Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Robert de Little (1808–1876)

by Roy S. Smith

This article was published:

Robert de Little (1808-1876), architect, builder and merchant, was born in England, the son of John de Little. He received some training in architecture, and in 1830 emigrated to Hobart Town with his parents and other members of their family. His father was appointed superintendent of the government farm at New Town, and in 1833 was superintendent of works at the orphan schools being constructed near the farm. He died in 1834. In 1832 Robert went to live in Launceston, where he was joined by his brother Joseph, and later by his mother, who died in 1839 at her sons' home in Cameron Street. Robert de Little married Caroline Roberts, aged 28, at Holy Trinity Church, Launceston on 11 November 1845.

In 1834 de Little was in business as a 'carpenter and builder' preparing architectural designs and specifications. Next year he opened the Tamar lime works at Middle Arm and soon extended his activity to the supply of timber and other building materials. He was connected with the design or construction of many buildings in northern Tasmania. His works in Launceston included St John's schoolhouse and the building for the Church of England Grammar School, both in Elizabeth Street; St Joseph's Church, Margaret Street, which was replaced by the Church of the Apostles, and a number of houses and business premises. He prepared designs for Christ Church, Longford, and had some part in designing St Peter's, Oatlands. A pleasing example of his work is found in the little square-towered Gothic church of St Matthias, on the right bank of the River Tamar at Windermere.

He was a member of the standing committee for Church of England schools in Launceston, and in 1846 was appointed to the original board of thirteen trustees of the Launceston Church Grammar School. He was a justice of the peace from 1858 to 1874. He took a lively interest in the Torrens system and, when the Tasmanian Act was passed, he and Theodore Bartley were among the first to bring their properties under it, in order to give the system a fair start and to demonstrate their confidence in its beneficial operation.

De Little was the owner of several properties in Launceston, including the old Cornwall Hotel and the terrace known as Nabowla House, both in Cameron Street. He supported the erection of the Mechanics' Institute with an offer of £100, and, having declined to be a candidate at an election of aldermen, he gave another £100 towards the cost of drinking fountains to be erected in the city. He was a director of the Launceston Gas Co. and of the Cornwall Insurance Co.

He died on 11 February 1876 at his home in York Street, Launceston, and was survived by his widow, four sons and three daughters. His obituary praised the energy and public spirit which not only made his own life successful but advanced the social and commercial interests of his fellow townsmen.

Select Bibliography

  • Independent (Launceston), 21 June 1834
  • Launceston Advertiser, 27 Feb 1840
  • Examiner (Launceston), 12 Feb 1876
  • CSO 1 & 5 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Roy S. Smith, 'de Little, Robert (1808–1876)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 6 March 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




11 February, 1876 (aged ~ 68)
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia

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