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Robinson, Robert Thomson (1867–1926)

by Clive R. Moore

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Robert Thomson Robinson (1867-1926), barrister and politician, was born on 18 January 1867 at Ballibay, Monaghan, Ireland, son of John Robinson, bank manager and merchant, and his wife Margaret, née Thomson. They migrated to Victoria in 1872, transferring to Albany, Western Australia in 1878. After attending Blackwood State School, Victoria, and Prince Alfred College, Adelaide, from 1885 Robinson was articled to E. G. S. Hare at Albany and then to Septimus Burt in Perth. He was also associate to Chief Justice (Sir) Alexander Onslow. He was admitted to the Western Australian Bar in 1889 and entered into partnership with S. J. Haynes at Albany. Next year on 17 December he married Ellen Elizabeth Minna Francisco; they had five daughters before being divorced in 1902. On 22 September 1903 in Melbourne he married Winifred Mona Corless who died in 1908 without issue. Next year, on 17 May in Melbourne, he married Elizabeth Gordon Hedges; they had seven children.

In 1897 with C. B. Cox and J. C. Foulkes, Haynes and Robinson took over the Perth practice of Sholl & Foulkes; it became Haynes, Robinson & Cox in 1903, with Robinson as principal partner; they remained closely associated until the latter's death. Robinson was appointed K.C. in 1914.

His major business investment was in an estate of 700 acres (283 ha) bought in 1900 by his father and Samuel Copley. He received his father's half-share in 1906 and, with Copley, developed it into the suburb of Mount Lawley, where he built his mansion Killowen overlooking the Swan River. Robinson had other property in Perth and Albany, and was a partner in a 500,000-acre (202,345 ha) pastoral lease at Karonie, east of Kalgoorlie. He enjoyed horticulture, photography, golf and motoring, and was president of the Automobile Club of Western Australia and the Perth Motor Cycle Club.

Robinson became a member of the Perth Road Board in 1908, a position he held until his death; he helped to promote the temporarily ill-fated 1909-11 Greater Perth scheme to unify municipalities. He was on the executive of the Western Australian Town Planning Association, formed in 1916, and a member of the King's Park board. In 1911 he had joined the Liberal League of Western Australia and in 1914-21 held the Legislative Assembly seat of Canning. He was attorney-general and minister for mines in the Wilson government of 1916-17, and attorney-general and minister for industries and woods and forests in the Lefroy government until April 1919. He held the same portfolios in the short-lived Colebatch government of April-May, and served the following Mitchell government as minister for mines, industries and forests until his resignation in June. Defeated in 1921, he unsuccessfully contested Albany for the National Party in 1924.

A small man, nicknamed 'Cocky', Robinson was an able but fiery and self-willed politician. He founded the Department of Forests in 1918 and helped to shape state policy on the conservation of forests; an advocate of scientific management, he supported C. E. Lane-Poole as conservator and fought Mitchell's tendency to destroy trees. Robinson was crucial in settling the 1916 Kalgoorlie miners' strike over the employment of aliens. As minister for industries, through his chairmanship of the Council of Industrial Development and the State Wool Board, he assisted the establishment of the Albany Woollen Mills. In 1919 he urged the building of the Waroona-Lake Clifton railway to facilitate the State's first cement manufacturing industry. His resignation from cabinet in 1919 followed friction with Mitchell, whom Robinson found interfering; it was sparked by disagreement over the administration of the Industries Assistance Board. In 1921, when no longer in parliament, he was accused of conflict of interest over the Lake Clifton railway; a royal commission exonerated him.

Robinson died of heart disease on 19 September 1926 and was buried in the Anglican section of Karrakatta cemetery. His wife and eleven children survived him and inherited his estate, sworn for probate at £111,586.

Select Bibliography

  • Karonie Pastoral Co. Ltd, Report of Leases (1926)
  • J. S. Battye (ed), Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1912)
  • C. T. Stannage (ed), A New History of Western Australia (Perth, 1981)
  • University Studies in History (Western Australia), 2, no 3, 1955, p 32, 48, 3, no 4, 1960, p 5, Oct 1959, p 5, 4, no 4, 1966, p 1
  • West Australian, 20 Sept 1926
  • H. Boas, Robert Thomson Robinson, K.C., Lawyer-Politician Public-Spirited Citizen: A Short Biography (manuscript, 1967, State Library of Western Australia)
  • R. T. Robinson.

Citation details

Clive R. Moore, 'Robinson, Robert Thomson (1867–1926)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/robinson-robert-thomson-8244/text14435, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 26 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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