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Wyselaskie, John Dickson (1818–1883)

by J. Ann Hone

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

John Dickson Wyselaskie (1818-1883), pastoralist and philanthropist, was born on 25 June 1818 at Sanquhar, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, son of Louis Wyselaskie, army officer, and his wife Elizabeth, née Kerr. In 1837 he joined his uncle Robert Kerr in Van Diemen's Land and was soon sent to Port Phillip to find land for the firm of Kerr and (John) Bogle of Hobart Town and Launceston.

Wyselaskie explored north to the Mallee and then took up a run near Buninyong. In 1840 he left to take up Narrapumelap, 40,000 acres (16,188 ha) on the Hopkins River. His first years were difficult and the Aboriginals troublesome; however, the 1850s brought prosperity and enabled him to buy out Kerr and Bogle and to acquire the freehold of 24,000 acres (9,713 ha). He formed a merino flock with sheep from the studs of J. A. Gibson in Tasmania and John Taylor, and the Narrapumelap merino became noted for its fine quality wool. He made extensive improvements and in 1873 employed fifty stonemasons to build a fine bluestone mansion, finished with a tower and approached by a mile-long (1.6 km), tree-lined avenue.

Wyselaskie was a member of the Geelong and Portland Bay Immigration Society in the late 1840s. He was active in the establishment of a school at the near-by township of Wickliffe and in obtaining occasional visits by a clergyman. He donated the church's tower and spire in the 1870s. With his wife Mary Jane Austin, née Farrell, he visited Europe in 1874-76. They moved to Melbourne in 1878 and he built Wickliffe House, St Kilda, where he lived in retirement and poor health until his death of apoplexy on 4 May 1883; he was buried in the Boroondara cemetery.

Wyselaskie left an estate valued at £72,337 realty and £28,063 personalty. An ardent Presbyterian and childless he gave most of his wealth to the Church. He had already given £30,000 to Ormond College, and he left £10,000 for the Presbyterian (now Wyselaskie) Theological Hall, attached to the college, and £20,000 to pay its professors and teachers; £5000 for the Presbyterian Ladies' College which went to build its Wyselaskie Hall; £2000 to the Wickliffe Presbyterian Church and £5000 to his old church in Sanquhar; and £12,000 to be invested for the endowment of scholarships in six different disciplines at the University of Melbourne. Several charities also benefited. Narrapumelap was bought by G. N. Buckley, son of Mars Buckley.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • Pastoral Review Pty Ltd, Pastoral Homes of Australia, vol 3 (Melb, 1931)
  • L. L. Banfield, Shire of Ararat: Its Settlement and Development, 1864-1964 (Ararat, 1964), Ararat Advertiser, 8 May 1883.

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Citation details

J. Ann Hone, 'Wyselaskie, John Dickson (1818–1883)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 24 October 2016.

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

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