1779 - 1852

James Mudie (1779 - 1852) was the son of John and Margaret Mudie of Forfarshire, Scotland. In 1799 he was appointed Second Lieutenant in the 69th company of marines in Portsmouth and served in the English Channel and on board HMS LEDA. In 1805 he was promoted First Lieutenant and sent to Scotland where he got into significant trouble over his accounts and was subsequently dismissed from the Marines in August 1810.

Unemployed and short of money Mudie persuaded a bookselling company to join him in making commemorative medals of events and heroes in the Napoleonic wars and his engravings were included in An Historical and Critical Account of a Grand Series of National Medals (London, 1820). Through lack of support and alleged misdealing over 10,000 pounds were lost in the venture and Mudie and the bookselling firm were forced into insolvency.

Cashiered out of the Marines (and now an insolvent) thanks to the benevolence of Sir Charles Forbes and the Colonial Office, Mudie, his three daughters and a step-daughter were given free passages to New South Wales and they arrived in Sydney in July 1822. Mudie was given a land grant of 2150 acres (870 ha) on the Hunter River, which he named Castle Forbes after his patron. He also began a ladies' school at Parramatta; when it failed to win support he moved with his family to Castle Forbes.

In 1825 Mudie expanded his estate by an additional 2000 acres (809 ha) and with the assistance of many assigned convicts and the services of his future son-in-law John Larnach turned the estate into one of the finest agricultural establishments in New South Wales producing large quantities of wool, wheat and meat.

Despite his brushes with military justice in Scotland and England Mudie was a harsh disciplinarian and treated his assigned servants and convicts severely under exacting rules. He was appointed a Justice of the Peace under Governor Ralph Darling in 1830 and served on the bench at Maitland where he quickly gained a reputation because of his excessive use of flogging for minor offences and his outspoken views on the convict transportation system.

With the arrival of Governor Sir Richard Bourke in the colony in December 1831, Mudie, along with a number of the 'exclusives' (non convict wealthy land holders) and the conservative newspaper The SYDNEY HERALD campaigned against what they saw as Bourke's weak stance on crime and punishment, his proposed introduction of trial by jury, his legislation restricting the power of local magistrates to inflict capital punishment, his belief in Catholic emancipation and his plan for non-denominational public schools.

In 1833 during Mudie's absence from his estate six convict servants mutinied, they robbed the store, attempted to kill Larnach and then took to the bush before being captured and brought to Sydney for trial. During the trial the convicts stated that they were forced to mutiny because of the harsh living conditions on Mudie's estate and the brutality of Larnach and Mudie towards the convicts. Although all six convicts were found guilty and three were executed in Sydney, two at Castle Forbes and one was sent to Norfolk Island. Governor Bourke appointed Solicitor-General John Hubert Plunkett and Police Superintendent Frederick Hely to investigate charges made at the trial against Mudie and Larnach for degrading treatment of their assigned servants.

Their report considered Larnach 'imprudent' in striking one convict and 'reprehensible' in bringing another before the local bench twice on the same day for the same offence so as to obtain two sentences of fifty lashes each but Mudie and Larnach were subsequently exonerated of ill treatment but heavily criticized for the quality and quantity of the rations they supplied to convicts.

Angered by the report Mudie and Larnach prepared a joint protest and asked Bourke to send it to London. The governor refused because of its improper form, so in September 1834 with help from another of the colony's conservative, pro exclusive newspapers THE MONITOR, they printed 'Vindication of James Mudie and John Larnach, from Certain Reflections … Relative to the Treatment by Them of Their Convict Servants'. They sent this pamphlet direct to the Colonial Office in London but the governor's action was fully upheld.

At the same time William Watt, a ticket-of-leave convict employed as a sub-editor in THE SYDNEY GAZETTE, attacked Mudie for his cruelty to convicts in a pamphlet 'Party Politics Exposed', signed by 'Humanitas'. Mudie in turn charged Watt with serious misdemeanours, and also attacked Roger Therry for defending Watt and the six convict mutineers at court and Bourke for showing favouritism to convicts.

In 1834 Mudie and his fellow exclusives sent a further petition to London (The Hole and Corner Petition) criticising Bourke. Later that year the mistatements and inhuman attitudes of the petitioners were denounced in a pamphlet by 'An Unpaid Magistrate', thought to be Roger Therry - the Catholic, Irish born judge, lawyer, convict advocate who later became the Attorney General of New South Wales.

Ineffectual in these tactics Mudie found revenge by inducing the colonial treasurer, Campbell Riddell to stand against the governor's nominee, Roger Therry, for election to the chairmanship of the Quarter Sessions. Riddell's victory by one vote, later shown to be irregular, was upheld by the Colonial Office. Governor Bourke already considering resignation over the 'exclusives' opposition to social reform - confirmed his resignation with the Colonial Office in protest over their actions.

However in 1836 Mudie was not reappointed to the Commission of the Peace and disgusted with colonial affairs he sold Castle Forbes for £7000 and in March sailed for England determined to seek redress against those who had not supported him.

In London in 1837 he published THE FELONRY OF NEW SOUTH WALES an attack on all whom he believed had opposed him in the colony - including many of his original supporters amongst the 'exclusives'.

The arrival of several copies THE FELONRY OF NEW SOUTH WALES in the colony in August 1837 was a sensation and it became the topic of the town for several months due to Mudie's personal attacks on some of the colonies leading citizens including William Blaxland, Dudley Perceval, the highly respected former governor Sir Richard Bourke, Chief Justice Forbes, William Charles Wentworth and former Attorney-General John Kinchela.

In 1840 Mudie returned to Sydney, where he found himself no longer welcome, for his vindictive comments had lost him many friends. John Kinchela Jnr, son of the John Kinchella Snr, former Attorney General in the Colony of New South Wales who had been maligned in THE FELONRY OF NEW SOUTH WALES, publicly horsewhipped Mudie in Sydney, and, when Mudie sued him, the £50 damages imposed on Kinchela were promptly paid by a subscription in the court. In 1842 Mudie returned to London, where he lived until his death on 21 May 1852 at Tottenham.