Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Robert Gilfillan (1823–1909)

by Harold F. Bell

This article was published:

Robert Gilfillan (1823-1909), merchant and auditor, was born on 5 December 1823 at Borrowstounness, Linlithgowshire, Scotland, son of James Gilfillan, excise officer, and his wife Charlotte, née Anderson. He probably learnt some accounting from his father. In April 1848 he arrived at Auckland, New Zealand, in the Richard Dart with merchandise ranging from boots to chloroform. In January 1849 he was licensed as an auctioneer. In April his brother John Anderson arrived in the Lalla Rookh. The brothers set up as merchants and commission agents. In June Robert organized a meeting of subscribers to the Presbyterian Church. On 30 July 1852 he left Auckland in the Raven and reached Sydney on 22 August. He described his protracted and uncomfortable crossing in a letter to his parents. He apparently succeeded in disposing of some of his heavy stocks of English goods, returned to Auckland and in February 1853 sailed for London in the Fancy. On 28 February 1854 he married Margaret, née Fraser, at Cullen, Banffshire.

He returned to Sydney with his wife in the Royal Lily the same year and traded for many years as Gilfillan & Co., importers and merchants. A director of the Australian Mutual Provident Society in 1862-66, he was also its auditor eleven times between 1870 and 1886. Gilfillan lived at Quiberee, Lavender Bay. He died on 17 July 1909 at North Sydney and was buried in the churchyard of St Thomas's Church of England where he had been a regular worshipper. He was survived by his wife, four sons and three daughters. His estate was valued at £1143.

Select Bibliography

  • New Zealand Government Gazette (Province of New Ulster), 25 Jan 1849
  • New Zealander, 29 Apr 1848, 10 Feb, 21 Apr, 30 June 1849, 2 Feb 1853
  • AMP Society Archives (Sydney)
  • family letters and papers (privately held).

Citation details

Harold F. Bell, 'Gilfillan, Robert (1823–1909)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 24 May 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

Life Summary [details]


5 December, 1823
Borrowstounness, Linlithgowshire, Scotland


17 July, 1909 (aged 85)
North Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.