Edward John Eyre (5 August 1815 - 30 November 1901) was an English land explorer of the Australian continent and a controversial Governor of Jamaica. Lake Eyre the Eyre Peninsula and Eyre Creek, all in South Australia, and the Eyre Highway (the main highway from South Australia to Western Australia) are named in his honour, as are the villages of Eyreton and West Eyreton in Canterbury, New Zealand.
Eyre was born in Whipsnade, Bedfordshire, shortly before his family moved to Hornsea, Yorkshire, where he was christened. His parents were Rev. Anthony William Eyre and Sarah (nee Mapleton). After completing grammar school at Louth and Sedbergh, he moved to Sydney rather than join the army or go on to university. He gained experience in the new land by boarding with and forming friendships with prominent gentlemen and became a flock owner when he bought 400 lambs a month before his 18th birthday. When South Australia was founded, Eyre brought 1000 sheep and 600 cattle overland from Monaro, New South Wales to Adelaide and sold them for a large profit. He also discoverd Lake Eyre.
With this money, Eyre set out to explore the interior of South Australia, with two separate expeditions north to the Flinders Ranges and west to beyond Ceduna.
Eyre, together with his Aboriginal companion Wylie, was the first European to traverse the coastline of the Great Australian Bight and the Nullarbor Plain by land in 1840-1841, on an almost 2000 mile trip to Albany, Western Australia. He had originally led an expedition with John Baxter and three aborigines. Two of the aborigines killed Baxter and left with most of the supplies, and Eyre and Wylie were only able to survive because of a lucky meeting with a French whaler in Rossiter Bay.
In addition to exploring inland South Australia and New South Wales, Eyre was instrumental in maintaining harmony between white settlers and aborigines along the Murray River.
He later served as Lieutenant-Governor of New Munster province in New Zealand (from 1848 under Sir George Grey) and later Governor of several Caribbean island colonies. Whilst Governor of Jamaica he ruthlessly suppressed the Morant Bay Rebellion, and had many black peasants killed. He also authorised the judicial murder of George William Gordon, a mixed-race member of the colonial assembly who was suspected of involvement in the insurrection.
These events created great controversy in Britain, leading to calls for Eyre to be arrested and tried for Gordon's murder. John Stuart Mill organised the Jamaica Committee, comprising leading members of the Victorian intelligentsia, calling for his prosecution. The Committee included liberals, such as John Bright, Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley, Thomas Hughes and Herbert Spencer. A rival committee was set up by Thomas Carlyle for the defence, arguing that Eyre had acted decisively to restore order. His supporters included John Ruskin, Charles Kingsley, Charles Dickens and Alfred Lord Tennyson. Twice Eyre was charged with murder, but the cases never proceeded.
|Preceded by: |
Richard Graves MacDonnell
|Lieutenant Governor of St. Vincent |
|Succeeded by: |
|Preceded by: |
Charles Henry Darling
|Governor of Jamaica |
1862–1864 (acting); 1864–1865
|Succeeded by: |
Sir Henry Knight Storks