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William Adams Brodribb (1809–1886)

by Janette Finch and Ruth Teale

This article was published:

William Adams Brodribb (1809-1886), pastoralist and politician, was born on 27 May 1809 in London, the eldest son of William Adams Brodribb (1789-1861) and his wife Prudence Jane, daughter of George Keene of Horsfield, Gloucester. His father, who came of a notable Somerset family, was educated for the law and admitted an attorney at Westminster but on 3 April 1816 he was convicted at the Gloucester Assizes of administering unlawful oaths and transported for seven years. He arrived at Sydney in the Sir William Bensley in March 1817. Because of his legal training, Governor Lachlan Macquarie sent him in the suite of Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell to Hobart Town where in May he was appointed clerk to the bench of magistrates. He was pardoned conditionally on 14 December 1818 and fully on 7 August 1821. In January 1819 he had been permitted to practise privately as an attorney, was appointed deputy provost marshal in April and in 1823 became a shareholder in the Bank of Van Diemen's Land. In February 1818 his wife with their three sons and two daughters had arrived at Hobart in the Duke of Wellington; they settled on a farm near New Norfolk and three more sons were born.

In April 1835 William junior went to New South Wales which offered 'fairer prospects to young men of small means'. He first toured the Maneroo (Monaro) district and became a partner in a cattle station. In 1836 he overlanded the second draft of cattle to Melbourne. Deciding that sheep were more profitable, he became manager in 1837 of a run held by William Lithgow. In August he petitioned for a punt over the Murrumbidgee near the homestead and in January 1838 Deputy Surveyor General Samuel Perry reported that 'a better site could not have been chosen for a Town of the first class' (Gundagai). In the drought of 1839 he took his sheep and cattle and formed stations on the Broken River near Benalla. On hearing of Strzelecki's discoveries in Gippsland, he formed an expedition which named Port Albert, explored inland along the Omeo River and attempted to find a route to Melbourne. He published accounts of his explorations in the Port Phillip Patriot, 15 April 1841, the Australian, 4 May 1841 and later in the Australasian, 11 May 1878, and in the Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australia. In London in 1874 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and joined the Royal Colonial Institute.

In Melbourne he formed an unsuccessful company to settle the Port Albert district. Being in debt he became manager in 1843 of the Monaro runs of William Bradley. For the next twelve years he lived on Coolringdon station near Cooma, and profited by breeding and fattening his own sheep for the Melbourne market. In 1844 at Gunning Brodribb married Eliza Matilda, née Kennedy, and as his family grew, he became anxious for the independence of his own station. In December 1853 John Kennedy, who had married Brodribb's sister Lavinia and was squatting in the Riverina, bought on his account the rights to the Wanganella run of 230 sq. miles (596 km²) on Billabong Creek, north of Deniliquin. On New Year's Day 1855 Brodribb set off from Cooma with his sheep and cattle and three months later reached his station. He attributed his success as a squatter to 'perseverance, energy, and, above all, courage.' When free selectors encroached on Wanganella he sold it profitably in 1861 and retired to Melbourne. In March 1862 he went with his family to England to visit the Great Exhibition, and was active in promoting emigration societies patronized by Lord Lyttelton. Besides writing for the Englishman, he published in London A Plain Statement of Facts, Addressed to the Small and Large Capitalists, and the Labouring Classes in England and Elsewhere, on the Great Capabilities and Natural Advantages of the Australian Colonies … for Emigration and A Calculation Showing the Profits of a Small Sheep-Walk on the Western Portion of New South Wales, Called the Salt-Bush Country.

On his return Brodribb again took up frontier stations. In 1866 he held about 450 sq. miles (1165 km²) on the Lachlan and Murrumbidgee Rivers beyond Booligal and his brothers held another 250 sq. miles (647 km²). In 1874 he revisited England and the Continent and as president of the Pastoral Association of the Riverina helped Sir Daniel Cooper in attempts to reform the wool trade. In his Results of Inquiries and Correspondence During the Year 1874, in Regard to the Wool Trade (Melbourne, 1875), he exposed the high warehouse charges and weighing procedures of London agents. In 1875 he sold Moolbong station and took up still drier cattle country at Yallock, north of Ivanhoe. By 1879 he had sold all his stations and leased Buckhurst, Double Bay, in Sydney; he was an alderman and mayor in 1878 of Woollahra, before moving to Macquarie Street, and a commissioner for the exhibition in Paris in 1877 and in New South Wales in 1879.

Brodribb's political career was wholly conservative. In July 1859 he unsuccessfully contested the Balranald seat in the reformed Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, and later tried to interest (Sir) Terence Murray in amending the land laws. As a squatter he condemned the system of tendering for new, vacated or forfeited runs, quoting local examples of the 'partiality' of the head of the Lands Department and the 'favouritism' of the crown lands commissioners to William Charles Wentworth. In July 1861 he defeated George Higinbotham for Brighton in the Victorian Legislative Assembly, and for nine months opposed measures to limit the terms of legislative councillors, to reduce property qualifications and to pay members of parliament, and supported (Sir) Charles Gavan Duffy's land bill of 1862. In the New South Wales elections of December 1864 he stood for the Monaro but was defeated. In November 1880 he won the new far western seat of Wentworth. In December 1881 he accepted Sir Henry Parkes's offer of a seat in the Legislative Council and retained it until his death. He was a conscientious and outspoken member, much addicted to publishing his views. He favoured the extension of railways from Sydney to the pastoral districts and in October 1884 introduced his only bill in the Legislative Council 'to legalize the erection of dams on certain dry water-courses' and protect the squatters' improvements; it lapsed in the assembly. His political views were expounded in his Recollections of An Australian Squatter, or Leaves from My Journal Since 1835 (Sydney, 1883).

Brodribb died on 31 May 1886 and was buried with his family at Brighton, Victoria; his estate was valued at £21,000 though he had made and lost as much many times. He was survived by his second wife Catherine McPherson, née Hume, a widow whom he had married in Melbourne in 1875, and by six children of his first marriage. The eldest son, Rev. William Kennedy (1847-1896), was ordained in 1870 in Melbourne; in mid-1880 Bishop Frederic Barker's refusal to grant him a licence in the diocese of Sydney because he was a member of the ritualist English Church Union led to his return to England, where in 1890-95 he was vicar of Putley, Herefordshire. The sons Kenric Edward (b.1849) and Ernest George (b.1859) inherited their father's properties.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 3, vols 3-4
  • T. Brodribb et al, Notes of the Brodribbs, an Old Family of Somerset (Melb, 1916)
  • F. F. Mitchell, ‘Back to Cooma’ Celebrations (Syd, 1926)
  • M. L. Loane, A Centenary History of Moore Theological College (Syd, 1955)
  • J. Jervis, The History of Woollahra, V. Kelly ed (Syd, 1960)
  • Australian Churchman (Sydney), 20 May, 3 June 1880
  • Hobart Town Gazette, 12 Apr, 3 May 1817, 21 Feb 1818, 9 Jan, 10 Apr 1819
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1 June 1886
  • Peppin diary, 1859 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • land grant papers (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Janette Finch and Ruth Teale, 'Brodribb, William Adams (1809–1886)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


27 May, 1809
London, Middlesex, England


31 May, 1886 (aged 77)
Victoria, Australia

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