Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Bassett, Samuel Symons (1840–1912)

by Paul D. Wilson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Samuel Symons Bassett (1840-1912), vigneron, storekeeper and pastoralist, was born on 26 March 1840 at St Enoder, Cornwall, England, son of William Bassett, landowner, and his wife Phillippa, née Batten (or Letcher). Migrating to New South Wales in 1856, he gained colonial experience on the Hunter River with his uncle John Christian, went to the Maranoa District in Queensland in 1858, and became overseer of Euthulla station.

Grapes had already been grown on the adjacent Mount Abundance station and, perhaps because of his Hunter Valley experience, Bassett planted vines on the banks of Bungil Creek just north of the developing town of Roma. Using local cuttings and some from Toowoomba, he established a vineyard on freehold land purchased in June 1866. Despite his limited knowledge of either vine-growing or wine-making, he gradually expanded his Romavilla vineyard and orchard to 60 acres (24 ha) and was soon selling wine locally. Although he tried unsuccessfully to sell Romavilla in 1879, he persisted with development and by 1889 had the largest vineyard of seven in the Roma area, yielding 200 gallons of wine to the acre (2250 litres to the hectare). By 1884 he had a cellar and a wine-making plant.

Bassett began business as a storekeeper and wine merchant in Roma in partnership with A. J. Skinner from 1874 and was on his own in 1880-92. He also held interests in the pastoral runs Mount Maria (1875-88), Brigham (1876-88), Tarawinnabah (1876-88), Winneba (1877-88), Red Cap (1878-88), Bassett (1882-88) and Protection (1885-88), all in the Warrego District and in partnership with Skinner and Robert Douglas. After considerable losses Bassett and Skinner withdrew.

Returning to wine, Bassett began marketing operations which eventually covered eastern Australia. He also sold grapes to colonial and overseas markets, packing them in sawdust for safe transit. His wines won prizes at the Brisbane Exhibition in 1902 and at interstate and overseas shows. In 1903 the Romavilla marketing list included port, muscat, amontillado, burgundy, madeira, chablis, hock, claret, sherry, champagne and sauterne. Irrigation was introduced before 1900.

Despite poor health in the latter half of his life, Bassett was an enterprising, energetic, tough businessman, respected as a benevolent taskmaster by his family. He died of pulmonary tuberculosis on Christmas Day 1912, survived by his wife Isabella, née Cameron, whom he had married at Roma on 27 July 1871, and by six sons and three daughters of their fourteen children. His estate was valued for probate at £823.

Romavilla had involved a heavy contribution from the family. Bassett's sons, Lionel, Samuel and Kenneth, travelled for the firm and Samuel, before leaving the business for the pastoral industry, was manager of the vineyard. His twin WILLIAM AUGUSTUS (1887-1973) took increasing responsibility for the wine-making operations. Born at Roma on 27 April 1887 and educated there and at The Armidale School, New South Wales, William was sent to Sydney by his father to learn the wine-making art from Leo Buring . Returning to Roma he joined the family business, working in the winery. When his father died William took over the total management of Romavilla. He continued the family's success in retail-marketing of wine and exhibiting at various shows.

Like his father, Bassett was interested in grazing, holding at various times Crochdantigh near Muckadilla, Karoola Park and Ventura Downs in the Surat district, and Mooga Hills near Roma. On 8 June 1911 at Roma he married Ruby Maiden who predeceased him in 1971. Actively managing Romavilla into his old age, he died after a short period of illness on 4 December 1973, aged 86. The business was then sold. He had been a respected member of the business community and a strong supporter of local interests. He was survived by one daughter and three sons and left a gross estate of $85,113 to his family.

Select Bibliography

  • Queensland and Queenslanders (Brisb, 1936)
  • R. B. Taylor, Roma and District, 1846-1885 (Roma, 1959)
  • Viticulture and Wine-making in the Southern Districts, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1889, 4, 25
  • Western Star (Roma), 28 Dec 1912, 7 Dec 1973
  • H. Spencer, ‘The Bassett family’, Roma Pioneer Families (State Library of Queensland)
  • Ecclesiastical file 13/102, SCT/P848 (Queensland State Archives)
  • LAN/N6, N63, AB12 (Queensland State Archives)
  • private information.

Additional Resources

  • probate, Brisbane Courier, 3 June 1913, p 5

Citation details

Paul D. Wilson, 'Bassett, Samuel Symons (1840–1912)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bassett-samuel-symons-80/text8639, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 17 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018