Charles Robert Prinsep was born in London in 1789 and died there in 1864. He married Louisa Anne White in Calcutta in 1837 and had three sons and three daughters.
Charles graduated in law from Cambridge, entered the London Bar in 1817 and moved to Calcutta in 1824, where he became a member of the Calcutta Bar and standing counsel to the East India Company. He established a lucrative legal business which allowed him to purchase property and set up agricultural enterprises in India, Singapore, Van Diemen’s Land and Western Australia. It is likely he learnt of the opportunities in Western Australia through Ross Donnelly Mangles, also involved in Indian Commerce and who eventually became Chairman of the East India Company. Mangles’ sister Ellen was married to James Stirling.
Stirling had visited the Swan River in 1827 on a voyage of inspection for the New South Wales governor. His associations with the sea, British commerce and India, alerted him to the importance of the Indian Ocean and to the value of a half-way port at the Swan River between Calcutta and Sydney or Hobart and he returned to London determined to create a colony on the Swan River.
The colonists arrived at the Swan River on 1 June 1829 and in November that year Stirling sent Lieutenant William Preston, accompanied by Dr Alexander Collie, on a survey of the coast south from Fremantle. Their report described the mouths of what were soon named the Harvey, Collie and Preston Rivers, and persuaded Stirling to take a party of prospective settlers to the Leschenault District in March 1830. The first land grants in the district were subsequently selected by Colonel Peter Augustus Lautour, William Kernot Shenton, John Septimus Roe and William Hudson. The economic depression of the 1830s temporarily halted development in Calcutta, Van Diemen’s land and the Swan River until 1837.
In May 1837 a Calcutta newspaper item announced the formation of the Australian Association of Bengal initiated by Prinsep, its purpose to transfer investments from Calcutta to Australia. In February 1838, the Gaillardon reached Fremantle from Calcutta with Prinsep’s establishment under the supervision of his manager, Thomas Little, who immediately proceeded to Bunbury. Little negotiated the purchase of a thousand-acre block of land in the Harvey district, between the sea and the western bank of the Leschenault Estuary. Little would have initiated farming operations at Belvidere though he chose to live on Stirling’s land opposite the Picton Church.
By 1844, Marshall Waller Clifton in his November report recorded 26 acres of wheat grown at Belvidere with a workforce of 12 persons. The Prinsep Estate would not have lacked a good supply of staff, including Indian indentured labour.
Over 15 years, Thomas Little laid the foundations of the estate on Belvidere and purchased large areas of extra land for Prinsep: 800 acres of Location 7 at the head of the Estuary when Hudson’s original grant was resumed and offered for sale: one square mile [640 acres] Location 28 of the fertile Dardanup Flats which had come to be known as Paradise Farm; and the 20,000 acre Henty grant in the hills which looked down upon Bunbury in the distance. Little also bought for himself Location 25 of 780 acres just west of the Paradise Farm, Dardanup Park. In 1852, Little left, or was dismissed by, Prinsep and concentrated on his Dardanup Park farm. The supervision of Prinsep’s Western Australian interests then passed to Wallace Bickley a Fremantle businessman who had spent some years in Calcutta. The task of overseer of the estate was given to William Owen Mitchell who had recently married Bickley’s daughter. Mitchell remained in charge at Belvidere and Paradise Farm for some ten years until Prinsep sent out from India, William Bedford Mitchell to continue this work.
Belvidere remained the centre of the Estate activities until 1866, after which it was directed from Prinsep Park.
Charles Robert’s son, Henry (Harry) Charles Prinsep completed his schooling at Cheltenham, England. He was left motherless at 9. In 1855, when he was 11, Charles Robert returned to England suffering paralysis after a stroke. After his grand tour of Europe, Harry visited his late father’s Belvedere estate, Western Australia, in 1866. His meeting with Charlotte Josephine, daughter of J G Bussell, persuaded Prinsep to remain and they married on 26 February 1868 when he took over the estate’s management.
Charles Robert Prinsep had bought Belvidere estate in 1838 to breed cavalry remounts for the Indian Army. As a supplement, Harry Prinsep exported jarrah sleepers for the Indian railways. In 1870, after he had loaded the Hiemdahl with sleepers and horses, and accompanied them to India, the ship was wrecked when entering the Hooghly. Insurance for the cargo had been overlooked. In Western Australia, the younger Prinsep struggled for another three years. Falling prices in India and the colony defeated him and the estate was sold by his creditors in 1874 to Harry Whittall Venn.
Charles Robert Prinsep had attained the position of Advocate General of the East India Company in 1852. He was appointed Royal Commissioner to inquire into the conduct of the ‘white rajah’, Sir James Brooke, in Singapore, 1854. He suffered a severe stroke in 1855 and retired to England, where he lived as an invalid in a succession of properties until his death in 1864.
A C Staples, Prinsep, Henry Charles (Harry) (1844–1922), Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/prinsep-henry-charles-harry-8119/text14179, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 9 December 2021.
A C Staples, They made their destiny – History of Settlement – Shire of Harvey – 1829 – 1929 (1979), Shire of Harvey, Western Australia.
Image Source: https://www.geni.com/people/Charles-Robert-Prinsep/6000000017663325135, accessed online on 16 December 2021.