Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Robson (1843–1920)

by Eric G. Clancy

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with William Elliot Veitch Robson

William Robson (1843-1920), Methodist minister, accountant and politician, and William Elliot(t) Veitch Robson (1869-1951), solicitor and politician, were father and son. William was born on 21 December 1843 at Newcastle, New South Wales, son of William Robson, English-born miner, and his wife Ann, née Veitch. After attending T. W. Robinson's East Maitland Academy and Wollongong National School, he worked in the office of his father's Mount Keira coal-mine. At 15 he became a lay preacher in the Wesleyan Methodist Church and in 1864 entered the ministry. After his marriage to Annie Robertson Kippax (d.1920) in Sydney on 17 March 1868, he served in country circuits in the southern and Newcastle areas until 1879, when he resigned because of throat trouble. He remained a local preacher.

On 12 September Robson joined the colonial architect's office as a clerk, but left in 1885 to become secretary, manager, then liquidator for twenty years of the Town & Country Land, Building & Investment Co. Ltd. From about 1895 he practised as a public accountant and was also an estate agent (1902-08). A Protectionist, he was defeated for Petersham in 1894, but was active in (Sir) Edmund Barton's Federation campaign. In 1900 he was nominated to the Legislative Council. He supported women's franchise and industrial arbitration, in 1902 carried the Methodist Union Act, unamended, and opposed state aid for denominational children's charities, fearing sectarian bitterness. He served on the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works (1905-07 and 1911-14). As vice-president of the New South Wales Alliance for the Suppression of Intemperance (1903-12) and president of the Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society (1912-16), he fought for reform of liquor and gambling laws.

A member of the State conference of the Methodist Church for many years, Robson was a delegate to every triennial Australasian general conference from 1884. He was treasurer of the Methodist Centenary Fund and the Foreign Mission Society, and administered the Supernumerary Ministers' and Ministers' Widows' and the Bright Bequest funds. In 1903 he visited Fiji to inspect the Church's missions there and wrote three perceptive articles on the colony for the Daily Telegraph. He was a member of Newington College council from 1898 and worked assiduously for the establishment of Wesley College (University of Sydney) of which he was a foundation councillor (1915) and treasurer. In 1916 he donated £1000 to establish a scholarship in memory of his son Reginald (d.1907).

Remembered as a man of 'striking personality', Robson died at Wollongong, after an operation for appendicitis, on 25 October 1920 and was buried in Rookwood cemetery. His daughter and one son survived him.

His son William Elliot(t) Veitch was born on 23 March 1869 at Surry Hills, Sydney. After attending Newington College and the University of Sydney (B.A., 1889), he was articled to G. Wallace. Admitted as a solicitor on 4 June 1892, he became a partner in Wallace & Robson and, later, senior partner in Robson & Cowlishaw. On 17 October 1894 he married Ettie Gorman Cusack Whyte at Petersham: her sister married W. F. Whyte. Ettie died childless in 1899 and on 21 December 1901 he married Mabel Jackson Wise at Croydon.

Robson was an alderman on Ashfield council from 1898 to 1908 (mayor 1899). In August 1905 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Ashfield as a Liberal. He was prominent in the debate on the Local Government Act, 1906, and during the Newcastle coal dispute in 1909 demanded the legislation which became known as 'Wade's Coercion Act'. He resigned in February 1920 and was nominated to the Legislative Council, to which he belonged for thirty-one years.

Highly respected in business, Robson was chairman of the local board of the Commercial Union Assurance Co. Ltd and of R. H. Gordon & Co. Ltd, and director of Larke, Hoskins, & Co. Ltd, Larke, Neave and Carter Pty Ltd and Grenville Motors Pty Ltd. An active member of the Methodist Church, he attended several State annual conferences and was a council-member of Wesley (from 1915) and Newington colleges and a committee-member of the Sydney Central Methodist Mission. He was a director of the Benevolent Society of New South Wales (1924-27) and a member of the Australian Protestant Defence Association.

Robson enjoyed cricket, tennis, shooting and bowls and was a member of the Australian, University and School clubs. Survived by his wife, their daughter and two sons, he died at his Rose Bay home on 29 June 1951 and was buried in Rookwood cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £64,669.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Colwell (compiler), The Illustrated History of Methodism, Australia (Syd, 1904)
  • W. C. O'Reilly, Wesley College (Within the University of Sydney) (Syd, 1956)
  • D. S. Macmillan, Newington College 1863-1963 (Syd, 1963)
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 1902, p 3656, 1920, p 1867, 1951, p 2939, 3130
  • Fighting Line, 19 Nov 1913
  • Methodist (Sydney), 27 Mar, 30 Oct, 6 Nov 1920, 7, 21 July 1951
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 23 June 1894, 1, 2, 3 June 1903
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26, 27, 28 Oct 1920, 30 June, 4 July 1951.

Citation details

Eric G. Clancy, 'Robson, William (1843–1920)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 24 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


21 December, 1843
Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia


25 October, 1920 (aged 76)
Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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