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Rowan, Andrew (1840–1910)

by Alan Barnard

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Andrew Rowan (1840-1910), merchant, company director and pastoralist, was a son of James Rowan, landed proprietor of Fort Hill, County Down, Ireland, and his wife Ann Elizabeth, née Dodd. He came to Australia with his brother James about 1861; by 1869 he was a merchant in Melbourne providing station supplies to pastoralists and in 1878 opened a Sydney branch.

In 1879 Rowan became a partner of Hubert de Castella in the St Hubert vineyard near Lilydale, Victoria. They fell out in 1886 and Rowan bought de Castella's share in 1890. He was a tireless publicist of St Hubert's prize-winning wines, helped the showing of Victorian wines at the 1882 Bordeaux Exhibition and attended it himself; he opened a London agency in the late 1880s. He also invested in several pastoral properties including, in Queensland, Darrwater and Darr River Downs in the Mitchell District, first held with S. and M. H. Baird from 1876 and transferred, in part, to five of his children in 1906; Weribone and Talavera in the Maranoa District from 1882, the former initially with his brother Thomas, a Melbourne doctor; Malvern Downs and Talagai, and Echo Hills in the Leichhardt District.

Described as 'a man of great force of character … always the master mind in any business he took in hand', Rowan was a large shareholder in, and in 1884-90 an active director of, R. Goldsbrough & Co. Ltd. Management and personal differences that developed between him and J. S. Horsfall, sole survivor of the old Goldsbrough partnership, became notorious in 1889 with the publication in Melbourne of his pamphlet, Letter from Andrew Rowan to the Shareholders, Goldsbrough, Mort & Co. Ltd (1889) and of Horsfall's answer; both were forced from the board. Rowan was a director in 1888-1909 of the Squatting Investment Co. Ltd. In 1886 a syndicate including Rowan and George Fairbairn bought the assets of the Central Queensland Meat Export Co. including its Lakes Creek freezing works. Technically and economically the meat-works performed well until overtaken by financial stringencies in the late 1890s; in 1901 the company passed to an English syndicate.

Rowan, like many others, depended on credit for his investments. He speculated, sometimes spectacularly, in stocks and shares and was involved with F. B. Clapp, William McCulloch, T. S. Hall and W. G. Sprigg in major raids on the shares of the Melbourne Tramway and Omnibus Co. in 1889-90 and was left with a very large parcel. Great financial ingenuity and agility kept him from ruin in the 1890s, even though his 1902 balance sheet still showed a deficiency of some £400,000.

Conservative, with free-trade leanings, Rowan was an active member of the Constitutional Association in 1877. He was married on 22 December 1873 by the bishop of Melbourne at St Mary's Church, Caulfield, to Margaret Annie, eldest daughter of a well-connected city lawyer, Francis J. Stephen. After a stroke in 1909, he died on 22 September 1910 while visiting Perth, Scotland, and was survived by his wife and their six sons and three daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • J. S. Horsfall, To the Shareholders of Goldsbrough, Mort & Co. Limited (Melb, 1889)
  • J. Flanagan, A Sample of the Commercial and Financial Morality? of Melbourne (Melb, 1898)
  • J. T. Critchell and J. Raymond, A History of the Frozen Meat Trade (Lond, 1912)
  • F. de Castella, ‘Early Victorian wine-growing’, Victorian Historical Magazine, 19 (1941-42)
  • Table Talk, 7 Aug 1891
  • Australasian, 1 Oct 1910
  • Pastoral Review, 15 Oct 1910
  • Goldsbrough Mort & Co., Squatting Investment Co., and Central Queensland Meat Export Co. papers (Australian National University Archives).

Citation details

Alan Barnard, 'Rowan, Andrew (1840–1910)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rowan-andrew-4514/text7385, published in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 24 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

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