The Life of One Australian Squatter – Adam Robertson

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Warfare between squatters and Aborigines in South Australia

The term “squatter” was given to early European settlers in Australia who began living and farming on newly-mapped land which they did not actually own.

That is, they were “squatting on the land.”

Adam Swanston Robertson is an example of one local squatter who settled in Victoria’s Western District.

Dangerous Journey to the Colonies

Robertson sailed to from Scotland to Australia in 1841, but his plan for a new life was nearly short-lived. His ship caught fire in the South Atlantic ocean and Robertson was one of the passengers rescued.

Finally arriving at Melbourne on another ship, Robertson wasted no time in seeking out the grazing lands which were opening up in Western Victoria.

Hardships on the Squatting Property

His chosen run was a property near Lismore which he named Struan, after his clan’s Scottish home. The first lease as squatters on this property was taken out in 1842. The run was 34,240 acres and was able to support 50 cattle and 15,000 sheep.

Many of the employees on the property were from Scotland and found travelling in the new country very different and difficult.

One employee wrote in his diary (and quoted by Manning Clark in his Short History of Australia): “We went about 20 miles that day…nearly all a thick forest on every side. We passed through a small town named Teesdale in this forest …The third day we went over a plain with scarcely a single tree in sight. It was here we first saw the blacks who were very quiet and friendly…”. In all it took them five days to travel from Geelong to the property.

Eventual Ownership

Initially, as with all the squatters, Robertson had to reapply regularly for the lease of the land and pay a small sum to the Government. Later, when the laws allowed, Robertson gained ownership of the property.

It was at this stage that Robertson built the Struan homestead overlooking Lake Gnarpurt.

Robertson took his young family to settle in Geelong about 1860 where he became involved in the establishment of The Geelong College and many other public institutions. By this time he had other runs, including Burnside (near Bannockburn).

Struan In The Late 19th Century

Robertson generally spent about three months of each year at Struan, leaving the property under the management of his overseer Archibald Glen. All employees had to attend regular worship services and so Robertson built a small church at Gnarpurt.

Adam Robertson died in 1873 without a will and so the property was forfeited under the laws of the day by the family and was offered for public sale.

The Manifold family later purchased the holding and changed the name of the property from Struan to Gnarpurt. In the early 1900s the property was subdivided into smaller lots.

Sources:

  1. Clark, Manning (2006) A Short History of Australia ,Penguin.
  2. Peel, Geoff “Squatters” in Geelong Advertiser, 20 May 2003.