George William Rusden

George William Rusden

George William Rusden (9 July 181923 December 1903) was an English-born historian, active in Australia.

Early life

Rusden was born in Surrey, England. His father, the Rev. George Keylock Rusden, M.A. (1786-1859) graduated at the University of Cambridge and in 1809 married Anne, daughter of the Rev. Thomas Townsend. He was an excellent polyglot and mathematician and kept a private school for 23 years in Surrey.


Rusden then went to New South Wales where he was appointed a chaplain at Maitland from 1 January 1835. His son accompanied him to Australia and was at first engaged on the land, but in 1849 became an agent for the establishment of national schools in the Port Phillip district. He was appointed under-secretary in the colonial secretary's office at Melbourne in 1851, clerk of the executive council in 1852, and clerk of the Victorian Legislative Council in 1856. He retained his interest in education as a member of the council of the University of Melbourne from its inception, and was largely responsible for the foundation of the Shakespeare scholarship. In 1871 he published "The Discovery, Survey and Settlement of Port Phillip", an interesting pamphlet of some 60 pages. Three years later his "Curiosities of Colonization" appeared. This consists largely of accounts of Maurice Margarot, one of the "Scottish Martyrs", and Joseph Holt, the Irish rebel general. Both of these pamphlets are now very scarce.

Return to England

In 1881 Rusden retired on a pension of £500 a year and went to England. He had for some time been working on his "History of Australia" and his "History of New Zealand", which were published in 1883, each in three volumes. Unfortunately for Rusden he had accepted statements, made by a bishop in New Zealand and forwarded by a governor of the colony, without verifying them. These reflected on the conduct of John Bryce, a well-known politician in New Zealand, who brought an action for damages and obtained a verdict for £5000. On an appeal for reduction of damages in which Rusden conducted his own case with great ability (see his "Tragedies in New Zealand", privately printed 1888), the parties to the suit came to an agreement, that Bryce should be paid £3675 in satisfaction of all claims. In 1888 Rusden published his "Aureretanga; Groans of the Maoris", and a new edition of his "History of New Zealand" appeared in 1895. The second edition of the "History of Australia" was published in 1897 and his last work, "William Shakespeare", was in the press at the time of his death. It is largely a collection of extracts from the plays with a running commentary. In addition to the works already mentioned, Rusden published some verse, "Moyarra: An Australian Legend", 1851, second edition 1891, and "Translations and Fragments", published c. 1876. He also published several pamphlets. He had returned to Australia a few years before his death which occurred at Melbourne on 23 December 1903.


Rusden was a man of great ability and was a clear and vigorous writer. His verse is of no importance, but his histories of New Zealand and Australia are both works of some merit. He was conservative in his politics and neither book is free from bias. His attitude to some of the early governors would no doubt have been modified if he had had access to the "Historical Records of Australia" of which 33 volumes have since been published. A younger brother, Henry Keylock Rusden, born in 1826, joined the Victorian civil service in 1853. He was secretary of the Royal Society of Victoria for several years and published many pamphlets.


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