Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Joseph Phelps Robinson (1815–1848)

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Joseph Phelps Robinson (1815?-1848), banker and landowner, was a Quaker who arrived in Sydney in the steamship Cornubia in June 1842 as a partner of Benjamin Boyd and resident manager of the Royal Bank of Australia. With Boyd he set up an office at Church Hill and soon acquired land at Eden and many large runs in the Monaro. In 1843 banking business took Robinson to Port Phillip, where he became a keen supporter of the separation movement and was elected to represent Melbourne in the New South Wales Legislative Council in 1844-48. Opponents called him the 'member for Boyd' but conceded his unusual ability.

In Sydney Robinson joined the Australian Club, and in the Legislative Council he advocated that each session should be opened with prayer. His concern for savings bank and mechanics' institutes, his service on the select committee on education and later as treasurer of the National School Society, and his placing of the Cornubia at the disposal of the Sydney Bethel Union, all helped to win him the title of 'Humanity Robinson'. He was also zealous in presenting claims for roads, bridges and other improvements in Melbourne, and as treasurer of the Pastoralists' Association he gave evidence to the select committee on land grievances. On his own account Robinson imported and exported goods and in 1844 acquired depasturing licences for the runs of Yarrowick in the New England district and Clifton on the Darling Downs, thereby escaping bankruptcy when Boyd and the Royal Bank crashed. In 1846 he gave sheep to H.M.S. Bramble during her visit to Brisbane and bullocks to Ludwig Leichhardt's ill-fated expedition. Aged 33 he died of scarlet fever on 13 August 1848 at his cottage, Clee Villa, on the north shore of Sydney Harbour.

Select Bibliography

  • manuscript catalogue under J. P. Robinson (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

'Robinson, Joseph Phelps (1815–1848)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 28 May 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

Life Summary [details]




13 August, 1848 (aged ~ 33)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.