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Robert Christison (1837–1915)

by E. M. Allingham

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Robert Christison, 1877

Robert Christison, 1877

State Library of Queensland, 9747

Robert Christison (1837-1915), pastoralist, was born on 8 January 1837 at Foulden, Berwickshire, Scotland, the sixth son of Alexander Christison, Church of Scotland minister, and his first wife Helen, née Cameron. His grandfather was Alexander Christison, professor of the humanities at Edinburgh in 1806-20, and his uncle, Sir Robert Christison (1797-1882), an eminent professor of medicine also at Edinburgh and well known in philosophic and scientific circles. He was educated at the local school and migrated to Victoria with his brother Tom, arriving at Melbourne on 1 August 1852. He worked at Werribee among sheep for the Chirnside brothers and became their manager. A fine horseman, he rode the famous mare Alice Hawthorne and the steeplechaser Camel to many victories as an amateur jockey. At 20 he worked amongst the cattle of Niel Black & Co., the Manifolds and Thomas Learmonth, then tried gold mining unsuccessfully. He also learned navigation. In Melbourne when the Burke and Wills expedition was fitting out, he thought of joining them but instead set off with an Aboriginal boy and explored the inland country as far as southern Queensland. In 1863 he shipped himself and his horses to Bowen. Journeying west he encountered William Landsborough camped on the Suttor River and on his advice made for a tree on Towerhill Creek marked with a broad arrow over March 22, 1862 by the explorer as good sheep country. There he took up land naming it Lammermoor. He first stocked it with sheep but later changed to cattle. Christison's treatment of the Dalleburra tribe in this region set an example for relations with Aboriginals that shines out of the past to his credit. From their ranks came his trusted companion, Barney. He acquired adjoining land and named it Cameron Downs. There he built a huge dam, Lake Cameron, on Landsborough Creek. The track he blazed over the ranges from Bowen to his holdings for wool teams to follow was known for a decade as 'Christison's Trail'. Floods and drought took their toll but in 1870 he overlanded 7000 sheep more than 1500 miles (2414 km) to Victoria where they sold for 6s. 9d. a head.

Pastoral activities progressed rapidly under the McIlwraith government. Christison launched the Australian Co., its 15,000 shares held by British and Australian shareholders. By 1883 the company had built at Poole Island, Bowen, the first export frozen meatworks in Queensland, but on 30 January 1884 while the initial shipment was being loaded in the Fiado the area was devastated by cyclone. The ship was driven ashore and the works were smashed. The company did not recover from the loss but Christison was later a founder of the Queensland Meat Export Co., with works at Townsville. He also helped to found the Anglican See of North Queensland and saw his friend Bishop George Stanton installed. In 1877 he drove 1500 bullocks from Lammermoor to sale-yards at Wodonga, Victoria, where they topped the market. He sank large dams on his properties which by 1889 included Oakley and Waggadoona, and kept them full by pumping water from sub-artesian bores. He could then afford to import valuable stud bulls and stallions from England. He weathered the troubles between unions and bosses in 1891; the only incident on Lammermoor in the shearers' strike was minor and took place while Christison was in London. Always interested in the scientific treatment of cattle diseases, he took a leading part in the fight against tick infestation and by 1900 had 40,000 cattle and 500 thoroughbred horses. In the long drought ending in 1902 he was fortunate in being able to buy relief pastures at Bunda and rent country on Ashbrook for many thousands of his stock. For many years he was patron of the Townsville Pastoral, Agricultural and Industrial Association and the Charters Towers Pastoral and Mining Association. He also donated £1000 and promised more for a foundation in the University of Queensland for the study of tropical, pastoral and agricultural science, but did not live to see it initiated.

Robert Christison published two pamphlets: United Australia and Imperial Federation (London, 1888) and The Flocks & Herds of Queensland (Brisbane, 1896). In London about 1877 he had married Mary Lovey whom he met in Bristol when she was painting family portraits for his sister; she died of malaria soon after arriving at Lammermoor. In 1880 in London he married Mary Godsall, another English girl who did not like Australia and returned to England with their son and two daughters, the elder of whom was Mary Montgomerie (Mimi) Bennett and the younger Helen Cameron Roberts. In 1910 Christison sold all his Australian interests and joined his family in Britain. He died of pulmonary tuberculosis at Burwell Park, England, on 25 October 1915.

Of his six brothers, four migrated to Australia. One died on the voyage out. Alexander and Willie, who arrived at Hobart Town in July 1843, went to Port Phillip, worked for the Clyde Co. until 1849 and in August 1852 they were at the Bendigo diggings; soon afterwards Alexander disappeared, possibly lost in the bush. Willie went to Lammermoor in 1866 with Tom and was drowned in the flooded Burdekin River on 3 February 1874. Tom was married and later became sole owner of Cameron Downs where he died.

Select Bibliography

  • M. M. Bennett, Christison of Lammermoor (Lond, 1927)
  • P. L. Brown (ed), Clyde Company Papers, vols 3-5 (Lond, 1958-63)
  • Tropical Life (London), July 1912
  • S. E. Pearson, ‘In the Tracks of the Pioneers. The Laird of Lammermoor’, Pastoral Review, vol 38, no 11, Nov 1928, pp 1128-30
  • M. M. Bennett, Records of Robert Christison (University of Queensland Library)
  • Mrs H. C. Roberts notes (held on ADB file).

Additional Resources

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Citation details

E. M. Allingham, 'Christison, Robert (1837–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 13 July 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 Christison, 1877

Robert Christison, 1877

State Library of Queensland, 9747

Life Summary [details]


8 January, 1837
Foulden, Berwickshire, Scotland


25 October, 1915 (aged 78)
Burwell Park, Burwell, Lincolnshire, England

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