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Robert Burrowes (1825–1893)

by J. G. Harrison

This article was published:

Robert Burrowes (1825-1893), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co

Robert Burrowes (1825-1893), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, IAN02/10/93/8

Robert Burrowes (1825-1893), parliamentarian, was born at Perth, near Ottawa, Canada, son of James Burrowes and his wife Henrietta, née Nixon. He was educated in private schools and then entered the lumber trade as an investor and small operator. Late in 1852 he migrated to Melbourne and arrived in April 1853. He went immediately to Bendigo, then a major goldfield, and invested in mining operations. He became an adherent to 'deep reefing' after studying the methods propagated by Robert Haverfield, George Lansell, Gus Ballerstedt and others. Like all these miners and their financial backers Burrowes became moderately wealthy after only a few years in Victoria. For some time he kept a store at Barker's Creek and the Bull and Mouth Hotel in Bendigo. Later he built a new house, only to find that the Garden Gully reef ran through his freehold property; by 1880 it had brought him £30,000 in dividends.

In 1855 Burrowes showed an interest in politics by nominating Robert Benson who was elected to the old Legislative Council on 16 November. From this time Burrowes advanced his own ambitions in several directions. He read what was available on mining and civil law, made generous donations to acceptable charities and helped to found and establish the No. 1 Sandhurst (Bendigo) Fire Brigade. In 1858 he married Sarah Ellen Vickery; they had six sons and six daughters.

With others, Burrowes helped to bring into being the Municipality of Sandhurst; he was its chairman in 1862 when the Melbourne-Bendigo railway was opened. On 29 January 1866 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly, the second of Sandhurst's two members, his colleague being John Halfey. In 1868 he topped the poll and served with the popular Bendigonian, Angus Mackay, who, while minister of mines in 1870-71 and 1872-75, was understudied by Burrowes. He suffered his only defeat in 1877 but when Mackay withdrew in 1880 Burrowes was again elected and from September 1881 to March 1882 was minister of mines in the O'Loghlen government. In this office his advocacy with the minister of public works endowed Bendigo with some of the best governmental buildings in Victoria, notably the Post Office and Law Courts in Pall Mall. His efforts were also successful on behalf of the City Council in gaining it a crown grant for the choice Bath corner property.

The legislation brought down by Burrowes was useful and just. The Act extending the 'Eight Hours' principle to engine drivers employed on mines has lost its significance, but he sought to ensure that these particular workers did not become fatigued, for they were entrusted with the lives and safety of the miners in controlling the cages in which they descended and ascended to their work. Burrowes also introduced the Residence Areas Act in 1881 which gave the miner the right to sell, mortgage or bequeath his quarter-acre allotment. He was also responsible for the Act validating sales and forfeiture of shares. A Conservative by interest he acted for the good of all and was impartial in administering the regulations which controlled mining. According to George Mackay, The History of Bendigo (Melbourne, 1891), 'he held the balance even between mineowners and miners, and possessed the confidence of both parties'. He was particularly well informed on parliamentary practice and was often called on to adjudicate in enigmatic points on the customs and usages of parliament.

On old Bendigo a man was gauged by the manner in which he stood behind the stock he held; Burrowes was a heavy call payer and well liked in the mining industry. Aged 68 he died on 16 September 1893, an active member of parliament. Never known to deviate from his principles, he served Bendigo and the mining industry well and honestly.

Select Bibliography

  • H. M. Humphreys (ed), Men of the Time in Australia: Victorian series, 2nd ed (Melb, 1882)
  • G. Mackay, Annals of Bendigo (Bendigo, 1916)
  • J. G. Harrison, ‘Some aspects of business life in Bendigo in 1853’, Victorian Historical Magazine, 30 (1960)
  • Bulletin, 3 Apr 1880
  • Argus (Melbourne), 18 Sept 1893
  • Bendigo Advertiser, 18, 20 Sept 1893
  • Age (Melbourne), 19 Sept 1893
  • Weekly Times (Melbourne), 25 Sept 1893
  • Illustrated Australian News, 2 Oct 1893
  • Inquiry into Truck System, Evidence, Votes and Proceedings (Victoria) 1867, 5 (92)
  • S. M. Ingham, Some Aspects of Victorian Liberalism 1880-1900 (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1950)
  • M. J. Finlayson, Victorian Politics 1889-94 (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1964)
  • private information.

Citation details

J. G. Harrison, 'Burrowes, Robert (1825–1893)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 28 May 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

Robert Burrowes (1825-1893), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co

Robert Burrowes (1825-1893), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, IAN02/10/93/8

Life Summary [details]


Perth, Ontario, Canada


16 September, 1893 (aged ~ 68)
Victoria, Australia

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