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Shoobridge, Robert Wilkins Giblin (1847–1936)

by Peter Chapman

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

This is a shared entry with:

SHOOBRIDGE BROTHERS: William Ebenezer  (1846-1940), politician, agriculturalist and industrial innovator, Robert Wilkins Giblin (1847-1936), agriculturalist and innovator, and Louis Manton (1851-1939), agriculturalist, politician and nature lover, were sons of Ebenezer Shoobridge (1820-1901), pioneer agriculturalist of Glenora and later member of the Tasmanian Legislative Council, and his wife Charlotte, née Giblin. Grandsons of William Shoobridge, all three mirrored the paternal pattern of agricultural innovation and participation in local and State government.

William was born on 7 January 1846 at his father's estate Glenayr, Richmond, Tasmania, and educated at Horton College, Ross. His study of hydrostatics and engineering led to extensive new irrigation techniques when, with his brother Robert, he took over the management of the family's Bushy Park estate. He developed an irrigation system for hops and apples which overcame the dryness of the deep porous soil and allowed extensive cultivation of such hop varieties as Early White Grape, Goldings, Green Grape and Red Golding. Over the period 1866-79 the acreage trebled and the crop increased sevenfold, becoming the basis of an important export industry. William further contributed to the hop industry with his visit to the Saaz drying kilns in Bohemia in 1905 and his subsequent construction of the first Saaz drying kiln in Tasmania.

Within the apple industry Shoobridge encouraged production of Sturmers, Pippins and Nonpareils for the London market, developing the 'cup' pattern technique of pruning the vigorous, irrigated crop; as chairman of the Derwent Valley Fruitgrowers' Association he oversaw the first significant export of 12,000 bushels in 1887. In 1892 he became the first president of the Tasmanian Agricultural Council.

Meanwhile his expertise as an irrigation engineer had earned him a wide reputation; he was asked to plan waterworks on the Derwent and tributaries, and to design twenty other irrigation ventures including the 8000-acre (3238 ha) scheme at the Brock brothers' Lawrenny estate. His advice was formally sought by the Tasmanian and Victorian governments, although some of his more prophetic schemes for combining hydro-electric development with irrigation were disregarded. He was notable too as an early recorder of weather data in Tasmania.

A justice of the peace from 1878 and chairman of the Derwent Road Trust, William was a lay reader in the Wesleyan Methodist Church and for thirty-eight years a Sunday school superintendent. A member of the Workers' Political League and the Australian Labor Party, he was Labor member for Franklin in the House of Assembly in 1916-19 and 1922-25 and for Wilmot in 1925-28 and 1929-31. His experience as a paternal employer in intensive smallholding production, mixed with a sincere religiosity, produced a Utopian socialism: a vision of a self-supporting, industrialized 'Big Tasmania' benefiting all who in 'any way by the exercise of their personal powers and faculties took some active part in the many processes of production'. His social productivism distanced him from the essentially conservative Tasmanian Labor Party, from which he resigned in 1932, but his technical expertise was recognised by the Earle government which commissioned him in 1914 to inquire into power and irrigation in Canada and the United States of America. This mission led to encouragement for the Australian Wood Pulp & Paper Co. to establish an industry in Tasmania.

On 8 December 1869 in Hobart Town with Wesleyan forms William had married Ann Benson Mather, granddaughter of Robert Mather. On his death in Hobart on 17 May 1940 he was survived by their three daughters and three sons.

Robert Shoobridge was born at Glenayr on 11 June 1847. Moving from Bushy Park, he took over Valleyfield estate near New Norfolk, producing an annual apple crop of 40,000 bushels. He had a particular interest in cool storage: as president of the Fruitgrowers' Association he travelled to London with a cargo of apples, advising on storage and critical temperatures, to establish standard shipboard conditions.

Locally a road trustee and municipal councillor, Robert was responsible for modernization of the New Norfolk water-supply system. He built the New Norfolk Cottage Hospital and promoted church construction at Glenfern, Molesworth, Moonah and New Norfolk. He was government visitor to the New Norfolk Mental Asylum. Robert died in Hobart on 13 May 1936, predeceased by his wife Annie Rebecca, née Crouch, whom he had married in Hobart Town with Wesleyan forms on 7 December 1871, and by five of their children. Five daughters survived him.

Louis Shoobridge was born at New Norfolk on 25 October 1851 and educated at Somerset House School, Hobart Town. He too joined the family fruit-growing enterprise, eventually developing the Fenton Forest estate which expanded into the extensive Glenora estate on the Styx and Russell Falls rivers. Credited with experimenting on over five hundred apple varieties, he attained export levels of 16,000 bushels a year and like his brothers travelled to London to further the export trade. He was president of the Agricultural Council, Royal Agricultural Society, Tasmanian Farmers' and Stock Owners' Association and the Australian Pomological Committee, as well as chairman of the National Park Board and member of many other societies. He was president of the Melville Street Methodist Church and vice-president of the Protestant Alliance of Friendly Societies. As member for Derwent in the Legislative Council in 1921-37 Shoobridge promoted agricultural and regional interests.

Perhaps, however, his most enduring achievement stemmed from his selection and preservation of fifty acres (20 ha) near the beautiful Russell Falls. The site was proclaimed part of an enlarged 300-acre (121 ha) reserve in 1885 and in 1917 was incorporated into the 27,000 acre (10,927 ha) Mt Field National Park. With Alan Wardlaw Louis also planted the Pioneer Avenue of trees between Hobart and Oatlands.

Louis married first, on 27 September 1876 with Wesleyan forms at New Town, Amy (d.1878), daughter of Colonel Thomas Lidbetter of Bombay; second on 19 April 1882 at Hobart with Congregationalist forms, Esther Kentish Charlotte, daughter of (Sir) Philip Fysh. Louis died in Hobart on 12 March 1939, remembered as a 'vital contributer to the life of the community' and 'a great lover of nature' who had no greater satisfaction than 'the planting of trees and the establishment of gardens'. He was survived by his wife and their four sons including (Sir) Rupert (1883-1962), later president of the Tasmanian Legislative Council.

Some flavour of the Shoobridge milieu is conveyed by the annual strawberry feast the Shoobridges held for their workers at the famous Bushy Park hop-barn which 'had Biblical texts on its outer walls and was frequently used as a church on Sundays. The hop-picking was always closed with a festival in true Kentish style. Poles garlanded with hops and bedecked with coloured ribbons, were carried around in procession amid wild cheering. A dinner, with music and song brought the day to its close'. The strength of the family tradition is also preserved in the inscription of the original hop kiln built by Ebenezer Shoobridge and known as the 'Text Kiln' from the Biblical texts also engraved on it, which reads 'Erected by Ebenezer Shoobridge, 1867, assisted by his wife and three sons and five daughters. Union is Strength'.

Select Bibliography

  • L. S. Bethell, The Valley of the Derwent (Hob, no date)
  • Cyclopedia of Tasmania, vol 1 (Hob, 1900)
  • K. R. von Stieglitz, A History of New Norfolk and the Derwent Valley (Launc, 1962)
  • Hobart Town Gazette, 5 Mar 1885
  • Tasmanian Mail, 6 Apr 1878, 1 Sept 1888, 8 June 1922
  • Mercury (Hobart), 6 Apr 1903, 30 May 1922, 1 Nov 1924, 14 May 1936, 13, 15 Mar 1939, 18 May 1940
  • Weekly Courier (Launceston), 16, 23, 30 Dec 1931
  • P. Shackel, Conservation: A Study in the Growth of Public Interest (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Tasmania, 1968)
  • H. A. Broinowski, W. E. Shoobridge: A Tasmanian Visionary (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Tasmania, 1970).

Citation details

Peter Chapman, 'Shoobridge, Robert Wilkins Giblin (1847–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/shoobridge-robert-wilkins-giblin-8527/text14799, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 1 August 2014.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

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

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