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Pearson, William (1818–1893)

by Deirdre Morris

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

William Pearson (1818-1893), pastoralist and politician, was born on 20 September 1818 at Hilton, Kilmany, Fife, Scotland, son of Captain Hugh Pearson, R.N., and his wife Helen, née Littlejohn. Educated at Edinburgh High School, he joined an American timber ship but deserted to join an East Indiaman, becoming third officer in 1838.

After his father died in 1839 William left the sea and in September 1840 sailed in the John Cooper from Greenock arriving at Adelaide in March 1841 and at Port Phillip in April. He left Melbourne for Gippsland in June, travelled to Omeo and the Mitchell River, where he stocked Lindenow station and in September took up in his mother's name 12,800 acres (5184 ha), near the junction of the Thomson and La Trobe Rivers, which he named Kilmany Park. It was transferred to his name in 1848 and by 1868 was converted to freehold, nearly all bought at auction. By 1882 it included over 14,500 acres (5873 ha). In 1848-51 in partnership with H. Reoch and F. Brodribb he held land at Hill End, Tanjil, Grass Hills and in 1872-76 Maryville, 22,900 acres (9275 ha) on the La Trobe. Despite trouble with the Aboriginals, with whom he is reputed to have dealt severely, and the desertion of his men to the goldfields, Pearson's pastoralist interests prospered. In June 1865 the Long Tunnel Extended Gold Mining Co. at Walhalla was formed; he took 900 shares and was the largest shareholder. The original £5 shares rose to £212, earning dividends of £512 each during the forty years of the mine's operation.

In 1864 Pearson was elected to the Legislative Assembly for North Gippsland, defeating his opponent, the miners' candidate C. F. Nicholls, by 223 votes to 211, on a platform of assisted immigration. He retained his seat in the 1866 elections but resigned before the introduction of salaries for members, a measure he opposed. In the Legislative Council he was a representative of Eastern Province in 1881 and Gippsland in 1882-93.

A horse-breeder and racing enthusiast, Pearson won his first race in 1842 at the Flooding Creek (Sale) race-course. Reputed to have won over 300 races, though never the Melbourne Cup, he bred over a hundred winning horses. A heavy gambler, he often put over £1000 on one of his horses in a steeplechase at Flemington or Caulfield. He was a member of the Victoria Racing Club Committee and the Victoria Amateur Turf Club. An accomplished horseman, he introduced one of the early packs of hounds to Victoria and with them hunted kangaroos and dingoes. Though of reputed aristocratic looks and stern demeanour, he was quick to react when he believed his honour questioned. In 1849 he was found guilty of aggravated assault and in 1867 lost his claim for damages in a libel suit over his methods of handicapping horses.

On a visit to Scotland Pearson had met Eliza Laura, daughter of H. J. Travers, formerly of the East India Co., and on 4 August 1859 they married at Grassdale, Gippsland. Pearson spent most of his last years at his home, Craigellachie, Orrong Road, East St Kilda, where after suffering for months with a heart disease he died on 10 August 1893. Predeceased by his two elder sons, he was survived by his wife, three sons and two daughters. His heir William was born on 25 June 1864 at Craigellachie. Educated at Geelong Grammar School, he travelled for two years with Bishop Arthur Green and on his return worked for his father at Kilmany Park. He acquired Bonegilla station near Wodonga and on his father's death moved to Kilmany Park. He was president of the North Gippsland Agricultural Society and of the Sale Turf Club. In 1896-1916 he represented Gippsland Province in the Legislative Council and for years was chairman of committees of the Anglican synod. He died at Kilmany Park on 31 March 1919, survived by his wife Sophie Emily, née Gooch, whom he had married on 2 July 1887, and by their son and two daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • A. Henderson (ed), Australian Families, vol 1 (Melb, 1941)
  • R. A. Paull, Old Walhalla (Melb, 1963)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1867 (1st S), 1 (A17)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 16 Oct 1849, 11 Aug 1893
  • Australasian, 2 Feb, 6, 16 Mar 1867, 12 Aug, 23 Sept 1893.

Citation details

Deirdre Morris, 'Pearson, William (1818–1893)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pearson-william-4384/text7137, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 20 September 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

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