Life On The Job

AUGUSTUS THEODORE HENRY ALT (1731 - 1815) - The First Surveyor General of NSW


Alt was born probably in London, the son of Justice Heinrich Alt (1698?-1768), sometime ambassador for Hesse-Kassel, and his English wife Jeanetta.
Australian Dictionary of Biography)

Augustus Alt and Tank Stream
Tank Stream was surveyed by Augustus Alt - here is a modern picture of people looking at this stream today.
ABC's My Place

ABC's My Place

This interactive site explores the history of homes and places in Australia.

Teacher's site for this TV series


In 1763 he went to build roads in the highlands of Scotland and in 1779 he was made assistant engineer by General Eliott.

In May 1787 he was appointed to the new colony of New South Wales as its first surveyor of lands and as a member of its commission for trial of pirates and of its vice-admiralty court; on arrival at Port Jackson he was made a justice of the peace. He accompanied Governor Arthur Phillip in an excursion to establish settlement at the head of Parramatta River in November 1788. In October 1791 he sat on the board of magistrates which examined the master of the convict ship Queen about abuses which had taken place on the voyage, but next month because of ill health, he asked for relief as surveyor-general.
(Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography)

In 1787, he was appointed Surveyor of Lands for the new Botany Bay colony and sailed on the ship Prince of Wales with the First Fleet under Commodore Arthur Phillip (later Governor of the colony). They arrived at Botany Bay in mid-January 1788 and shortly after moved to Port Jackson, landing on 26 January 1788. (Source: Wikipedia)

Prince of Wales - First Fleet
"PRINCE OF WALES" leaving Portsmouth.
Source: Ships of the First Fleet


Timeline of Surveyor Generals in NSW:

1788 - 1802 - Augustus Alt
1802 - 1808 - Charles Grimes
1812 - 1828 - John Oxley
1828 - 1855 - Major Thomas Mitchell

"The first Surveyor General [of NSW], Augustus Alt, held the office from 1788 until his retirement in 1802 when Charles Grimes succeeded him.

Grimes however, left the colony in 1808 because of events connected with Governor Bligh's departure and the colony was without a Surveyor General until John Oxley was appointed in 1812.

Oxley spent much of his time on exploration rather than survey work — a fact noted in Commissioner Bigge in his report in 1822. As a result of the report additional surveyors and draftsmen were appointed in an attempt to overcome the arrears of survey work in the Colony.

Major Thomas Mitchell was appointed Surveyor General in 1828 and, although there was also considerable internal re-organisation in the Survey Department, complaints about the efficiency of the Survey Department led to the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the efficiency of the department and the progress of the general survey of the Colony. Mitchell himself died before the Commission reported in 1855. Little was done to implement the recommendations of the Commissioners apart from appointing District Surveyors to supervise the work of various licensed and salaried surveyors. In 1858 a Select Committee of Enquiry investigated the department and repeated most of the earlier criticisms.

In 1856 the Surveyor General's Department came under the ministerial control of the Secretary for Lands. In 1867 the clerical branches of the Lands Department and Survey Department were amalgamated and the Surveyor General's responsibilities were reduced.

In 1887, following upon the Report of a Board of Inquiry the office of Surveyor General was abolished and a number of branches were either abolished or absorbed into the Lands Department. From the time of the abolition of the office of Surveyor General to its restoration on 1 February 1911, the official head of the professional division of the Lands Department held the title of Chief Surveyor."
NSW State Archives).

Digitalised newspaper This reads as:

Our First Surveyor - General Resigns in 1792.
In 1792, Augustus Theodore Henry Alt, the officer who survyed Parramatta as well as the districts of Prospect, North Bush, Field of Mars and Toongabbie, resigned office and took up his residence in Parra- matta. Years afterwards he laid out our principal roads and displayed superior abilities as a magistrate and hospitable benefactor of the poor people. As one of the forgotten pioneers of Parramatta, he deserves a passing notice.

His Historic Tomb
Surveyor-General Alt had the misfortune in 1798 to lose his homestead, which was burnt down by the natives while he was sitting on a Vice Admirality case in Sydney. His tomb encumbers the principal path in St. John's Cemetery, Parramatta.

This reads as:

Parramatta First Laid out in June, 1790.
The origin and rise of our town is peculiarly interesting, and its original foundation forms one of the most memor- able chapters in our history. It was in June, 1790, that Governor Phillip laid down the lines of a regular town at Rose- hill. Writing to the Home Government on the 17th June, 1790, about his intention to fix the first free settlers that may be sent out on farms in our district, he wrote as follows :

"The impossibility of conveying stores and provisions for any distance inland will oblige me to mark out the first township near Rosehill, where there is a considerable extent of good land."

He then comments on having fixed on making the first town in our district, as the sea coast did not provide any place calculated for a town where the inhabitants could be employed in agriculture. During the same month, the Governor and the Surveyor General (Augustus Theodore Henry Alt), drew a plan, laying down the lines of a regular town at the foot of Rosehill.

Digitised newspaper

Personal Life:

Alt had two children, Lucy (1790-1806) and Henry George (b.1799). Their mother was Ann George, a convict in the Lady Penrhyn in the First Fleet, who died in 1814. Alt died at Parramatta on 9 January 1815 and was buried in St John's churchyard. His son soon left for China in the Northampton. A table monument was erected to Augustus Alt's memory by his nephew Matthew Bowles Alt.

Lady Penrhyn of the First Fleet
Lady Penrhyn of the First Fleet

The First Surveyor General - Augustus Alt's Grave at the Anglican St. John's Parramatta Cemetery:

Surveyor General's Grave at Parramatta
Photo: ©Kevin McGuinness, used with permission.
A plaque celebrating that Alt was also on the First Fleet is at his graveside:

First Fleet
Photo: ©Kevin McGuinness, used with permission.

The plaque reads:

Augustus Alt
Arrived First Fleet
Died 9-1-1815

Fellowship of First Fleeters
A Plaque from his nephew in memory of Alt's life:

Alt's Nephew's plaque
Photo: ©Kevin McGuinness, used with permission.

The plaque reads:

To the Memory of
Augustus Theodore Henry Alt
Baron of Hesse Cassel
Who Died Jan 9 1815 Aged 84 Years
Late Surveyor General of New South Wales
At the first Settling of this Colony Which Situation he held till Superannuated
He Served as Lieut in the Guards in George The Second's Reign
Was Aide De Camp to Prince Ferdinand At the Battle of Mindon and Captain in the Royal Manchester Volunteers at the Siege of Giberalter Under General Elliot Where he Distinguished Himself in a Mighty Gallant Manner
He Died Universally Regretted by All His Friends Who Lost in the Baron a Most Complete Gentleman and a man Who Never told an Untruth to the injury of Any Man
This Monument is Erected By His Nephew Matthew Bowles Alt
Lieut in His Majesty's Royal Navy as a Tribute of Gratitude to His Respected Uncle.
1983 German Australian Centenary Plaque at Alt's graveside:

German Australian plaque celebrating Alt
Photo: ©Kevin McGuinness, used with permission.

The plaque reads:

"Denn Er Warunseri" (Goethe)

This plaque is dedicated to the memory of

Augustus Theodore Henry Alt
Baron of Hesse Cassel

Australia's First Surveyor General and First Immigrant of German Origin

Unveiled to mark the Centenary of German Institutions by The Hon.Sir Laurence Street, K.C.M.G., K.S
Lieutenant Governor and Chief Justice of New South Wales on 24th May 1983

Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany,

Dr. Gottfried Pagenstert

1983 German Australian Centenary Committee
Carl Harbaum, M.B.E


State Library of NSW - Surveyor's Notebooks

Surveyor Notebooks

Australian Dictionary of Biography: Alt, Augustus Theodore Henry (1731 - 1815)
Australian Dictionary of Biography
Wikipedia - Augustus Theodore Henry Alt

Australia's first Surveyor General and Governor, Alt and Phillip - The First Settlers of German Origin! by John F. Brock, Australia (PDF)

John F Brock
Dictionary of Sydney - Augustus Alt

Dictionary of Sydney - Augustus Alt
Paul-Alan Johnson, 'The Planning, Properties and Patriarchy of Surveyor-General Augustus Alt', Journal of the Ashfield and District Historical Society, no 17, 2008, pp 25–62



Who is the Real Augustus Alt?

PrimaryPrimary  MiddleMiddle High SchoolSecondary

ICT Capability Australian Curriculum General Capability: ICT Capability

LiteracyAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Literacy



1. In groups of 4 - 5 students, read the resources provided above. Use the Expert Jigsaw Strategy to do this work.

2. Pick up the differences in reporting of Augustus Alt's life from all these sources and create a list of the similarities and differences. 

Differences and Similarities
Similarities and Differences?

3. As a researcher, you need to check on the credibility of the sources. Analyse these sources and make a judgement. Share with your group and discuss the reasons why you chose to go with a particular source(s). Who was the real Augustus Alt in your opinion?

4. Using Voki, create a story about Augustus Alt showing the differences in reporting about his life!


5. Discuss with your group the way "History" can be interpreted. Can you think of other examples where different perspectives were provided about a particular historical figure?


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