baptised on 19 December 1785 in Glenmuick, Scotland
died on 5 June 1872  in Lexton, Australia
 
©   Kurt Müller 2016
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The Robertsons in Scotland were subject to English law, which required births and marriages to be registered in the Church of England parish. This was unpopular (as well as costing money), and the parish registers are generally understood to be incomplete in the early years. The first time our family definitely appear is when James and Christian Robertson registered all their children's births at once, in about 1790. Thomas Robertson (I) was the third of four children born in Glenmuick to James Robertson and his wife Christian (née Robertson).


 

(

from a report by John Humphreys

)

baptised on 19th December 1785 in Glenmuick, Scotland,
died on 5th June 1872 in Lexton, Australia
 
Thomas Robertson (I) was a son of James Robertson and Christian Robertson. He married
Anne Lachlan on 13th August 1815; they had 5 children, among them

 

Thomas Robertson

(II).

RobertsonThomasElderCOLOURmGs
Mill_of_Sterin_2
Mill_of_Sterin

Right: The Mill of  Sterin at Glen Muick in Scotland where Thomas Robertson was born   (this building, though, is from 1862; thus it cannot be his original house of birth)

(Copyright for both pictures: Alan Findlay under Creative Commons License)

In 1839 the Robertsons emigrated to Australia. The elder Thomas took with him his children (his son Thomas was then fifteen) and the six children of his deceased sister Mary Gordon (the youngest was 11 years old). The young Robertsons all took advantage of government-assisted passages (bounty passages), which had only been introduced that year.
 
They sailed on the ship "

John Bull

" (705 tons; master, Captain Ormond), which left London on 22nd September 1839 and arrived at Melbourne on 21st January 1840 with 233 emigrants, 20 cabin passengers and merchandise.

Thomas Robertson

(I)

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Family history Müller - Humphreys

".... we like this country very well now but we did not like it at first. I am sure you would think it a strange Country .... "
"John is seeing that last of the wool away and will be away to town to sell it in a day or two and get up stores for the next year. I may tell you that I need not troble myself about making market now or plan how to make mine go farthest because I never see money and I have got no use for it. I have been making out a list of what things we shall want from town and that is all have got to do in it. We will get twelve months Tea sugar coffee Flour and what other necessities we think we shall want in that time. We kill one sheep when another is done and have not much change unless cooking it different. We have some vegetables in the garden that will soon be ready. It is to small for us but we will have it larger if we are spared. We have some vines in it and there is a good appearance of grapes but it will be while or they are ready. Our house is also small. we have but two apartments in it a room and a bedroom. The kitchen is a few yards from our own house  [ .... ]  I think [John] likes it very well. At least I never hear any complaints. This will be his first trip to town with Wool in our own account but we hear it is selling very well and I have no fear but with God's blessing we will be able to do very well."

That year Margaret wrote to her husband's brother and his wife, who were in Scotland:

The younger members of the family were thus found jobs - Thomas junior was apprenticed to a printer, believed to be the publisher of the

Port Philip Gazette

(one of three newspapers produced in Melbourne at the time). However he did not stay with this new profession. His father acquired the Moora Moora run in 1848, and sent John and Thomas to superintend it.
 
Thomas senior told his daughter that he had been able to rent a house, and it is clear from the contents of the letter that he planned on buying stock and farming them.
 
He implies that this will involve travel inland, as he reports that land near Melbourne is very expensive, but indicates that his financial situation is adequate for a promising start in the new homeland.
 
In 1844 Thomas senior, taking his sons James and John, travelled to join William Skene at his new stations, Mount Mitchell and Maiden Hills. Nearby was Burrumbeat station, belonging to the Learmonth family. On 6th July 1843 his daughter and eldest child Jane (Jean) had married Willliam Skene. On 14th September 1843 Thomas Learmonth "went to Mr. Skene's and engaged Mr. James Robertson as overseer."
 
This was a speculative adventure without official approval; the British government was ill-prepared for the rush to colonise the vast new continent. It was seen as empty and free; eventually applicants had to have land surveyed (at their own expense) which could then be "gazetted" with the government, making ownership official. Distances were long, and there was a lack of suitable surveyors; Thomas Robertson finally managed to have Mount Mitchell gazetted in October 1848.
 
A common disease of sheep was called Scab. Prevention was attempted using sheep dips made of "one pound of sulphur and one pound of tobacco"; for this purpose the squatters grew their own tobacco. (I have no idea how effective this mixture may have been against Scab or other sheep diseases, but the settlers used it routinely.)
 
In 1847 Thomas's daughter Margaret Philip arrived with her husband John, a sea captain, and two children (Elizabeth and Thomas); her third, James, was born on 19th February 1847, so she managed to travel inland from Melbourne while heavily pregnant. They travelled by bullock dray.
 
The Philip family moved on from Mount Mitchell and took over the lease of the Victoria Lagoon run in 1849.

In 1851 the state of Victoria was created. Thomas Robertson and William Skene dissolved their partnership; Thomas started a new partnership,

Thos. Robertson & Sons

.
 
There followed a period of massive development. Gold was discovered in New South Wales and Victoria; fortune-seekers flooded in. The Robertsons stuck with their sheep, and prospered enormously. They were part of the "squattocracy", squatter aristocracy who had parcelled up great tracts of Australia.
 
By the start of 1872 Thomas Robertson (I) did not have long to live, and a Deed of Dissolution was signed on 9th February. The firm's holdings were then valued at £291,150. A Deed of Arrangement made the same day divided the property between the three brothers James, John and Thomas. (The holdings would now {2016} be worth between £23 million and £429 million, depending how the value is calculated.).
 
The family remained in Victoria,  until the elder Thomas (I) died. He died at Mount Mitchell (see right) on 5th June 1872, aged 86, after living 32 years in Australia. Lexton, the place where he died, is situated in the state of Victoria, on the Sunraysia Highway between Ballarat and Avoca, and was originally known as Burnbank when it was first settled in 1843.

(from reports by John Humphreys)

".... any person that Comes here Can do well if they do not drink but this is one of the drunkenest places that I ever saw Every kind of spirits is six pence per glass a bottle of London porter will cost 3/- Beer is 2/- per Gallon at the Brewery and four Shillings per Gallon in the publick house, but men get good wages and they do not Care how dear the drink be ...."
 
".... I do not think therre is a Room furnished as well as yours in all the Town I have not seen many of the natives yet some of them Comes down about the town But they are not troublesome But they are all naked & I do not Care much about seeing them ...."

(I assume this means he didn't like the sight of naked natives.)

"MELBOURNE PORT
 
Dear Son & Daughter
I send you this to let you know that we are all in good health at present thanks to God for it hoping that this will find you all Enjoying the same blessing."
[ ... ]
"...we had a very pleasant voyage we had not a Rough day after we passed the Bay Biscay on the 19th of Jany we saw the land and on Monday the 20th they entered the port and they fired a gun 4 or 5 times But no Pilot came to conduct them and about midday we stuck on a sand Bank, they let down their Boat and went out with an anchor and left it till the tide rose and at 12 oClock at night they got her off and about 6 in the morning she was at her destination so we was 105 days from Plymouth to this Port the next day some Gentlemen came on Board and the passengers was all taken to the cabin to tell their ages Religion and proffessions and that is all they had to do there was no Difference between them that paid their passage and them that Came free they are at liberty to do what they Choose or go home when they please I did not pay anything for John nor Mary Gordon. Thomas is Bound to a printer for 5 years, he gets Board and Lodging & 5/- per Week for the first, 10/- per Week the second 15/- per Week the third & 20/- per Week the fourth & 30/- per Week the fifth year so the average he has upwards of 40 [pounds] a year ...."

[He goes on to specify how his children, nephews and nieces all gained employment before even setting foot on dry land, adding detailed figures of the cost of foodstuffs and individual (live) animals, which are of good quality but costly.]

After their arrival Thomas Robertson (senior) wrote to his daughter Margaret Phillip and her husband, who were living in Aberdeen, in a letter* dated

Port Philip Feby 24th 1840

:

Left: Mount Mitchell was designed by the prominent architect Charles Webb (1821-98) and built in 1860- 61 for the Robertson family...

MountMitchell5_Kopie

The homestead at Mount Mitchell is a large, single-storey bluestone house. The long main wing has a pedimented portico on raised Tuscan columns and pilasters. At one end is a projecting wing with arcaded verandah and clerestory above. The stables are in rusticated masonry and are essentially intact. The roofs of all the buildings are slate.
 
Mount Mitchell is an unusual and distinctive homestead, of consequence architecturally and for its historical associations with the settlement of the district and with the Robertson family. The Italianate conservative classical design is given particular importance by the porch, which is particularly distinctive. The elaborate arcaded verandahs are also unusual and of note, as are the later round-headed windows. It is in good condition.
 
The stables have been restored and are intact.
 

Adopted from Heritage Victoria statement .05/06/2013

* These letter excerpts, as well as the one further below, are citations from the book by the Robertson descendant

Diana M. Halmarick: "Thos.Robertson & Sons, Mainstays of Our Earliest Days", Wantirna, Vic., Australia 2000

, which also was an enormously valuable source of much of the information used for this page in general. We have to pay tribute to her great achievement and deserving work of merit. Also for the possibility of showing Thomas Robertson's portrait painting in this page we express our most sincere gratitude to Diana Halmarick.

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