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Robert Quayle Kermode (1812–1870)

by E. J. Cameron

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Robert Quayle Kermode is a minor entry in this article

Robert Kermode, by J. W. Beattie

Robert Kermode, by J. W. Beattie

State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001125647453

William Kermode (1780-1852), merchant and settler, was born at Port Erin, Isle of Man, the son of Thomas Kermode and his wife Elizabeth, née Killey. As a youth he took up the sea as a career and is said to have made several voyages to India. In 1810 he married Anne Quayle, daughter of Rev. John Moore, vicar of Braddan, and Margaret, née Quayle, of West Hill, Castletown.

Kermode first arrived at Hobart Town in November 1819 as supercargo in the Robert Quayle. He went on to Sydney, where he had difficulty in disposing of his cargo and left it in the hands of agents. He sent his ship to the whale fishery and returned to England in the Admiral Cockburn. He made another voyage to Van Diemen's Land as supercargo in the Mary in 1821 and in June was granted 2000 acres (809 ha) on the Salt Pan Plains near Ross, but in Sydney, through mismanagement by his agents, he was declared bankrupt. He returned to England in 1822, taking with him a Tasmanian Aboriginal boy, George Van Diemen, at Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell's request. The boy had been found orphaned in ‘the woods near the River Plenty’, following a clash between soldiers of the 48th Regiment and Tasmanian Aboriginal people in which by one account 17 ‘natives’ were killed.  The clash had occurred after European ‘stock-keepers detained and maltreated the wife of a chief’.

In 1823 Kermode again visited Australia with a large cargo, intending to fulfil the settlement conditions of his land grant. In Hobart he was elected a director of the Sydney and Van Diemen's Land Packet Co. and became a founding shareholder of the Bank of Van Diemen's Land. In 1824 he was granted another 1000 acres (405 ha) and bought 2000 (809 ha) more, thus building up the property which he called Mona Vale, probably after Castle Mona, the original home of the Dukes of Atholl on the Isle of Man. Kermode sailed for England in 1826 and returned next year with his son and George Van Diemen.

In June 1827 the land commissioners reported that Kermode was improving and cultivating his 'excellent Sheep Walk'. After his wife and daughters joined him in May 1828 he was able to give the personal attention which was to make Mona Vale a show place. By 1834 his first modest timber house had been replaced by a substantial brick building; stone cottages and farm buildings were being erected and much of the estate laid out and fenced. According to The Centenary History of the Midland Agricultural Association (Launceston, 1938) 'Kermode was probably the most progressive of all the fine settlers who arrived in Sorell's time. He had vision and the energy and practical ability to bring his ideas into being'. With Saxon sheep from the Van Diemen's Land Co. he started his own stud in 1829 and later won many prizes for his sheep, horses and produce. The dry summers and negligible flow of the two streams which crossed the Salt Pan Plains led him to an early interest in water conservation. Both streams were dammed and hundreds of acres of irrigated pasture laid down to clover and grasses on hitherto useless land. Although the advice of such experts as Hugh Cotton on irrigation, and Count Strzelecki on soil analysis was not followed by the government, it was extensively used by Kermode who also gave generously of his time and energies to any practical proposals for improving farm production or standards.

These achievements showed his strength of purpose. He had been friendly with Sorell, but his very decided views led to an estrangement from Lieutenant-Governor(Sir) George Arthur. Kermode's need of land and convict labour was often supported at the Colonial Office by the Duchess of Atholl, and in 1825 she even sought a government post for him. In that year, however, Kermode became involved in a threatened duel with his agent and Arthur refused him any further concessions. Two years later Kermode signed the protest against Arthur's restrictions on the press and was soon charged with harbouring runaway prisoners. Matters were not improved when the case was given much publicity by Robert Murray in the Austral-Asiatic Review, February 1828. In 1835 more trouble arose over the alleged use by Kermode of stone cut by convicts in the government quarry and laid by a convict mason on the landing at Mona Vale. Kermode again proved his innocence, but the charges rankled and soon afterwards he published Statement of Facts Relating to the Recent Altercation … (Hobart, 1836) a pamphlet vigorously supporting his friend, Thomas Gregson, who had been imprisoned and fined for horsewhipping Arthur's nephew, Henry.

With Sir John Franklin Kermode had better relations. Although he failed to win the lieutenant-governor's support for a land bank or mutual protection society to raise funds in London, he was appointed a member of the Legislative Council in 1842. When the financial crisis deepened he was one of the Patriotic Six who in October 1845 walked out of the council in protest against Sir John Eardley-Wilmot's handling of the annual estimates. Reappointed in 1848, Kermode again resigned, according to Lieutenant-Governor Sir William Denison, 'to create embarrassment for the Government'. But Kermode's health was failing. He retired to Mona Vale, where he died on 3 August 1852. His wife survived him by four months.

Of their three daughters, Anne was engaged to Sir John Jeffcott in 1836. After his death she married George Henry Moore, a Manxman who had been overseer at Mona Vale and later moved to New Zealand, where with substantial help from Kermode and Rev. John Lillie he eventually became one of the largest landholders in North Canterbury.

Robert Quayle Kermode (1812-1870), the eldest child and only son of William and Anne Kermode, was born on the Isle of Man and educated at Castletown. He arrived in Van Diemen's Land with his father in 1827, and was soon helping his father to enlarge their estate and improve farming methods. He was appointed a justice of the peace in 1843 and elected for Campbell Town to the Legislative Council in 1851. He took a leading part in political questions as an anti-transportationist. He served in the Legislative Council in 1856-57 and 1864-68, and the House of Assembly in 1857-59 and 1861-62; he was a minister without portfolio in the Weston and Smith administrations in 1857. He had liberal and enlightened views and contributed largely to the building funds of various churches and public institutions in the Ross district. He visited England in 1858-59 and New Zealand in 1863. In 1865 he commenced the third family home at Mona Vale; built of local sandstone, it had a tower and over fifty rooms, and is probably the largest private home in Australia. The Duke of Edinburgh was entertained there in 1868.

At Longford on 10 November 1839 Robert Kermode married Martha, daughter of Thomas Archer; she bore him six sons and died in January 1853. On 16 June 1859 in London he married Emily, daughter of Henry Addenbroke of Cheltenham; they had a daughter and two sons. Kermode died on 4 May 1870 and was buried at Ross.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 3, vols 3-4, 6
  • G. A. Brown, Sheep Breeding in Australia (Melb, 1880)
  • P. L. Brown (ed), Clyde Company Papers, vols 1-5 (Lond, 1941-63) R. C. K., Ross Centenary (Hob, 1921)
  • S. Butlin, Foundations of the Australian Monetary System, 1788-1851 (Melb, 1953)
  • C. Turnbull, Black War: The Extermination of the Tasmanian Aborigines (Melb, 1965)
  • ‘The Archer Papers: Journal and Letterbook of William Archer: 1847-1872’, Report on the Historical Manuscripts of Tasmania, nos 1-5, 1960, pp 1-12
  • ‘The Archer Papers: Journal of William Archer: 1856-1858: 1862-1874’, Report on the Historical Manuscripts of Tasmania, nos 1-5, 1960, pp 13-28
  • newspaper indexes and manuscript catalogues under William Kermode (State Library of New South Wales)
  • correspondence file under Kermode (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • CO 323/122, 124

Additional Resources

Citation details

E. J. Cameron, 'Kermode, Robert Quayle (1812–1870)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Robert Kermode, by J. W. Beattie

Robert Kermode, by J. W. Beattie

State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001125647453

Life Summary [details]


Isle of Man, England


4 May, 1870 (aged ~ 58)

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