He was born on 17 June 1760 to a shipwright, John
Palmer, and his wife, Sarah
and was baptised the following month at
Portsmouth. Following a childhood in this naval port, he
joined the Royal Navy as a captain's servant, aged nine.
His naval career climaxed in September 1781 when
Richmond, aboard which he was serving, was captured
Bay during the American War of Independence. On release
from being a
he married, in 1783, an American,
John Palmer travelled to the Colony as the purser aboard
After Sirius sank at Norfolk Island, he returned
to Sydney and was ‘shipless’.
As he was available he was temporarily appointed as
Commissary General, replacing Andrew Miller who was ill,
and who in fact died aboard ship returning to England.
This was an influential and
responsible position as it controlled not only the
Government Stores but the drawing of funds on the
Treasury in London.
He had by 1793 clearly determined to settle in the
Colony for on 28 May that year he applied for leave to
return to England to put his affairs in order before
returning to stay permanently. The shortage of
administrative officers delayed granting his request
until September 1796 when he sailed in Britannia.
Together with his wife, his children and his sister,
Sophia, he returned to the Colony aboard Porpoise,
arriving in November, 1800.
One factor which must have influenced his decision to
remain in the Colony was his skill shown in farming — a
skill in which he took considerable pride. A grant of
170 acres became Woolloomooloo Farm. (On this land today
is First Fleet House.) Within twelve months this grant
had been expanded by purchases of some 900 acres at both
During his absence, in particular, he had been assisted
by the First Fleet emancipist John
his agent. He had so improved the agricultural
techniques utilised on his Hawkesbury property by 1803
that he reduced the number of men employed there from
100 to 15.
His entrepreneurial endeavours flowed into other fields,
such as sealing, carrying, baking, milling, and
boat-owning (including George, John, and
Edwin — all presumably named after his sons).
These endeavours and his own inclinations ensured that
he was not aligned with the military in the Colony. As
early as 1794 he was to have been the official second to
in a duel with John
Macarthur. The duel never took
On the night of Governor William
deposition during the Rum Rebellion, Palmer, his
brother-in- law, Robert
and their spouses were dining with the Governor. Through
his failure to cooperate with the rebel administration
he was eventually sentenced by the rebels to
While reinstated after the arrival of Governor
it was clear that the authorities in London considered
that his actions were as much motivated from maintenance
of his own position as from loyalty to the Governor. He
was demoted to Assistant Commissary
in July, 1811, and finally retired on half-pay in
January, 1819. Certainly from 1817, if not earlier, he
appears to have not wholeheartedly
performed in his Government employ.
He was absent from the Colony in London between 1810 and
1814 giving evidence before various committees,
especially relating to the rebel administration. Upon
his return his affairs were clearly in a parlous state
and remained so until into the 1820s. This necessitated
the sale of his Woolloomooloo estate for far less than
the amount for which he had mortgaged it, and a
concentration, initially, upon his farm
of some 30 acres. Also he held land at
and on the Limestone Plains at
near the present Canberra.
In 1822 he was dismissed as a magistrate by Governor
Brisbane following a dispute over the affairs of
Dr H. G. Douglass
and a convict girl of his household, Ann
Palmer and other magistrates, including Samuel
had indicated that they would no longer sit as
magistrates with Dr Douglass as a consequence of his
During his life he had been closely associated with
Samuel Marsden, and appears to have held similar beliefs
not only in relation to Christianity but also as to
their roles in a new colony. His beliefs are
demonstrated in a tangible form as it was said he had
sold bread at a discounted price to the needy during the
floods. He served on the committee of the Female Orphan
Institution from 1803 to 1824.
died in September, 1832, and he died only 12 months
later on 27 September 1833.