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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Robertson, William

< The Dictionary of Australasian Biography

Robertson, William, B.A., was the second son of the late William Robertson, who went to Victoria from Tasmania in 1812, and purchased the Colac estate from the late Captain Foster Fyans. Mr. Robertson, sen., was for many years engaged in pastoral pursuits at Campbelltown, between Hobart and Launceston, and he afterwards entered into business as a merchant in Hobart, where his son William was born in the year 1839. The latter received his education at the High School in Hobart and at Wadham College, Oxford, where he graduated B.A. in 1861. He was called to the Bar at the Middle Temple in Jan. 1863. While at Oxford he rowed in the Oxford and Cambridge annual boat race on the Thames in 1861, and was one of the winning crew, being the first of several young Australians who have taken part in the great inter-university race. The oar used on that occasion, converted into a trophy of the victory and appropriately mounted and inscribed, was always in after-life one of Mr. Robertson's proudest possessions. In 1863 he returned to Victoria, where he was admitted to the Bar in the following year. For several years Mr. Robertson practised as a barrister in Melbourne, but he never exerted himself to any great extent in that direction. At the General Election of 1871 he became a candidate for the electorate of Polwarth and South Grenville, and was returned by a large majority, but when the Parliament expired in 1872 he did not offer himself for re-election. He, however, again stood in 1881, and sat till 1886. In Jan. 1874 occurred the death of Mr. William Robertson, sen., and the Colac estate was by his will divided among his four surviving sons. John, the eldest, received that portion of the estate since known as Cororoke; George Pringle had Coragulac; James took Glen Alvie; while to William fell Kerangemorrah, better known as The Hill, a stretch of very rich agricultural and grazing land about four miles from Colac. John Robertson died within two or three years of his father, and the death of James occurred in July 1890, and the estate of each was sold. Mr. G. P. Robertson is therefore now the only surviving son of the old Colac pioneer, and for many years his Coragulac estate has been leased to others. Mr. William Robertson also disposed of a large portion of his estate, but retained the ownership of a magnificent stretch of land surrounding The Hill. In 1886 the resignation of the late Mr. C. J. Jenner caused a vacancy in the representation of the South-western Province in the Legislative Council, and Mr. Robertson was returned without opposition. In 1888 he obtained leave of absence for the purpose of making another trip to the old country, and upon his term of office expiring in the same year he retired finally from Parliamentary work. For some years after the death of Mr. William Robertson, sen., the combined property was worked by the brothers in partnership, and the firm of Robertson Brothers became famous throughout Australia for the great annual sales of shorthorn cattle which were initiated. The herd had been commenced by Mr. Robertson, sen., at least a quarter of a century before, and he spared neither time nor money to procure some of the best strains of blood then extant. The stock had been kept perfectly pure, and in 1875 the brothers began a series of annual drafts from their herd, which were submitted at auction year by year and realised almost fabulous prices. On each occasion stock-breeders flocked to Colac from all the Australian colonies, New Zealand, and Tasmania. At one sale the prices paid aggregated upwards of £30,000, and at another the total receipts were £25,800. On one occasion the firm purchased from the estate of the late Mr. Richard Morton thirty-seven prime shorthorns, known previously as the Mount Derrimut herd, for £27,000, the sum of £2,500 being paid for one of the bulls: Oxford Cherry Duke. The last sale of the regular series took place in 1884, and in 1885 the famous "F.F." herd was dispersed, owing to the dissolution of the partnership which had till then subsisted between Messrs. Robertson Brothers and the executors of the late Mr. John Robertson, the surviving brothers having decided to confine their attention almost exclusively to sheep-breeding. Mr. William Robertson in 1862 married Martha Mary, second daughter of the late Mr. J. R. Murphy, of Melbourne. Mr. Robertson's eldest son, William St. Leger, was educated at Oxford, and during his stay there had the same pleasant experience as his father of being one of the winning crew in the annual boat race against Cambridge. He afterwards settled at Broome, W.A., as resident partner with the Messrs. Streeter, of London, in the pearl fishing industry and in squatting pursuits in the Kimberley district. Mr. Robertson died at Colac on June 24th, 1892.