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Learmonth, Peter (1821–1893)

by Michael T. Moore

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

This is a shared entry with William Learmonth

William Learmonth (1815-1889) and Peter (1821-1893), pastoralists, were born in Scotland, the second and fourth sons of John Learmonth, army contractor, and his wife Margaret, née Watson.

William, born on 31 January 1815, was educated at the High School in Edinburgh and in 1834 arrived at Van Diemen's Land in the Tamar. At first engaged to a firm of solicitors, he turned to pastoral pursuits and developed Williamswood, a property near Evandale. By 1839 he had 14,000 sheep. Hard hit by the prevailing depression he visited Portland, Port Phillip District, in 1842 and, encouraged by an advertisement of cattle for sale at Port Fairy, left Tasmania in August 1844. He bought many cattle and decided to take up a run at Darlot's Creek despite warnings about hostile Aboriginals. He took up 39,000 acres (15,783 ha) near Portland and held the first licence for the property which he renamed Ettrick. In September 1845 he was joined by his wife Mary, née Ralston, whom he had married in April 1837, and their three children. He was then investing in sheep and by December had begun to pay off his debts. Although the commissioner of crown lands, F. Fyans, urged him to withdraw because of troublesome Aboriginals, Learmonth stayed on. He prospered and was able to invest in several other runs. Ettrick became one of the best stations in the district and he held it until 1880.

In 1854-63 Learmonth lived in Portland, where he was partner of S. G. Henty in a mercantile business; they also held a 15,000-acre (6070 ha) run near Hamilton. Learmonth was first mayor of the Portland Borough Council in 1863 and for years served on it and the Shire Council of which he was president many times. He also stood for the Legislative Council but without success. He was an enthusiast for the Volunteer Movement in which he became colonel. He was a keen sportsman and race-horse owner. He died at Ettrick on 7 July 1889, survived by his widow and three children.

Peter Learmonth was born on 9 February 1821 and worked on an uncle's farm until at 19 he decided to join his brother William in Tasmania. He worked on William's property near Evandale for two years and then started a sheep station on Tasman Peninsula. In 1848 he made a fruitless visit to the California goldfields but in 1851 gold again attracted him and he was successful at Forest Creek, near Castlemaine. He then decided to raise livestock and managed Francis Henty's Merino Downs station. In 1859 Learmonth turned to flour-milling, building or buying mills at Prestonholme, near Hamilton, and at Sandford, Byaduk and Penshurst. He also bought land at Prestonholme and Dunkeld for his merino flock and established a wool and finance business, P. Learmonth & Co., in Hamilton. His last big investment was to buy a third interest in the Nacimiento estate, Mexico, where he later gave his share of 82,000 acres (33,184 ha) to two of his sons. A practical citizen, he was an early member of Dundas Shire Council and often its president. He helped to establish the Hamilton Hospital and presided over its committee for years. He also raised capital for founding Hamilton College and Alexandra Ladies' College. He worked hard for temperance and helped to bring railway communication to the district. He died at Prestonholme on 19 July 1893, leaving an estate worth £54,000 and was survived by his wife Mary Jarvey (d.1913), daughter of John Pearson, whom he had married on 18 December 1854; they had seven sons and three daughters.

William's eldest son, John Ralston (1838-1911), was born in Tasmania and educated by his parents at Ettrick. In 1855-56 he worked for the Bank of Australasia at Portland. From 1857 he managed some of his father's properties, becoming owner of Ellangowan station adjoining Ettrick. He was active in municipal affairs, became a justice of the peace in 1861 and was thrice president and eighteen years a member of the Minhamite Shire Council. He also gave long service as a Portland shire councillor. A crack shot, he was prominent as well in horse-racing and for years was a breeder, owner and judge at Hamilton and the Melbourne Show. He died at Ellangowan on 11 August 1911. He was survived by his wife Mary Jane Marshall, née Fulford, whom he had married in April 1875, by two of his three sons and a daughter, and by thirteen grandchildren.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Henderson (ed), Australian Families, vol 1 (Melb, 1941)
  • N. F. Learmonth, The Portland Bay Settlement: Being the History of Portland, Victoria from 1800-1851 (Melb, 1934)
  • Portland Guardian, 8 July 1889, 14 Aug 1911
  • Hamilton Tribune, 21 July 1893.

Citation details

Michael T. Moore, 'Learmonth, Peter (1821–1893)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/learmonth-peter-4432/text6335, published in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

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