Dubious Selections

In 1891, a decade after John Robertson's death, his Struan legacy was described in a government summary as an "estate". Totaling 74,162 acres, it was spread over 4 Hundreds in the County of Robe: 21,277 acres in Robertson, 38,803 acres in Joanna, 9,201 acres in Jessie, and 4,871 acres in Comaum.
[LG MacGillivray, 1982, 'Land and People: European Land Settlement in the South East of South Australia, 1840-1940', PhD thesis, University of Adelaide, Appendix 8]
The significance of this figure lies in more than just its size. Struan was certainly large. But the acreage accumulated by Robertson also reveals a plan. His was a methodical, disciplined approach to acquiring freehold title, maintained over 3 decades.
Of an initial 89,827 acres occupied under Pastoral Lease No. 169 in 1851 (Struan) and an additional run of 23,680 acres taken over in about 1858 (Wrattonbully), approximately 65% had been converted from leasehold to freehold by 1880.
Crown Land, bought from the col…

On The Sheep's Back

The rise and fall of the Robertsons of Struan was relatively swift. Their pastoral dynasty 'achieved' in two generations what took others three or four.Between moving the first of the brothers' cattle and horses onto the New Country in 1844 and his death at Struan House in 1880, John Robertson forged a squatting enterprise that had few equals. Left to his four sons, John, Alec, William, and James, it shrank to a few thousand acres and a grand homestead taken over by the government in 1949.To fully appreciate the enormity of its collapse, it is necessary first to chart its growth in the nineteenth century -- to examine the economic factors that contributed to John's progress towards prosperity. His was a lifetime's work of 35 years, but he bequeathed a legacy that could not be sustained.Without access to the original 'station books', assuming that they even existed in the early days of the run, it is not possible to be precise. Information can only come from…


"The story has it, that in attempting to gain the lease on further land, the Robertsons found themselves opposed to the well-established Hentys. Little warning was given of the hearing of their case before the Lands Commissioner at Portland and John is reported to have left his work in the paddock to ride to Portland, arriving just as his wealthy competitor drove up in his carriage to the hearing. Their submissions made, the judge decided in favor of Robertson, saying, by way of a moral, that he felt it right to 'help the poor man'. The joke was repeated far and wide, and John Robertson became 'Poor Man Robertson'. Considering the extent of his properties at the time of his death, one feels that this to be a poverty many would gladly experience. This story is confidently attributed to John Robertson of Struan by his descendants. However, it is also attributed to John G Robertson, the original owner of Wando Vale, by other historians. A check of the dates of th…

An Englishman's Tour in 1868

"John Robertson is remembered as one of the   'cousinhood of Robertsons, all canny Scotchmen, shrewd, illiterate and rich'." [Peter Rymill, 2010, Notes of a Journey to the South Eastern District January 1863 by William Milne, p 60, ftnt 2]
The author of that witty slur (in italics) was Stanley Leighton (1837-1901), second son of an English baronet, educated at Harrow School and Balliol College, Oxford University. He 'toured' the Australian colonies in 1868 and his collection of watercolours, pencil drawings and "copious rough jottings" from that period were subsequently gifted to the National Library of Australia (MS 360).
Despite his inscription that "The writer of these notes was traveling for pleasure", Leighton's Sketches of Australia with Journal Extracts (London, 1868) are "Not just a gentleman's reminiscence". They are "as much the report of a self-appointed inquiry into the progress of the Australian colonies tow…

Sketch of Musquitoe Creek Sheep Walk - 1851

The squatters John and William Robertson entered the "New Country" and settled on "Robertsons Plains" in 1842. In the era of Occupation Licences they held No. 64, claiming 60 square miles of land (38,400 acres). When the system changed to Pastoral Leases in 1851, they held No. 169 and claimed 140 square miles (89,800 acres). The story of their decade of expansion and consolidation is illustrated by a contemporary survey of the "Struan Run".Held by the South Australian Lands Office, and drafted by Garrald & Shaw, surveyors from Geelong in July 1851, the map has the long but descriptive title ofSketch of Musquitoe Creek Sheep Walk, County Robe, South Australia In the occupation of Messrs W & J Robertson Contents 89,827 Acres, 140 Sq M 227 Acs.
and is annotated "Lease No. 169, Robertson". The relatively detailed "Sketch" makes clearer what is only hinted at in the general licence and lease maps posted in the previous article on John R…