While Alt is commonly regarded as a German settler with the Fleet, he was only as German as Governor Phillip and indeed was more British than his King.

Possibly born in 1731 in London, his parents were Jost Heinrich Alt, at one stage an Ambassador for one of the German principalities (of Hesse-Kassel) and his Scottish wife Jeanetta (née Preston).


He is first recorded as an ensign in the 8th Regiment of the British Army in 1755 and then filled various military positions including being an aide-de-camp to a number of generals in the allied army in Germany commanded by Prince Ferdinand. During the ensuing peace, in 1763, he was engaged in building roads in the Scottish Highlands in between ancillary military work. He was then engaged, from 1777, in raising the Manchester Volunteers with whom he served in the siege of Gibraltar in 1779, at which time he was also appointed an assistant engineer. In 1781 he went to Switzerland as an agent for one Colonel James Erskine with a view to raising troops for the East India Company. Upon his return he resumed engineering activities until his appointment in May 1787 as the first surveyor to the Colony — as well as attending to certain judicial functions arising from Admirality law. At some stage Alt had married, one Sophia, who had borne him two children, Caroline Sophia and Augusta.


Alt sailed to the Colony on Prince of Wales and upon his arrival supervised the convicts in clearing the ground. His judicial functions were expanded by being appointed a Justice of the Peace and as such he sat on a considerable number of boards of magistrates.

As surveyor, Alt was engaged in these early years supervising the building of a wharf for Sydney, choosing the site (with the Governor) for Parramatta and clearing and deepening the Tank Stream. However, by December 1791 he was officially requesting a recall because his age (he was now 60 years) and the state of his health prevented him from executing the duties of his office.


This request was supported by Governor Phillip who employed Lieutenant Dawes and David Burton to perform surveying work.

During the interregnum following Phillip's return to England, Lieutenant-Governor Francis Grose recalled Charles Grimes from Norfolk Island to act as deputy-surveyor. Accordingly, while Alt continued to draw up the surveyor's returns and draw full pay, it is unclear how much surveying work he was actually engaged in. After considerable local opinion was apparently expressed, Alt made over half his pay to Grimes in 1797 and this situation then continued until Alt was officially retired on half-pay in 1801.


From 1792 it is therefore not at all clear what role Alt had in the building or planning of the Colony.

During this year a brick house was erected for Alt on the east side of Sydney Cove. In 1794 he was granted 100 acres at what is now Petersham, which land he called Hermitage Farm. In 1802 this land was sold to John Palmer and a further 100 acres granted at Bulananing. Some seven years later he obtained a grant of 280 acres adjoining his initial grant of Hermitage Farm. This grant was in the vicinity of present-day Ashfield. His land does not appear to have been extensively worked.

In August 1798, while absent from his farm on judicial business, aborigines burnt his house and its contents to the ground. No specific reason for this act is known.

In the Colony he formed a liaison with First Fleet convict Ann George who arrived on Lady Penrhyn. From this relationship, which lasted until George died in 1814, two children were born, Lucy (who was baptised on 13 November, 1791, and died in March, 1806) and Henry George (who was born in 1799). George is also buried in St John's Cemetery, Parramatta.


Alt died at Parramatta on 9 January, 1815 (apparently insolvent). His son left the Colony shortly after his father's death aboard Northampton, bound for China.



Copyright Fellowship of First Fleeters