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Sir Robert Dalrymple Ross (1827–1887)

by Noel Hayman

This article was published:

Robert Dalrymple Ross (1827-1887), by unknown photograph

Robert Dalrymple Ross (1827-1887), by unknown photograph

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 3654

Sir Robert Dalrymple Ross (1827-1887), army officer and politician, was born at St Vincent in the West Indies, son of John Pemberton Ross, Speaker of the House of Assembly at St Vincent, and his wife, the only daughter of Dr Alexander Anderson. Educated in England he joined the Commissariat Department of the British army as a temporary clerk in 1855 and was sent to the Turkish contingent in the Crimea. On 1 April 1856 he was commissioned; he then volunteered for service on the West Coast of Africa, and was senior commissariat officer at Cape Coast Castle until September 1859. He was also a member of the Gold Coast Legislative Council. When acting colonial secretary in 1858 he took the lead in suppressing a native uprising.

After short periods of service in England and China, Ross was appointed to South Australia in 1862 as head of the Commissariat Department and was briefly aide-de-camp to Governor Daly. He served in the New Zealand Maori war in 1864-65. On 10 August 1865 in Adelaide he married Mary Anstice (d.1867), daughter of John Baker, and bought Highercombe at Gumeracha. In 1869 he went to England, stopping in India to discuss the possible establishment in South Australia of a remount service for the Indian cavalry. He went to Ireland in 1870 to fight the Fenians and a little later resigned his commission to return to Australia.

In 1875 after being defeated for Gumeracha, Ross entered the House of Assembly for Wallaroo and from June 1876 to October 1877 was treasurer in the Colton ministry. In 1881-87 he was Speaker of the assembly. He represented Gumeracha in 1884-87 and was knighted in 1886.

Ross actively supported schemes to lay a cable from England to Australia and to build a transcontinental railway from Adelaide to Darwin. He sought to develop foreign markets for South Australian produce and in 1879 told a commission on liquor laws that wine would become a most important industry of the colony. He carried out experiments at Highercombe in growing olives and vines, in cider making and in fruit drying. President of the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society of South Australia, he gave papers on agriculture, scrub land cultivation and wine and brandy. He was a governor of the Collegiate School of St Peter, Adelaide, a member of the University Council and chairman of the Adelaide Steamship Co. He was also a promoter and guarantor of the Adelaide jubilee exhibition. Described as a 'model colonist' he had wide interests and was always available to give help and advice to others; he was a man of action, noted for his courtesy, dignity and firmness.

Aged 60, Ross died in hospital at North Adelaide on 27 December 1887 and was buried, after a state funeral, in St George's cemetery, Woodforde. He left an estate of £12,000 to his son and daughter. A portrait hangs in Parliament House, Adelaide.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Ward, The Vineyards and Orchards of South Australia (Adel, 1862)
  • Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1869-70, 2 (43), 1879, 3 (34)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 28 Dec 1887
  • Australasian, 7 Jan 1888
  • S. Newland, An appreciation (State Records of South Australia)
  • family records (privately held)
  • CO 448/2.

Citation details

Noel Hayman, 'Ross, Sir Robert Dalrymple (1827–1887)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 13 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Robert Dalrymple Ross (1827-1887), by unknown photograph

Robert Dalrymple Ross (1827-1887), by unknown photograph

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 3654

Life Summary [details]


St Vincent and the Grenadines


27 December, 1887 (aged ~ 60)
North Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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