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William Robertson (1798–1874)

We have with regret to record the death of Mr. William Robertson, of Colac, who expired at his residence at Colac on Sunday morning last, at the ripe age of 75 years. In him the colony loses one of the founders of its fortunes, for not only was he among the earliest of its pioneers, but he took an important part in its early struggles for existence, and never ceased his exertions in it until by his acumen, energy, and perseverance, his lands became a vast possession, and himself a millionaire. He was born in 1799, at Alvey, Invernessshire, Scotland, where his father was a respectable sheep-farmer, and there the son was brought up. After receiving a sound practical education from the dominie of the parish, who afterwards became placed minister at Balmoral, the lad began to assist on his father's farm, and in that condition of life he arrived at man's estate. About this time he was attracted by the offers of land on easy terms, and the assistance of convict labour, made by the Colonial Office to induce emigrants with capital to locate themselves in Van Diemen's Land, and the result was, that he and his brother John accepted those offers, and, in 1822, arrived in the sister colony. His brothers, Daniel and James subsequently followed his example. Our business is, however, with the first-named brothers, whose first step was to select 2,560 acres of land in the neighborhood of Campbelltown, where they remained in partnership until 1831, when they decided to sell their property, which they had made valuable. They then entered into business in Hobart Town, by which they profited exceedingly, varying their occupation by farming a small eatate they purchased near Melton Mowbray. In 1835 William became fascinated by the stories that were then told of the richness of Port Phillip, and with a view to enterprise in that direction, bore on his own account half the expense of Batman's first expedition, the end of which was that the latter landed at Indented Heads and journeyed to Station Peak, from whence he took his first real survey of the glories of what was to him a promised land. On his return Mr. Robertson and others contributed the cost of Batman's memorable second voyage, the object of which was to get a large slice of the newly-discovered territory. There is no need to repeat the well-known story of the first settlement of Victoria. Suffice it that Colonel Arthur, in Tasmania, and Sir Richard Bourke, in New South Wales, declared Batman's treaty with the natives invalid; that Batman's partners eventually abandoned their claim, under which Mr. W. Robertson and his associate asserted the right to the whole Geelong district and half the Indented Heads, and that they subsequently got a certain amount of compensation. It is worth mention that Batman's idea was in the first instance to land at Western Port, and that he was wisely overruled, by the subject of our memoir. After an unsuccessful attempt to obtain land by virtue of certain rights supposed to be possessed by Buckley, the convict who had lived 33 years among the blacks, Mr. Robertson for the first time crossed the Straits and visited the country of his adoption. On this occasion during his travels he first saw the Wannon country, and the richly-grassed plains, to the west of Colac. Here he settled, and bought 7,000 acres at auction. About this time he .... became the owner of 7,000 acres .... Bolinda, on the Deep Creek, now part of the famous Sunbury estate. In 1843 he purchased the run of Captain Foster Fyans, together with his stock, even then celebrated for its high quality. He also bought several other adjoining runs, and forthwith devoted his main attention to his Colac property. Subsequently he purchased 34,000 acres of splendid land on his runs, and by buying the best bulls and cows that could be got in the colonies, and importing purely red Herefords and Durhams from home, he secured to himself the possession of stock unsurpassed in value in Victoria. It is to his lasting credit that, eager as he was to get land, he never unfairly availed himself of any of the facilities afforded by the various land acts, but always bought at open auction. While carrying on this enormous business Mr. Robertson chiefly resided in Tasmania, but some 10 years ago, after a prolonged visit home, he decided to establish himself wholly here. This he did in good style by building a house on his estate, where, in 1867, he had the honour of entertaining H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh. Although he took no part in politics in Victoria, he had much to do with political life in Tasmania, and was among the leaders of the anti-transportation movement. He has left a family of four sons and two daughters—the latter both married. The eldest son, John, was educated in England, and underwent training in the Agricultural College of Cirencester. The second son, William, is a barrister, a B.A. of Oxford, and represents Polwarth and Grenville in the Legislative Assembly. While at college he enjoyed the honour of being the first Australian who pulled in an Oxford University eight. The third son, George, also graduated at Oxford, and distinguished himself in the cricket field as one of the Oxford eleven. The fourth son, James, was at Rugby. The deceased gentleman was always a man of great activity, and so great was his sympathy with manly sports that not a month since he sent away his son George from what proved to be his deathbed to play for the honour of the colony with the Eighteen of Victoria against the All-England Eleven.

Original publication

Citation details

'Robertson, William (1798–1874)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 24 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


7 October, 1798
Alvie, Inverness-shire, Scotland


18 January, 1874 (aged 75)
Colac, Victoria, Australia

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