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AW Scott was part of a large and influential family that migrated to Australia from England in the 1820s. A qualified lawyer with an MA from Cambridge, he became known in the colony as a grazier, entomologist and entrepreneur.

Scott Sisters Drawing
Drawing by A.W (Walker) Scott of Rhizopsyche swainsonii Creator: Alexander Walker Scott © Australian Museum Archives Image: -
© Australian Museum

The entrepreneur and politician

Alexander Scott was born on November 10, 1800, in Bombay, India to Dr Helenus Scott and Augusta Maria, née Frederick. He was one of six children, and the second son.

Scott first arrived in NSW in 1827, docking in Newcastle with aspirations of becoming a merchant trader. Unfortunately, this trip met with financial disaster, as did two later voyages in 1829 and 1831. During his second voyage he took up a land grant on Ash Island in the Hunter River near Hexham. He returned there with his mother and sister to settle in 1831, although he continued to split his time between Newcastle and Sydney. Ash Island became Scott’s primary residence after his marriage in late 1846 to Harriet Calcott. Harriet was the daughter of an ex-convict, and already had two daughters, Frances Stirling and Mary Ann King, when she met Scott in 1829. She bore him two girls, Harriet and Helena Scott in 1830 and 1832 respectively.

Scott also acquired other properties between Newcastle and Maitland during the 1830s, and devoted considerable time to establishing the commercial and industrial infrastructure of the region. His achievements included the construction of an iron-foundry, forge and patent slip at Stockton, the building of large sea water tanks on Moscheto Island, used to supply salt for Sydney, and being founding treasurer of the Newcastle Mechanics' Institute in 1835. He also financed detailed plans for a railway between Newcastle and Maitland in 1844, advocated a tramway to Singleton, and became a shareholder in the Hunter River Railway Co in 1853 (taken over by the government in 1855).

Agriculture was also of interest to Scott, who grew tobacco and flax on the Maitland farms and oranges on Ash Island. He also tried his hand at growing grapes, even sponsoring vine dressers from Germany to work on the project.

His great interest in developing the commerce and agriculture of the Hunter region led to stints in politics. He served as Liberal Member of the NSW Legislative Assembly for the seats of Northumberland and Hunter from 1856 to 1859, Northumberland from 1859 to 1860 and Lower Hunter from 1860 to 1861. He was also a member of the NSW Legislative Council from 1861 to 1866. Scott Street in Newcastle is named after him.

Scott became bankrupt in late 1866, probably due to a combination of his inability to run businesses efficiently, the lasting impact of the 1840s depression on his finances and his renowned generosity. He had to sell Ash Island, already heavily mortgaged, and move back to Sydney with daughter Harriet and step-daughter Mary Ann. Mrs Scott died that same year, before they left the island.

The entomologist

Scott had acquired a love of natural history, in particular a passion for butterflies and moths, from his father Helenus (who had been President of the Medical Board and Assay Minister to the Mint of Bombay, as well as a long-serving physician and botanist to the East India Company). He increasingly devoted his time to the study of these insects in the years spent on Ash Island, culminating in the landmark publication Australian Lepidoptera and Their Transformations in 1864. Scott also inherited his father’s artistic talent and as a trained artist was capable of passing on his skills to his own family.

As was typical of Scott, he became heavily involved in various institutions and societies related to his interests. In 1862 he was a founding member of the Entomological Society of New South Wales, becoming a councillor the following year and president in 1866 and 1868. He was also a Trustee of the Australian Museum from 1864 to 1866 and again from 1867 to 1879.

Apart from his Australian Lepidoptera published in 1864, Scott also published seven papers on butterflies and moths in Transactions and also Mammalia, Recent and Extinct (Sydney, 1873). The second volume of his Lepidoptera was completed and published in five parts from 1890 to 1898 by the Australian Museum, co-edited by his daughter Helena.

Scott died of liver disease at Paddington in Sydney in November 1883. He is buried in Waverley cemetery.