Cover image for Alexander Laing
Alexander Laing
Agency Number:
Start Date:
01 Jan 1792
End Date:
31 Dec 1868
Alexander Laing was a Scotsman, soldier, convict, colonist, District Police Constable in the Sorell district, but also a musician (fiddler) and composer.

Alexander Laing appears to have been born in Forfarshire, Scotland in 1792 to John and Ann. His siblings were probably Elizabeth, Ann, Jannet, Isabel and Mary. He joined the army in 1810, was charged with stealing and transported to Van Diemen's Land. He claims to have served 7 years as a soldier in the 22nd Gordon Highlanders and been present at the Battle of Salamanca in Spain in 1812. 

He was sentenced to seven years and transported at the age of 23 on the 'Marquis of Wellington' to NSW and the 'Emu' to VDL which arrived in the colony 29 September 1813.

On the 19 March 1816 at St David's Church, Hobart he married Esther Robertson (or Hester Roberts) aged 22, a convict tried in Warwick in 1814 arriving on the 'Northampton' in 1815 and the 'Emu' in 1816. She died on 1 Jan 1841 and was buried at St John's Catholic cemetery at Richmond after having children John, Alexander, James, Susan Sorell, Ellen, Georgiana Jane, William Henry Gordon, Emily Mary and Arthur between the years 1816 and 1836 (see St George's Church, Sorell records).

Laing became the Chief Constable of Police in the Sorell (Pittwater) district betwen 1819 - 1838 and lived at 'Greenhills' Forcett. He kept a diary, of which fragments survive, in which he spoke mainly about people and events in this area. He died on the 2 Sept 1868 aged 77 years and was buried on the 5 Sept at St George's, Sorell.

Musicians Steve and Marjorie Gadd in collaboration with Tasmanian historian Peter MacFie have published "On The Fiddle from Scotland to Tasmania 1815 - 1863 - the Life and Music of Tasmanian colonial fiddler Alexander Laing' and to quote from their website /"The Alexander Laing Project" they say "Trained in the Scottish fiddle music of his era, in particular the music of Neil and Nathaniel Gow Laing spent time in Ireland with the British army before committing a crime that led to his transportation to Van Diemen's Land. Laing became a police constable in his new home colony and from 1812 to the late 1860s was a performer of fiddle music. His vast repertoire featured over 60 original compositions including, Jigs, Strathspeys, Hornpipes, marches, Reels and waltzes. Many of these were dedicated to local personalities and their titles recall both the historical characters of early Tasmania and trace with their dates, the movement of Laing from one township to another over his career as a constable. Historian Peter MacFie located a copy of Laing's lost manuscript (TAHO NS548/1/1) which he had assembled prior to his death in the 1860s. This is a very important book for historian and folk music enthusiasts. Dave O'Neil, the Director of the Australian National Folk Festival called it a book of monumental importance which marks the link between the early 19th century Scottish style of fiddling popular in the colonies and the later Australian bush style of fiddling." 

Information Sources:
AOT correspondence file on 'Alexander Laing';;website "The Alexander Laing Project";; "Alexander Laing";;NS1332/1/12 (Alexander Laing's diary)
Robert Rollings (NG548)21 Feb 184209 Dec 1921

Ephriam William Newitt (NG1332)01 Jan 191124 Jun 1989