Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Learmonth, Somerville (1819–1878)

by P. L. Brown

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

This is a shared entry with:

Learmonth Family: John (1812-1871), Thomas (1818-1903), Somerville (1819-1878), and Andrew James (1825-1892), early settlers, were the sons of Thomas Learmonth (1783-1869) and his second wife, Christian Donald. They were grandsons of Margaret Livingstone, heiress to her grandfather, Alexander Mitchell, of Parkhall, Stirlingshire, Scotland, and her husband, John Learmonth, merchant, of Leith.

Thomas Learmonth senior's eldest brother, Alexander, inherited Parkhall, but died bankrupt in 1815, soon after Thomas, who had farmed the customs at Grangemouth, left for India to succeed the second brother, John, who had made enough at Calcutta to return and buy Parkhall when auctioned in 1820.

From India, doubtless influenced by Captain Charles Swanston and the George Mercer connexion, Thomas Learmonth senior moved to Van Diemen's Land, where by May 1835 he was a merchant in Hobart Town. Of his sons, John (M.D. Edinburgh) was married on 24 January 1837 to Anna, second daughter of Dr John Macwhirter, of Edinburgh; Thomas and Somerville began at Port Phillip as squatters in the following April. Andrew lived in Tasmania; in April 1845 he left for England with John's eldest son, John Franklin, who like himself became an ensign in the East India Co.'s army, but not before 1850, when Andrew returned to Australia, pending retirement after five years of service.

About 1845, shortly before he visited Britain, from which he returned in 1848, John Learmonth, whose headquarters had become Geelong, began to build a homestead which still stands, on freehold at Batesford acquired by his father in 1839 as successor with Swanston, Mercer, and John Montagu to the assets of the Port Phillip Association. This was called Laurence Park, after Thomas Learmonth senior's former holding near Falkirk. Here Andrew was in charge during 1854-55 when his brother was absent again; but by 1859 he was once more in Britain. His mother had died in Tasmania in 1841 and his father had suffered in that period's general financial collapse. By 1853, however, Thomas Learmonth senior was in Scotland with a third wife. There he remained, succeeding to the Parkhall estate in 1864, and taking the name of Livingstone before his own. All his sons left descendants, and all returned to Britain before or soon after his death.

Thomas and Somerville, acting first as agents for their father and brother John, led in the pastoral settlement of Port Phillip, and finally in wool production. They soon moved from Geelong to the Ballarat district, and from their Boninyong station took up the larger run of Borrumbeet. There, about 1859, with Andrew's help in the planning, they completed their Scottish baronial Ercildoun homestead, which apparently dates from 1854, the year after Thomas responded from Boninyong to Charles La Trobe's request for details of local settlement, and the year before the Boninyong station was let. Before they sold Ercildoun to Samuel Wilson in 1873 and left Australia, no woolgrower had better sheep than T. & S. Learmonth.

Thomas's report to La Trobe, with its accompanying map, sufficiently illustrates the partners' drive and intelligence. Ercildoun furniture in the Ballarat Art Gallery displays their taste. They were strict Presbyterians, whose departure has been attributed to their belief that they were unjustly treated in the notorious case of the Mount Egerton mine.

But, as heirs of Scotland and India, undoubtedly the brothers were versed in shrewd calculation and finesse. Despite their close attention to Thomas Shaw's Australian merino, they were essentially detached, investing sojourners, not inextricably entangled. Thomas junior, who finally possessed Parkhall, married in 1856 Louisa (d.1878), youngest daughter of Major-General Sir Thomas Valiant, and in 1879 the fourth daughter of Lestock Reid (Mrs John Learmonth's uncle), of the Bombay Civil Service, whose second daughter married Somerville in 1860. Andrew's wife, whom he married in 1869, became Viscountess Portman in 1908.

Select Bibliography

  • T. F. Bride (ed), Letters from Victorian Pioneers (Melb, 1898)
  • P. L. Brown (ed), The Narrative of George Russell (Lond, 1935)
  • P. L. Brown (ed), Clyde Company Papers, vols 2-5 (Lond, 1952-63)
  • M. L. Kiddle, Men of Yesterday (Melb, 1961)
  • Thomas Livingston Mitchell papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Learmonth papers (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

P. L. Brown, 'Learmonth, Somerville (1819–1878)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/learmonth-somerville-2836/text3059, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 23 October 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017

Life Summary [details]

Birth

1819

Death

4 August 1878
London, Middlesex, England

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