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JOHN GEORGE ROBERTSON, BOTANIST, PASTORALIST (1803-1862)

This 1849 O.H.M.S. entire is addressed to John George Robertson Esq, Wando, McKinlays Post, Glenelg. It has a faint red boxed FREE/GEELONG (at upper left) and is signed CJ Latrobe/ Commissioner, at lower left (Figure 1).

 

The reverse has an unframed oval GEELONG/ [crown]/ AU 25/ 1849/ PORT PHILLIP postmark as point of origin, a partial transit oval of MELBOURNE/ [crown]/ AU 27/ (1849) and a weak THE GLENELG/ [crown]/ SE 4/ PORT PHILLIP arrival postmark. The red sealing wax has a POLICE MAGISTRATE/ [crown]/ GEELONG hand-struck into the wax (Figure 2).

John George Robertson squatted at the Wando Vale Pastoral Run in March 1840 when he came over to Portland Bay from Van Diemen’s Land with three brothers Dr. Isaac, William and John Frederick Corney. Before coming to Australia he had been a botanist and naturalist with an Indian expedition for two years and for seven of the nine years he spent in VDL he managed Formosa Farm for a Mr. R.W. Lawrence, a botanist. Later he sent from Victoria 4000 dried plants to the herbarium at Kew, England, until he returned in 1854 to his native Scotland, where he died in 1862.

He was in frequent communication with other botanists and his name is perpetuated in two plants, an orchid Calochillus robertsonii Benth and Ranunculus robertsonii Benth. Robertson married Mary McConochie and they had no children. William and John Robertson (not related to J.G. R.) bought the Wando Vale property in May 1854 prior to the former’s return to Scotland. Whereas the above information was derived a local farmer and historian, Terence Peate Davidson (1907-1990) in his book A History of Wando Vale and Wando Bridge, 1990, what follows comes from a letter written by John G. Robertson from Wando Vale on 26 September 1853, to His Excellency C.J. La Trobe, Lieutenant Governor of the Colony of Victoria.

This letter has been transcribed into 9 pages of print and was part of the “Letters from Victorian Pioneers”, a series of papers on the early occupation of the Colony, the aborigines, etc, published in 1898. The letter makes fascinating reading and the first page of print is shown as Figure 3.

Robertson gives a description of his livestock, the death of sheep, friendly and unfriendly dealings with the aborigines (some of whom are killed), a comparison of his experiences with his Victorian property with that in V.D.L., a botanical reference to trees, his concerns about the quality of the land and its grasses, as well as the visit of the Crown Lands Commissioner, Fyans to his property. The letter is remarkable for his knowledge and remembrance of details. The end-page of his letter is shown in Figure 4.

Charles Joseph La Trobe (1801-1875) has been the subject of a previous paper, first in his position as the Superintendent in 1837 and later as Lieutenant Governor of the colony, when Victoria became a separate colony from N.S.W.

The letter shown in Figures 3 and 4 can be found in its entirety at the website:

http://www.ballaratgenealogy.org.au/wando/1853robn.htm .


 
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