Captain William Bloomfield Douglas



William Bloomfield Douglas (25 September 1822 – 5 March 1906), generally known as "Bloomfield Douglas" or "Captain Douglas", was a Welsh naval officer and public servant. During his career, he served in various positions in South Australia, including Government Resident of the Northern Territory (1870–1873), the Straits Settlements, including Acting Resident of Selangor (1875–1882), and Canada.

William Bloomfield Douglas

Sea Captain, Chief Officer (Coast Guard), 

Captain W. Bloomfield Douglas was appointed Resident of the Northern Territory of South Australia, as it was then called. He had held various appointments in South Australia for nearly 20 years, such as Harbormaster, Collector of Customs, and President of the Marine Board.

He was also:

• Governor of Calcutta.
• Government Representative: Darwin.
• Resident of Selangor.


Bloomfield sailed aboard HMS Wolverine to China under the command of his uncle John Johnson and then set off to Borneo to hunt pirates, possibly with Sir Henry Keppel on the Dido.  Other records show he went out to Borneo and served on board the Royalist, in the service of the Raja of Sarawak. The Second Raja was Bloomfield's Uncle on his mother Mary's side.

2 or 3 sons living in the Malay States, one a commissioner of police over that whole quarter. Godson of Lord Bloomfield(1) Governor of Penang Spent some time in Australia as Government Resident at Port Darwin.

1 Elen Atkinson
  1. Harriet Douglas
  2. William Alexander Douglas
  3. Eleanor Atkinson (Nelly) Douglas
  4. Bloomfield Douglas
  5. Mary Atkinson (Minnie) Douglas
  6. Helen Lucile Douglas
  7. William Willes Douglas
  8. Alma Douglas
  9. Mary Atkinson (Mollie) Douglas
  10. John Bloomfield Douglas

2 Kate Clinch
  1. Kate Beatrice Douglas, 1884 -

3 Annie Maude McDonald

They had 6 children


DOUGLAS, WILLIAM BLOOMFIELD (1822-1906), naval officer and public servant, was born on 25 September 1822 in Aberystwyth, Wales, son of Richard William Clode Douglas(2) and his wife Mary, née Johnson. His uncle, Rev. Francis Charles Johnson, married Emma, a sister of Sir James Brooke, first rajah of Sarawak. In January 1842 he entered the navy and became a captain's steward on H.M.S. Wolverene before resigning in September at Hong Kong. He then won distinction fighting pirates with Brooke in Sarawak in 1843-44. He also claimed to have served in a steam frigate in the Indian Navy. On 25 April 1848 at Embleton, Northumberland, he married Ellen, daughter of Christopher Atkinson, yeoman. At that time he was stationed at near-by Alnmouth, a coastguard station. To provide for his growing family he returned to the sea in September 1852(2).


In 1854 in command of the General Screw Steam Shipping Co.'s Bosphorus, a coastal mail vessel, Douglas successfully applied in Adelaide for the post of naval officer and harbourmaster. He assumed duty in December and in July 1858 became collector of customs as well. He also served as master of Trinity House and chairman of the Harbor Trust until these authorities and the post of naval officer were replaced in 1860 by a Marine Board with Douglas as its first president. He contributed as a commissioner or witness to official inquiries into South Australian lighthouses in 1855, harbours in 1855 and 1865 and defences in 1858, and surveyed Kangaroo Island and the Backstairs Passage in 1858, the Murray River mouth in 1859 and the west coast in 1867. He also served at various times on the Immigration Board, and as inspector of distilleries and stipendary magistrate.


In March 1870 Douglas was appointed government resident for the Northern Territory. Inspired perhaps by Brooke's example, he hoped to find fame and fortune on this new frontier. He governed like a white rajah but lacked the competence to introduce a suitable administration. He squandered money, ignored instructions and quarrelled with subordinates. He failed to control the gold rush which he encouraged and probably delayed the introduction of the 1872 mining regulations in order to protect his own investment. By early 1873 his ambitions were shattered and he had to be warned about his drinking. With a characteristic burst of energy he tried to put his administration in order but in June Thomas Reynolds, the commissioner of crown lands, visited Palmerston (Darwin) and Douglas had to resign.


William Bloomfield Douglas
William Bloomfield
Douglas, c1876
Resident of Selangor
Douglas returned to Adelaide financially ruined. In April 1874 the government sent him to Singapore, on a mission he had proposed in 1871, to recruit Chinese miners for the Northern Territory. Almost 200 came to Australia in the first group but Douglas stayed in Singapore where in October he became acting police magistrate and in May 1875 second police magistrate. As British control extended in the Malay States he became acting assistant resident of Selangor in November and acting resident in April 1876. Selangor flourished in spite of Douglas's shortcomings. His incompetence was soon discovered and his work had to be closely supervised by the governor at Singapore. He spoke little Malay and his violent temper led to quarrels with important Malays and Chinese. In 1879 an inquiry found the treasury and land offices hopelessly disorganized and he was criticized for failing to extend his control to the mining districts in the interior. In response he moved to Kuala Lumpur and attempted to remedy the deficiencies in his administration, but in 1882 his son-in-law, Dominick Daniel Daly, whom he had appointed superintendent of public works, was dismissed for land jobbery; other irregularities were discovered and Douglas had to resign.


With a sick wife, a mentally retarded daughter and a son at school, Douglas was given a retirement allowance and a passage to England; instead he joined Daly who now had a job with the British North Borneo Co. His wife died in 1887 and he returned to England. His next move was to Canada where in 1893 he was employed by the tidal service of the Department of Marine and Fisheries. In 1895 he sat on an inquiry into pilotage dues in St John and in April 1897, giving his age as 65, became an examiner in the Department of Marine and Fisheries. On 31 January 1899 Douglas married Annie Maude, daughter of Ronald McDonald, collector of customs, Sydney, Nova Scotia. In 1900-03 he was a departmental inspector at Halifax and served again as an examiner before he died on 5 March 1906. The Halifax newspapers gave the 'Captain' favourable obituaries.


By his first wife Douglas had eight children; of his three sons, the eldest died young and the others served in Malaya and Sarawak. In Adelaide on 23 October 1871, his eldest daughter Harriet married Daniel D. Daly, a nephew of Governor Dominick Daly. She recorded her experiences in the Northern Territory in Digging, Squatting, and Pioneering Life … (London, 1887) and for years wrote a column from London for the Sydney Morning Herald. Perhaps the following is her description?


Ellen Douglas, daughter of Christopher Atkinson, yeoman, was serving with her husband, the founding administrator of Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territories. Surrounded by Larrakia, the local aborigines, she and her seven children - five under 10 - lived in a thin walled timber hut with windows made of calico, with no nearby water, a camping stove to cook on, no fresh fruit, vegetables or meat, on the edge of a beach infested with crocodiles. For half the year the heat was terrible, and for the rest it rained torrentially. For 11 months no ship called with either letters or supplies.


Places named after William Bloomfield Douglas:
Douglas Street, Fannie Bay
Douglas Peninsula (which later reverted to its earlier name of Cox Peninsula)



1.  This the same person as Captain Bloomfield Douglas.  He dropped his first name in later years - and took 10 years off his age too!  Tjis biography covers his time in Canada, and referes to his artistic talents.

2 William Bloomfield Douglas was in employment from 1847 as a Chief Officer in the Coastguard Service – we already knew he was that at Alnmouth, Northumberland in April 1848 when he married, but we can now add that by early 1852 he was based at the Southampton Water Coastguard Station – and in fact I’ve found separate evidence (Census & Directory) that in 1851 he was stationed at Fraserburgh in Scotland. Perhaps the best discovery for us in the claim is that at some point c.1847-50 he was “... in temporary command of H.M.R.C. “Eagle” on the coast of Northumberland ...” He later painted this ship.





Sources for this article include:

•  Australian Dictionary of Biography

•  ArtUK


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