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Robert Russell Fullarton (1829–1895)

by Wilson P. Evans

This article was published:

Robert Russell Fullarton (1829-1895), by unknown photographer, 1895

Robert Russell Fullarton (1829-1895), by unknown photographer, 1895

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, IAN01/10/95/16

Robert Russell Fullarton (1829-1895), naval officer and public servant, was born at Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland, son of James Innes Fullarton, army officer, and his wife Mary, née Kerr. He served his apprenticeship in the Ellen, and first visited Melbourne in 1844. After further voyages he returned in command of the Glenbervie in 1849 and then engaged in coastal trade under Captain George Ward Cole and others.

His temporary appointment as assistant to the harbormaster, Alexander Campbell, on 1 January 1853 was made permanent a year later. In 1856 he applied in vain for a position as sea pilot and on 1 July 1865 was appointed master of the lighthouse tender Pharos. In 1868 he was temporary harbormaster of Hobson's Bay and from January 1869 harbormaster at Melbourne under the Harbor Department; he was transferred to the Melbourne Harbor Trust when it was incorporated in 1877. He was elected chairman of the Victoria Steam Navigation Board and president of the Pilot Board of Victoria on 1 October 1880; when the Pilot Board was abolished in 1887 he was permitted by the Melbourne Harbor Trust to accept presidency of the Marine Board of Victoria.

Fullarton's ability in winning promotion was also shown in the Victorian Naval Reserve (later Naval Brigade) in which he was the second to enlist in 1859. He was appointed senior lieutenant in charge of the Port Melbourne Division in 1860 and within a year had command of the whole Naval Reserve. In 1869 he became commander in the Naval Forces and staff officer in charge of the West Coast Military District. In 1871 he resigned his naval command at the government's request in order to frame Naval Reserve Regulations. He enrolled members under the Discipline Act, 1870, and was appointed to command all Naval Reserves. He declined employment as naval commandant in 1878 at the request of the Melbourne Harbor Trust. Involved in several legal cases under the Discipline Act, he appears to have been efficient but officious. In 1885 he was appointed a member of the Council for Defence and honorary aide-de-camp to the governor. He was commandant of the naval forces of Victoria from February 1887 to early 1888 with active command of the fleet. Fullarton devoted his entire leisure to perfecting his knowledge of naval strategy and never missed an encampment, cruise and muster until his retirement from the Naval Brigade in June 1892. He was also an active Freemason.

After fighting a fire on the kerosene-laden ship Habitant on 8 June 1894 Fullarton suffered from over-exertion and influenza. His health deteriorated and he resigned on 16 September. The £1000 voted to him by the Melbourne Harbor Trust went to his widow Christina, née Robertson, after he died at Albert Park on 23 September 1895. He was buried at St Kilda cemetery and left an estate worth £3000 to his widow to maintain their three daughters and a son who was in poor health.

Select Bibliography

  • W. P. Evans, Port of Many Prows (Melb, 1969)
  • Melbourne Harbor Trust Jubilee Report 1877-1927 (Melb, 1927)
  • Government Gazette (Victoria), 1855, 1860, 1869, 1885
  • Williamstown Chronicle, 31 Mar 1860, 31 Aug 1867, 28 May 1870, 1871, 14 Aug 1880, 19 Mar 1881, 19 Jan 1884
  • Argus (Melbourne), 24 Sept 1895
  • Weekly Times (Melbourne), 28 Sept 1895
  • W. P. Evans, A Rocket by Night: A History of the Victorian Pilot Service (Port Phillip Pilot Service)
  • W. P. Evans, Deeds not Words: A History of the Victorian Navy (privately held)
  • Victorian Pilot Board records (privately held).

Citation details

Wilson P. Evans, 'Fullarton, Robert Russell (1829–1895)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 21 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Robert Russell Fullarton (1829-1895), by unknown photographer, 1895

Robert Russell Fullarton (1829-1895), by unknown photographer, 1895

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, IAN01/10/95/16

Life Summary [details]


Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland


23 September, 1895 (aged ~ 66)
Albert Park, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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