Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Robert John Lynn (1873–1928)

by Alan Bonds

This article was published:

Robert John Lynn (1873-1928), shipowner and businessman, was born on 14 March 1873 at Stockton, Newcastle, New South Wales, third son of Richard Lynn, an American shipwright and marine surveyor, and his wife Mary, née McKindley, from Scotland. He was educated at public schools at Newcastle and at 14 began work as a clerk with a Newcastle wholesale firm and became chief salesman.

Lured by the gold discoveries in Western Australia, in 1895 Lynn went to the Coolgardie fields where he spent a year prospecting unsuccessfully. Disillusioned, he returned to Fremantle and joined the shipping firm of McIlwraith, McEacharn & Co. as a clerk. He soon became junior partner in the shipping firm of Denny Bros & Lynn and joined a business partnership with H. E. Mofflin. In 1906 he acquired a fleet of five small ketches and schooners and formed R. J. Lynn & Co.; with these craft and agencies the firm was involved in shipping on the Western Australian coast for the next fifteen years.

In 1919 Lynn amalgamated his firm with that of Walter Johnson, trading as Johnson & Lynn Ltd. They bought and operated run-down coal-mining leases at Collie, which were in need of capital and entrepreneurship. In 1920 Johnson & Lynn set up Amalgamated Collieries of Western Australia Ltd; in the next five years this company bought and incorporated nearly all the operative leases at Collie. With Lynn and Johnson as joint general managers and alternate chairman of directors, Amalgamated Collieries monopolized the coalfields' output for the next decade. A royal commission of 1931-33 on the production costs of coal reported that Amalgamated Collieries paid abnormally high wages to its miners; and it was severely critical of the firm, which it concluded had been making unfair profits at the expense of the government.

Eventually Lynn was managing director of six companies and a director of three others, their interests including banking, insurance, timber, cement, roads, printing and tanneries. He was also a Fremantle councillor in 1904-09 and served on the Municipal Tramways Board, Fremantle, in 1903-18. In 1912 he was elected to the West Province seat of the Legislative Council; a Liberal and later National Party representative, he retired in 1924.

Lynn was generous and kind and without any apparent desire for reward or recognition: he endowed scholarships to schools of any denomination. Parliamentary colleagues respected his common sense and practicality and his ability to acknowledge publicly his mistakes. He had a lifelong interest in fishing and boating and his name is perpetuated in a trophy of the East Fremantle Football Club of which he was a revered patron for seventeen years.

Lynn died of nephritis on 12 September 1928 at his Perth home and was buried in the Congregational section of Karrakatta cemetery. He had married at Fremantle on 13 June 1901 Ada Turton who survived him with a daughter and two sons. Lynn's estate was valued for probate at £35,999.

Select Bibliography

  • J. S. Battye (ed), Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vols 1-2 (Adel, 1912)
  • G. Wilson (ed), Western Australia Centenary 1829-1929 (Perth, 1929)
  • Parliamentary Papers (Legislative Assembly, Western Australia), 1930-31, 3 (21)
  • West Australian, 14 Sept 1928
  • L. W. Johnson, A History of the Collie Coal Mining Industry (M.A. thesis, University of Western Australia, 1956).

Citation details

Alan Bonds, 'Lynn, Robert John (1873–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


14 March, 1873
Stockton, New South Wales, Australia


12 September, 1928 (aged 55)
Perth, Western Australia, Australia

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