Dr Lovell Byass

Here are a collection of articles about the first surgeon on Kangaroo Island:

Historical Records of the Early Settlement on Kangaroo Island.


By Dr. A. A. Lendon M.D.

The scanty information I have been able to gather about this former resident on Kangaroo Island is derived partly from an obituary notice in the Australian Medical Journal (1) and partly frcm a memorandum (2) sent to me by Dr. G. T. Howard of Melbourne. We got a glimpse of him also in Mrs Watt's description of life on the Island during the years 1837- 39 (3).

The father and a grandfather of Lovel Byass were doctors (2). He himself was born on June 1, 1811, at Worthing in Sussex. It is stated that he "with eight brothers out of ten" was "brought up for the medical profession" (2). A century ago it was not necessary for a man to hold a diploma in order to practise medicine, and it is probable that Mr Byass did not possess one, for we read that he was registered as qualified to practice in Victoria under the 14th section of the Medical Act of that State in 1862 (1). A brother, who apparently was not attracted to medicine, was Robert Byass of Bottled Ale and Porter fame, who died a demi-millionaire (1).

In 1834 Lovel married Rebecca Halstead of Kent, a lady two years his senior in age (2), and they came out to Australia presumably in 1836, but on which of the ships I have not been able to ascertain. [Eden 1838] . Byass was under a 12 months agreement, first on the emigrant ship and then to the South Australian Company at their Kangaroo Island headquarters. (2)

On May 11th, 1837, the ship 'Hartley' (322 tons} sailed from London with the new Colonial Manager of the South Australian Company, Mr William Giles, and his large family on board. The ship reached the Island on October 16th. To celebrate the occasion a dinner party was given by Mr Thos. Hudson Beare, the Superintendent of the Settlement on the Island, and Miss Isabella Giles, the younger daughter (age 14), was told off to a "square built young doctor" (he was 12 years her senior), "who proving to be great fun suited her admirably." The Giles family were accompanied in their moonlight walk home by the host and the young Doctor.

"In memory of the infant son of Lovel and Rebecca Byass who died 1838." Memorial at Reeves Point Pioneer Cemetery

Later we read of the couple (Dr. and Mrs Byass) leaving the Island "unable to settle down there in consequence of the death of their only child" (3). That the doctor was missed, one judges from the unfavorable sketch tho writer gives of his successor, Dr. Harvey. This departure may be dated possibly about the month of November, 1838, the successor commencing his duties sometime after Christmas (5), although it is a curious fact that his name still appears in the books of the South Australian Company as late as October 1839 (4).

On leaving Kangaroo Island Dr. Byass (1 and 2) went to Portland Bay in Victoria, where be found an old acquaintance in S. G. Henty, here he decided to practise his profession at the whaling settlement. Here he also met again Mr George Crouch with whom he had come out to Kangaroo Isiand. Here too, his daughter was born, the first white girl in that district, the first white boy, Richmond Henty being a few weeks older. Dr. Byass' house was situate near the present Post Office and was second bouse built there, whalers and sealers' huts excepted. He remained in practice in Portland for several years and indeed was the pioneer medical practitioner for tbe whole eastern district, his circuit extending from Geelong to Mount Gambier. After a time, acting upon the recommendation of Henty. he took up land in the Wannon district, whilst still practising his profession. His pastoral venture was not a success and so in 1849 he resumed his medical work at Portland remaining there, it is alleged, for five years. Another account says that about 1851 he removed to Warrnambool where be remained in practice for some years. He died in August, 1874, at Hamilton(2), according to one statement, but at Casterton according to another. In 1882 a letter appeared from John Whitaker in which there is mention of the widow of Lovel Byass who was said to be in great distress (6).

It is known that descendants of his are scattered about the South-Eastern part of South Australia, while his youngest son, Charles, died in Western Australia on the 3rd of last November, at the age of 85, I wrote to them all but could get no information from them.

Notes in reference to the above article.

(1), I, Vol. XIX, page 286, of the year 1874(2). I wote to Dr Howard for possib!e information. It is a curious co-incidence that by the same post he received a letter giving him information about Dr Byass (of whom he had never previously heard) from Mr Noel Learmouth, of Tyreudarra, near Portland, Victoria, the Secretary of the lcal Historical Association. Dr Howard is engaged in research connected with the medical history of Victoria from the earliest days.(3). "Family Life in South Australia'" page 21.(4). Information supplied by Mr H. P Moore, recently Manager of the South Australian Company.(5). He was on the Company's books from February, 1839. An account of Dr Harvey appeared in the "Kangaroo Island Courier" of March 3rd., 1928. (6) Dr Charles Davies' Scrap Books, Vol. XXIII, page 39.

Historical Records of the Early Settlement on Kangaroo Island. (1931, January 10). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article191251727

Obituary for Dr Lovell Byass

Warrnambool Examiner, September 1874:

Our obituary contains the name of Dr Lovel Byass, formerly a resident of this town. We are informed by his son, Mr. W.C. Byass, that deceased came to South Australia in charge of an emigrant ship in 1836 and after remaining at Adelaide some time he left for this colony and was at Portland, also at the Wannon. In 1851, Dr. Byass arrived in Warrnambool, and about two years after he purchased the practice of the late Dr. Corney. After twelve years residence in this town, Dr. Byass proceeded to Port Macdonnel, and subsequently to Merino, and whilst residing at the latter, in 1869, his health failed, and on retiring from professional life he went to reside at Hamilton. Two years ago he was attacked with paralysis of the left side, and the final attack came on during the past month. Dr Byass was the brother of Mr Robert Byass, the well-known ale and porter bottler of London.

State Library SA

Regarding your enquiry concerning Dr. Lovell Byass and his arrival at Kangaroo Island, we have checked available indexes to departure passenger lists and the family name does not appear. They could have travelled on one of the South Australian Company’s vessels, the ‘Emma’, Lord Hobart’ or ‘Sarah & Elizabeth’ or the numerous other vessels that visited the island taking freight and passengers to the island. The ships log books do not list passengers.

BRG42/33/22 4/8/1838 McLaren to Giles. "... the Goshawk puts into Nepean Bay to land Dr Byass."

We have located some other records that indicate the amount of time that he was on Kangaroo Island, but not exactly. One is from correspondence in the records of the South Australian Company (BRG 42/37/1839 (H)). The first mention of medical services on Kangaroo Island that we came across is in a letter written by James Benjamin Harvey who was sent to the island to provide medical assistance to the residents after Dr. Byass and his wife had left. This was in a letter dated 6 February 1839, Kingscote to David McLaren (SA Company). When Harvey arrived at the island he found that Mr. Hare (another SA Company employee) was ‘in daily attendance for many sick persons in the Island and that he does not hesitate to attend cases of midwifery – you will remember that you assured me the there was no one practicing in the Island, or I could not have been induced to risk my time upon an uncertainty’.

‘and more particularly after the exhorbitant [sic] charges made for attendance by the Late Surgeon’.

In another letter written on 20 March 1839, Kingscote, Harvey wrote in a letter to David MacLaren [sic] ‘You will remember that, when I agreed with you to come over here & practice in a “medical and surgical capacity”, you promised to renew the agreement at the end of the first six months if I wished it; at the same time you assured me that I should have no difficulty in making above 100£ per year by my profession, as Mr. Byas [sic] had received 80£ of in 4 months. It is true that Mr. Byas did make a larger sum, at the expense of the friendship and goodwill of all his neighbours, which is an example that I have chosen not to follow.’

Further mention of Dr. Byass has been found in the financial records of the company, in BRG 42/109 Cash Book: 1 September 1838 ‘Brig ‘Lord Hobart’ per Dr. Byass for medicine for one of the crew’. Another payment was made in October for medicines for the medicine chest ordered by Dr. Byass and carried by the ‘Lord Hobart’. On 12 December 1838 there was a payment to Dr. Byass for ‘funeral of child’ and on 12 January 1839 passage money for Dr. and Mrs. Byass on the ‘Victoria’.

There are other references to the Byass family in correspondence, for example, in BRG 42/33 William Giles to David McLaren, Kingscote 26/12/1838, William describes how his family had invited Mrs. Byass to stay with them while the doctor was away looking for a new position, to help her regain her health after the loss of her child.

email to D. Wilson 3/9/2015

BRG42/33/21 31/7/1838 McLaren to Giles: "This will be handed you by Mr. Lovel Byass surgeon of 'The Eden' who I have engaged to reside for one year at least at Kingscote. He is to be provided with a house and garden which I presume will be that house built by Mr. Beare and till the house be ready I have arranged (?) that he and his family shall have household accommodation and the use of a garden and his I will leave with you on his arrival."

BRG42/34/28 14/8/1838 Giles to McLaren: "I was made very happy by the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Biass [sic], we shall do all we can to make them comfortable; at present they are staying in the front room of your house. I shall get into this house myself as soon as the rooms are plastered when they may come to my present residence until I can get the place ready which you propose for them."

BRG42/34/35 7/9/1838 Giles to McLaren: " ... it is now nearly two months since our population have tasted either Mutton or Beef and those who are sick require to be fed a little more carefully. Mr. Biass has been making strong remonstrances on the subject: he says that several of his patients now require more support than the island at present affords ." [in this letter Giles also mentions "the depredations of thieves" to the Company stores, and the mutinous mood of labourers whom he had refused passage on the Company's 'Victoria' (?) so that they might earn "7 shillings a day and rations" in Adelaide].

BRG42/34/47 26/11/1838 Giles to McLaren: "The Doctor tells me that he has made up his mind to leave. I remarked that there was an agreement in my possession which he had signed to remain with us for twelve months: he replied that he would not be subject to that document; to this determination I answered that he was liable to an action which would most certainly be entered against him for such a breach of contract. He said he would be very desirable as it would give him an opportunity of explaining more publickly [sic] his conduct. I have taken the trouble to make a list of various patients, some of whom have received his enormous charges ... [indecipherable ] ... it amounts to upwards of eighty pounds; these accounts have been originated in a little more than three months. It is very improbable that he would have made so much in Adelaide."

BRG42/33/45 30/11/1838 McLaren to Giles: "I leave you to do as you think fit with Dr. Byass. He seems unreasonable."

BRG42/33/50 17/12/1838 McLaren to Giles: "... and beg to defer before concluding to the case of Dr. Byass. I was waited upon by Mr. Jacob who read to me part of a letter from Dr. Byass - he has a great many complaints against the Co. and against you personally - I really ... [indecipherable] ... with them - you must settle it yourself - as to threatening an action at law I am satisfied it would do no good to act on it. He has made arrangements for going to V. D. Land and I do not think we have the means of preventing him. Nor would it be good policy with such a man to attempt it. So I presume we must make a virtue of a necessity."

BRG42/34/52 26/12/1838 Giles to McLaren: "Mr. Byass has lately lost his only child. I thought it a seasonable opportunity to show them every kindness in my powers and so without noticing some rather rough usage I got Mrs. Giles to press Mrs. Byass to leave her solitary home and come and spend a few days with us. Her health is gradually mending and a friendly understanding has taken the place of a hateful suspicion which through the misrepresentations of some of our neighbours had been suffered to take root in their minds. Mr. Byass is going over to Launceston whence Mr. Henty has proferred his friendly services."

BRG42/33/53 31/12/1838 McLaren to Giles: "...I am glad you have arranged amicably with Mr. Byass."

This research is from a document dated 4/12/1997 obtained 15/11/2015 through the Portland Family History Group Inc.

Descendants of Lovell BYASS

Generation 1

1. Lovell BYASS was born 01 Jun 1811 in Arundel, Sussex, England and died Aug 1874 in Hamilton, Victoria. He married Rebecca HALSTEAD 05 Jan 1836 in Southwark, London, England. She was born Mar 1809 in Waltham Abbey, Essex, England and died 1883 in Hawthorn, Victoria.

Other events in the life of Lovell BYASS

Occupation: Medical practitioner

Immigration: 24 Jun 1838 in Eden

Residence: 1839 in Portland, Victoria

Children of Lovell BYASS and Rebecca HALSTEAD:

i. Lovel BYASS was born 1838 in Kangaroo Island, SA and died 1838 in Kangaroo Island, SA

ii. 2. Anna-Maria Pecknell BYASS was born 1839 in Portland, Victoria and died 1924 in Perth, WA

iii. 3. John Lovel BYASS was born 1841 in Portland, Victoria and died 1868 in Port MacDonnell, Victoria

iv. 4. Peter George BYASS was born 1844 in Portland, Victoria and died 1896

v. 5. William Charles BYASS was born 1847 in Portland, Victoria and died 03 Nov 1930 in Perth, WA

Generation 2

2. Anna-Maria Pecknell BYASS was born 1839 in Portland, Victoria and died 1924 in Perth, WA. She married William Henry (Harry) HEDGES 19 Apr 1869 in Mount Gambier, SA. He was born ABT 1829.

Children of Anna-Maria Pecknell BYASS and William Henry (Harry) HEDGES:

i. Sigismond George James HEDGES was born 15 Sep 1871 in Mount Gambier, SA

ii. Eva Anna Maria Rebecca HEDGES was born 1873 in Hamilton, Victoria

iii. 6. Mary Halsted (May) HEDGES was born 1875 in Hamilton, Victoria and died 1902 in Subiaco, WA

iv. John Charles Lovel HEDGES was born 1878 in Hamilton, Victoria and died 1879 in Hamilton, Victoria

3. John Lovel BYASS was born 1841 in Portland, Victoria and died 1868 in Port MacDonnell, Victoria. He married Emma FROST 1862 in Victoria. She died 1864.

Other events in the life of John Lovel BYASS

Burial: in Mount Gambier, SA

Baptism: 07 Oct 1841 in Portland, Victoria

4. Peter George BYASS was born 1844 in Portland, Victoria and died 1896. He married Emma CLARKE 08 Mar 1869 in Mount Gambier, SA. She was born ABT 1850 and died 02 Aug 1920 in Mount Gambier, SA.

Other events in the life of Peter George BYASS

Burial: in Mount Gambier (Lake Terrace) Cemetery

Children of Peter George BYASS and Emma CLARKE:

i. George Alfred BYASS was born 19 Sep 1869 in Glenburnie, SA

ii. 7. John Lovell BYASS was born 19 Sep 1870 in Mount Gambier, SA and died 30 Oct 1951 in Prospect, SA

iii. Emma Rebecca Grace BYASS was born 03 Aug 1871 in Lake Bonney, SA

iv. Arthur Clarence BYASS was born 04 Jul 1873 in Mount Gambier, SA

v. Frederick William BYASS was born 04 Nov 1875 in Port MacDonnell. SA

vi. Alice Maud BYASS was born 02 Jun 1878 in Port MacDonnell. SA

vii. 8. Robert Francis BYASS was born 06 Sep 1881 in Mount Gambier, SA and died 03 May 1966 in Mount Gambier, SA

viii. Alexander Charles BYASS was born 27 Dec 1884 in Mount Gambier, SA

ix. Annie Doris BYASS was born 29 May 1892 in Mount Gambier, SA

x. Effie May BYASS was born 03 Jun 1895 in Mount Gambier, SA

5. William Charles BYASS was born 1847 in Portland, Victoria and died 03 Nov 1930 in Perth, WA. He married Elizabeth NORTON.

Generation 3

6. Mary Halsted (May) HEDGES was born 1875 in Hamilton, Victoria and died 1902 in Subiaco, WA. She married Alfred John Le SAGE 14 Dec 1896 in Perth, WA. He was born in Plymouth, England and died 1897 in Fremantle, WA.

7. John Lovell BYASS was born 19 Sep 1870 in Mount Gambier, SA and died 30 Oct 1951 in Prospect, SA. He married Annie OCONNOR 23 Jan 1901 in Mount Gambier, SA.

8. Robert Francis BYASS was born 06 Sep 1881 in Mount Gambier, SA and died 03 May 1966 in Mount Gambier, SA. He married Eliza May ANDERSON 06 Dec 1909 in Mount Gambier, SA. She was born 20 May 1883 in Mount Gambier, SA and died 31 Mar 1979.

Last updated: 14 Oct 2020

See also http://www.swvic.org/merino/byass.htm with a comprehensive article by Robyn Waymouth.

See also Australian Medical Pioneers Index