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Gardner, Robert (1837–1915)

by Alan Warden

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Robert Gardner (1837?-1915), merchant, was born at Bannockburn, Stirlingshire, Scotland. As a young man he migrated to Victoria with his brothers William and John. In 1864 he obtained from the Tasmanian Survey Office a lease of the 480,000 acre (194,000 ha) Flinders Island in Bass Strait for £400 per annum, a rent which was decreased to £112 10s. 6d. in 1871-77. Gardner had tenants on the Island until 1886 when the government decided against giving the lease to one individual. Hummock Island, known as Prime Seal Island in the Furneaux group, was also leased by Gardner from 1864 and in 1866 he purchased 40 acres (16 ha) of Roydon Island. Gardner and his tenants mainly engaged in sheep farming.

In 1872 he began operating in Launceston as a wool and grain broker, general merchant and tanner, in partnership with Richard John Stevenson McKenzie. With offices initially in St John Street, a Wellington Street tannery and a leather and grindery store in Charles Street, Gardner and McKenzie expanded to become shipping agents trading around the north-east coast to George's Bay in the St Helens district. In 1879 the partners established a smelting works at Wharf Esplanade acting as agents for the Tasmanian Tin Smelting Co., but failed in a bid to undercut the Mt Bischoff Tin Mining Co.'s smelters. When the partnership was dissolved in January 1883 Gardner carried on the various businesses himself. About 1901 he joined Thomas McKenzie in a separate venture as the Tasmanian Manufacturing and Importing Co., and in 1909, with his nephew George Duncan Gardner, registered a public company, Robert Gardner Ltd, with headquarters in Cameron Street.

Over the years Gardner became an extensive landowner with pastoral and agricultural interests in various parts of Tasmania, always including the Bass Strait islands. One of the largest exporters in Launceston, he was a principal of the Launceston Shipping Co., established in 1909, trading in the River Tamar to the Furneaux group of islands. He was a warden of the Marine Board of Launceston in 1889-97. An early shareholder in the National Bank of Tasmania, he was a director in 1885-1912 and chairman for several years. He was a local director of the South British Fire and Marine Insurance Co. of New Zealand, an investor in the Glasgow Engineering Co. and a director of the auctioneering firm of W. T. Bell & Co. Ltd. His mining interests included directorships of the Hercules Gold and Silver Mining Co. and the Red Hills Silver Mining Co.

Gardner was a generous patron of the Launceston Rifle Club from its inception, but was reputed to be mean in business and frugal in his manner of living. In his later years a chronic sufferer from a 'bronchial affection', he died on 31 July 1915 at St Margaret's Hospital, Launceston, and was buried with Presbyterian forms. Gardner never married. His estate was valued for probate at £90,460. In 1916 Robert Gardner Ltd was acquired by Allan Stewart and wound up in 1920.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of Tasmania, vol 2 (Hob, 1900)
  • E. A. Bell, An Historic Centenary—Roberts, Stewart & Co Ltd, 1865-1965 (Hob, 1965)
  • Examiner (Launceston), 16 Nov, 21 Dec 1872, 28 Apr 1879, 9 May 1884, 20 May 1895, 2 Aug 1915
  • SC 337/1, LSD 16/18, 19, 20, 64 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Alan Warden, 'Gardner, Robert (1837–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gardner-robert-6277/text10819, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 13 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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