Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Lyall (1821–1888)

by Alan D. Mickle

This article was published:

William Lyall (1821-1888), farmer, was born at Foveran, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, fifth son of John Lyall and his wife Helen, née Webster. His father migrated to Van Diemen's Land in 1832, rented a farm and sent for his wife, six sons and two daughters; later he moved to Windermere on the River Tamar where he died in 1845.

William was early interested in farming: at 14 he was in charge of assigned servants minding sheep. He visited Port Phillip in November 1839 and in 1847 moved to Melbourne where he soon had a lucrative business shipping fat bullocks to Tasmania. Later he joined his brother-in-law John Mickle (husband of Margaret Lyall) and John Bakewell to start the firm of Mickle, Bakewell & Lyall. The firm engaged in pastoral pursuits and soon prospered. On 29 January 1849 at Launceston Lyall married Annabella Brown (b. Glasgow 1827); they had three sons and six daughters. In 1852-53 they lived at Tooradin station, one of the firm's properties in the Westernport Bay district. In 1854 Lyall took his family and his mother to Britain and began a lifelong study of agricultural chemistry. He returned in January 1856 and lived at Kew. In 1859 the firm of Mickle, Bakewell & Lyall was dissolved, the partners drawing lots for the three properties, Tooradin, Monomeith and Yallock. Lyall took over Yallock north of Westernport near Koo-wee-rup, where he built his permanent home, Harewood, but by arrangement with Bakewell he still occupied Tooradin. From 1859 he rented Tobin Yallock swamp on a 21-year improvement lease and started drainage schemes.

Lyall was well known as a stock breeder and for his experiments in acclimatization of animals and plants. From England in 1856 he had brought with him stud Herefords, Cotswold sheep, hares, pheasants and partridges. In 1858 he imported two Shetland stallions which his brother Andrew had chosen for him on Noss Island. He also bred Romney Marsh sheep and thoroughbred horses. He experimented with oyster culture and less wisely planted yellow gorse on his land. Over the years he collected a fine library of general history, Australian exploration literature and books on agricultural subjects; all his volumes were specially bound in leather. Successful at shows, he won fifteen prizes at the Mornington exhibition of the Port Phillip Farmers' Society in 1861. His private diaries reveal him as a very practical farmer.

Active in public life Lyall was for years a member and president of the Cranbourne Shire Council, first president of the Mornington Pastoral and Agricultural Society, and a founder of the Victorian Agricultural Society, the Zoological Society, the Acclimatisation Society and the Victoria Racing Club. In 1855-88 he was a member of the National Agricultural Society. He joined the Yeomanry Cavalry and sometimes took duty at the powder magazine. In 1859-61 he represented Mornington in the Legislative Assembly and was also a territorial magistrate. An invalid in his last years, Lyall died at Harewood on 20 January 1888 and was buried in Cranbourne cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • R. V. Billis and A. S. Kenyon, Pastoral Pioneers of Port Phillip (Melb, 1932)
  • A. Henderson (ed), Early Pioneer Families of Victoria and Riverina (Melb, 1936)
  • H. H. Peck, Memoirs of a Stockman (Melb, 1942)
  • N. Gunson, The Good Country: Cranbourne Shire (Melb, 1968)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 23 Jan 1888.

Citation details

Alan D. Mickle, 'Lyall, William (1821–1888)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Foveran, Aberdeenshire, Scotland


20 January, 1888 (aged ~ 67)
Harewood, Victoria, Australia

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