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Scott, Robert (1799–1844)

by Nancy Gray

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

This is a shared entry with Helenus Scott

Robert Scott (1799?-1844) and Helenus Scott (1802-1879), settlers, were born at Bombay, India, sons of Dr Helenus Scott and his wife Augusta Maria, daughter of Colonel Charles Frederick. After thirty years of outstanding medical service in India their father's health failed; with his sons he sailed from England in the Britomart, planning to spend four years in New South Wales, but died suddenly at sea on 16 November 1821 and was buried at the Cape of Good Hope. His sons arrived at Sydney, where each received a land grant of 2000 acres (809 ha). Their combined estate, Glendon, on the Hunter River near Singleton, was enlarged by later purchases to about 10,000 acres (4047 ha). The brothers bred blood horses and by 1832 had more than 300 at Glendon. Toss, a Bourbon stallion imported in 1829, Trumpet (1830), Dover (1836) and Akbar, an Arab (1841), as well as colonial-bred stallions and dams of high quality, established the Scotts' reputations as stud-masters. Although the Glendon horses were dispersed in the 1840s they laid sound foundations for the first of the great Hunter valley thoroughbred studs.

Robert, who had been educated at St Andrews, Scotland, and later at Lincoln's Inn, entered fully into the social and political life of the colony's exclusivists. Appointed a magistrate in 1824, he frequently presided at local courts, actively supporting and often initiating attempts to reduce the depredations of Aboriginals and bushrangers. His 'superior education and acquirements' were favourably noticed by Governors Sir Thomas Brisbane and (Sir) Ralph Darling; he became a director of the Commercial Banking Co. of Sydney and served on many committees. In 1838, however, after his injudicious and somewhat arrogant defence of the Myall Creek murderers, he was removed from the magistracy; according to Governor Sir George Gipps, 'The station, which he held in Society, made it the more necessary to mark the disapprobation of the Government'. Measuring his wealth by quantity rather than quality of land, and totally unskilled in farm management, Scott spent lavishly for small return, but as host to artists, explorers, clergy and scientists he made Glendon a cultural centre unique in its place and time. He died unmarried at Glendon on 30 July 1844.

Helenus preferred life at Glendon to the cavalry cadetcy proffered by relatives. His soundness of character and devoted service as magistrate and district warden of Patrick's Plains weighed more heavily than did his family connexions when Governor Gipps recommended him in 1844 for a colonial order of merit. His brother's early death, the depression of the 1840s and his family's involvement in the failure of the Bank of Australia left him almost penniless. He was appointed a stipendiary magistrate and, after service in several country towns, sold Glendon and settled permanently in Newcastle with his wife Sarah Anne, née Rusden, an accomplished linguist and scholar. He died on 24 August 1879 at the Newcastle police barracks and was buried at Glendon; he was survived by eight children, of whom the most notable was Rose Scott.

On 17 November 1840 Dr Scott's widow, Augusta Maria, died at her home in Cumberland Street, Sydney, aged 65. Her death brought together in New South Wales her six surviving children, of whom only Patrick, the youngest, returned to England, where he died at Glendon, Surrey, in 1887. Another son, David Charles Frederick (1804-1881), who was educated at Woolwich Academy, became a captain in the East India Co.'s service in 1824 and arrived in New South Wales in 1835. He resigned his commission in 1840 and lived for a few years on his grant, Bengalla, near Muswellbrook, before moving to Sydney, where in 1848-49 he edited the short-lived but ambitious New South Wales Sporting Magazine. In 1849 he was made a stipendiary magistrate and from 1860 until his death was police magistrate for Sydney. Truly benevolent, Scott used his public office to lend weight to his work for the destitute and his private means were spent freely in many individual cases of need. He was a considerable student of Arabic and Persian and a competent artist, as was his wife Maria Jane, née Barney. Predeceased by his two sons, he died on 16 May 1881 at his home, Lisgar, named after his cousin John Young, Baron Lisgar.

Augusta Maria (1798-1871), the only daughter of Dr Helenus Scott, accompanied her mother to New South Wales in 1832. A voluminous letter writer, she preserved almost intact a century of family correspondence. She shared her mother's informed pleasure in painting, sculpture and the theatre, and before reaching New South Wales she acquired a keen interest in natural history. In 1833 she married Dr James Mitchell, with whom she had corresponded for some years.

The Scott brothers came to New South Wales eager to make quick fortunes and to return home. They failed in this ambition and left no concrete contribution to the colony's progress save their thoroughbred stud, but the family's influence on the cultural life of New South Wales was strong and enduring.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 12, 19, 23, 24
  • D. M. Barrie, The Australian Bloodhorse (Syd, 1956)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 May 1881
  • Scott family papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • James Mitchell papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Nancy Gray, 'Scott, Robert (1799–1844)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/scott-robert-2642/text3673, published in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 1 September 2014.

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

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