Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

William Ranson Mortlock (1821–1884)

by H. Kempe

This article was published:

William Ranson Mortlock (1821-1884), by unknown photographer, c1865

William Ranson Mortlock (1821-1884), by unknown photographer, c1865

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 23344

William Ranson Mortlock (1821-1884), grazier, was born at Moat House, Melbourn, Cambridgeshire, England, son of a banking family. In 1843 he sailed from Plymouth in the Imaum of Muscat. In the crossing-the-line celebration he wore a heavy money-belt and was thrown overboard and with difficulty rejoined the ship. He arrived at Port Adelaide on 9 November. He sailed for Sydney in the Dorset on 17 December and returned with a quantity of mixed merchandise to Adelaide. He set up as a maltster with interests in flour-milling. In 1850 at Port Lincoln he married Margaret, 18-year-old daughter of John Tennant who had arrived in South Australia from Scotland in 1839.

Mortlock was appointed an inspector of sheep under the 1852 Scab Act at a salary of £350, but resigned on 28 April 1853. His first pastoral venture was an occupation licence near Port Lincoln in 1847; with additional leases and purchases it became Yalluna station and was held by the family for a century.

Prudent and pragmatic, Mortlock was a far-sighted pioneer who not only gained much reward but whose thrusting restless spirit led to the success of grazing in low-rainfall areas of South Australia. Most of his undertakings were successful and he built up a large fortune. After a visit to England in 1864 he greatly extended his holdings by acquiring in 1867-68 the Pichi Richi, Mount Arden and Yudnapinna leases. Their combined carrying capacity was prodigious, Yudnapinna alone shearing over 100,000 sheep. He was also keen on horse-racing. Considerate but firm with Aboriginals, he once saved the life of a boy who became his devoted attendant. Mortlock represented Flinders in the House of Assembly from 7 May 1868 to 2 March 1870, 27 December 1871 to 14 January 1875, and from 30 April 1878 to 19 March 1884. He spoke with force and his pithy comment enlivened debate. He also achieved some notoriety in November 1872 when with J. Riddoch he burst open the locked door of the assembly while the Speaker was in the chair. Aged 63 he died at Avenel House, Medindie, on 10 May 1884, survived by his wife, son and three married daughters. His probate was sworn at nearly £100,000.

His son William Tennant (1858-1913) was educated at the Collegiate School of St Peter, Adelaide, and Jesus College, Cambridge. Though admitted to the Inner Temple on 24 October 1878 he did not practise in South Australia but joined his father and succeeded to his estates. He represented Flinders in the House of Assembly in 1896-99 and 1901-02. In 1892 he bought Martindale Hall, a Georgian-style mansion built in 1879-80 near Mintaro, where he continued the hospitality established by its previous owner, Edmund Bowman, attended to his fine merino flock, developed the gardens and orchards and pursued his racing interests. He died on 17 August 1913 at Martindale. He was survived by his wife Rosina, née Tennant, who with one of her two sons, John, founded the Ranson Mortlock Trust which provided for research by the Waite Research Institute into soil erosion and plant regeneration at Yudnapinna station in 1952. With help from the J. T. Mortlock estate and Mrs Dorothy Mortlock, the Mortlock Experimental Station was later established at Martindale for research into animal production.

Select Bibliography

  • Pastoral Pioneers of South Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1925)
  • J. Melville, ‘The Mortlock Experimental Station’, Adelaide University Graduates' Union, Gazette, June 1967
  • Observer (Adelaide), 17 May 1884
  • Register (Adelaide), 18 Aug 1913.

Citation details

H. Kempe, 'Mortlock, William Ranson (1821–1884)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 24 June 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

William Ranson Mortlock (1821-1884), by unknown photographer, c1865

William Ranson Mortlock (1821-1884), by unknown photographer, c1865

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 23344

Life Summary [details]


Melbourn, Cambridgeshire, England


10 May, 1884 (aged ~ 63)
Medindie, Adelaide, South Australia, 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.