Scroll To Top
australian rowers profiles and history

William St L Robertson

Oxford University Boat Club (UK)


1861 - The Boat Race, four seat - First

1879 - President Colac Rowing Club

The following is extracted from the J Ann Hone's biography of William's father in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, MUP, 1976.

 Robertson [William Robertson's father] died on 18 January 1874, predeceased by his wife and a daughter; his extensive Colac property was divided equally between his sons, John (1837-1875), William (1839-1892), George Pringle (1842-1895) and James (1848-1890).

Working their properties in conjunction as Robertson Bros with James as managing director, they continued and improved their father's work. Continuing to specialize in breeding Shorthorns they also bred Clydesdales and light horses for the Indian market. Their most important innovation was the annual sale of stud cattle, the first in November 1874. Later described as 'not necessarily great breeders but great organizers and born salesmen', they had five main sales in 1874-78 for a return of £95,000. They issued a herd book in 1875 which contained the names of 189 bulls alone and for a time they were selling three-quarters of all the Shorthorns disposed of in Victoria. In 1875 the brothers bought the Mount Derrimut Stud herd of thirty-seven animals for £27,000. In January 1876 their most notable sale realized some £31,000. The boom in cattle broke at the end of the 1870s; George, William and James dissolved the partnership in 1885 and turned to sheepbreeding.

William, the second son [of William Robertson, pastoralist], was born on 29 March 1839 and educated at the High School, Hobart, and Wadham College, Oxford (B.A., 1862) and in 1861 rowed in the winning crew against Cambridge. In 1863 he was called to the Bar at the Middle Temple, before returning to Melbourne where he was admitted to the Victorian Bar in 1864 and practised until 1876. On 24 April 1863 at Tunbridge Wells, he had married Martha Mary Murphy of Melbourne, by whom he had two sons and three daughters.

In 1871-74 William held the seat of Polwarth and South Grenville in the Legislative Assembly. In 1876-77 he visited Europe and North America. He won the seat again in 1880 and supported the Service reform bill but lost at the July elections; he held the seat in 1881-86. In 1886 he was elected to the Legislative Council for South Western Province but took little part in debates. He had leave of absence from August 1887 and retired by rotation next year.

William was a Colac Shire councillor from 1877 and president in 1880-81. An active supporter of the Colac Agricultural Society, he was a promoter of the 1879 Colac Regatta and its first president. A staunch Presbyterian, he supported the Colac Presbyterian Church and also other denominations. He inherited the splendid stone mansion, The Hill, where he lived the life of a 'hospitable and sport-loving country gentleman'. He died in an operation for cancer of the throat on 23 June 1892, leaving an estate worth £50,000.

Andrew Guerin
June 2021

Website by Hope Stewart—Website Design & Management