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Robert Ross Haverfield (1819–1889)

by Carole Woods

This article was published:

Robert Ross Haverfield (1819-1889), grazier, newspaper proprietor and editor, was born on 26 February 1819 at Bideford, Devon, England, son of Captain R. T. Haverfield, R.N. and his wife, née Ross. His mother, daughter of a Scotsman and his Creole wife, had inherited valuable estates in Jamaica. Robert went to a private school in Great Torrington and to the Bideford Free Grammar School where he read privately in the classics. He intended to study at Cambridge but his mother's income was cut by slave emancipation and he decided to migrate. He arrived at Sydney in the Perfect on 1 February 1838, stayed for a few months near Goulburn with a fellow passenger, Captain Kennedy, and then joined a friend in Melbourne.

Attracted by livestock, Haverfield drove cattle for Joseph Holloway and sheep for Lauchlan Mackinnon. He then worked as a clerk for George Cavenagh of the Port Phillip Herald, but soon left to manage a sheep station at Honeysuckle Creek. He moved west with cattle for Holloway, took up stations in the Wimmera with Joseph Jardine in 1846-48 and on his own account leased Sand Hills and Gerahmin in 1850-51 and Nurmurnemal in 1850-52. On these stations he won the trust of local Aboriginals and learnt their language.

By late 1853 Haverfield had parted with his leases and was working an alluvial claim near Bendigo. In a misunderstanding over licence regulations he was arrested and imprisoned for an hour before his mates released him. Angrily he renounced the diggings and invested his capital in a printing plant and on 9 December with A. M. Lloyd he produced an issue of the Bendigo Advertiser and Sandhurst Commercial Circular, the first newspaper published on the Victorian goldfields. Though fearless in denouncing goldfields administration, he insisted that political rights should be secured by constitutional means. Short of capital he sold out to Angus Mackay & Co. in May 1855 and worked a quartz claim in White Horse Gully. He agreed to edit a second Sandhurst paper, the Courier of the Mines and Bendigo Daily Mail, for a co-operative company in 1856 but this venture failed in March 1857 and he found employment with Mackay & Co. On their behalf he went to Heathcote to start the McIvor News and Goulburn Advertiser in 1858 and then wrote for the Bendigo Advertiser. In 1859 he became manager of Francis Cadell's business on the Murrumbidgee and Darling. North of Menindee he met Robert O'Hara Burke's party and reported its progress for the Bendigo Advertiser. In November 1861 he was appointed secretary to the royal commission on Burke and Wills and next year government arbitrator in the reassessment of runs for the Ovens district under the new Land Act.

At Echuca Haverfield, as editor and part-owner with Mackay and James Joseph Casey, published the first edition of the weekly Riverine Herald in July 1863. He also invested in the vineyard company and was elected to the borough council but had to resign because his firm had contracted to print council advertisements. He became sub-editor of the Age in 1869 but soon returned to Echuca and in August 1870 became editor of the Bendigo Advertiser. On 29 January 1888 he was presented with a testimonial to his outstanding journalistic ability and service to the community.

In the 1850s Haverfield had contributed stories, verses and yarns to the Illustrated Australian Magazine usually under the signature of 'O.W.N.Y.' He sent tales and rhymes to the Leader in 1869 and contributed to the Melbourne Monthly Magazine and Once a Month; in 1884 he lectured on his early colonial experiences. In 1863 he had married Mariana Rubina Collier; they had four sons and a daughter. A Freemason, he was popular and respected, especially by his younger colleagues. He wrote for the Bendigo Advertiser almost until he died on 20 April 1889. He was buried at the Back Creek cemetery where Archdeacon John MacCullagh read the service.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Mackay, The History of Bendigo (Melb, 1891)
  • R. V. Billis and A. S. Kenyon, Pastoral Pioneers of Port Phillip (Melb, 1932)
  • S. Priestley, Echuca: A Centenary History (Brisb, 1965)
  • Bendigo Advertiser, 22 Apr 1889
  • J. A. Panton memoirs (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

Carole Woods, 'Haverfield, Robert Ross (1819–1889)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 23 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]

Alternative Names
  • O.W.N.Y.

26 February, 1819
Bideford, Devon, England


20 April, 1889 (aged 70)
Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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