Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Henry Rotton (1814–1881)

by E. J. Lea-Scarlett

This article was published:

Henry Rotton (1814-1881), pastoralist, was born at Frome-Selwood, Somersetshire, England, son of Gilbert Rotton, solicitor, and his wife Mary Caroline, née Humphries. Failing to enter the navy, he joined a merchant ship that was wrecked in the West Indies. After rescue he was landed in Africa where he contracted yellow fever. In 1836 he reached Kangaroo Island, South Australia, as second mate in the Emma and soon made his way to Sydney. In February 1839 he took over the licence of the Queen Victoria Inn at Solitary Creek near Rydal. That year he married Lorn Jane Macpherson, who died on 11 September 1843. In 1843-48 he was licensee of the Queen Victoria Inn, Bathurst.

In 1849 Rotton became a mail-coach proprietor and in 1850 had a four-horse service three times a week to and from Sydney, Parramatta, Penrith and Hartley, and many twice-weekly two-horse coaches to near-by towns. In 1851 Deas Thomson wrote to Governor FitzRoy from the goldfields that 'Rotton is anxious to buy as his carriages are nearly all broken down from the immense traffic and dreadful state of the roads'. He prospered from the gold rushes and in 1853 bought Blackdown, an estate at Kelso, near Bathurst, where he became a successful horse and cattle breeder with imported stock. He also acquired Gungalman in the Lachlan District and other pastoral interests.

As a supporter of John Robertson, in January 1858 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Western Boroughs, despite A. T. Holroyd 'sticking at nothing to obtain pledges'. Defeated for Bathurst in 1859 and 1860 because of his support for the abolition of state aid to religion, he represented Hartley in 1859-64. He opposed free selection before survey and from 1860 voted against Cowper-Robertson ministries. In 1861 Rotton opposed the extension of the southern railway at the expense of the western and northern lines.

At 2 a.m. on Sunday, 25 October 1863, Rotton was woken by his daughter Caroline asking for £500 as ransom for her husband, H. M. Keightley, being held at their Dunn's Plains station by Ben Hall and his gang. Rotton took the ransom money in marked notes and after the release of Keightley went on to Rockley to report the incident. In 1866 he became a sheep director for Bathurst and was chairman of the Bathurst Sheep Board in 1869-81. A zealous supporter of the Baptists, he was a member of the local public school board from 1868 and chairman from 1874. In 1872 he adjudicated in an important squatting case.

Aged 67, Rotton died on 11 October 1881 at Mynora, a property he owned near Moruya occupied by the Keightleys, and was buried in the Baptist cemetery, Bathurst, with Anglican rites. He was survived by a son and daughter of his first wife, and by five sons and six daughters of his second wife, Anne Ford, whom he had married on 18 March 1844. His personalty was valued for probate at £29,000.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Digby (ed), Australian Men of Mark, vol 1 (Syd, 1889)
  • C. White, History of Australian Bushranging, vol 2 (Syd, 1900)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1861, 1, 213, 221, 229, 238
  • J. MacPherson, ‘Henry Rotton, H. M. Keightley, and the bushrangers’, JRAHS, 23 (1937)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1 Jan 1850
  • Bathurst Times, 12 Oct 1881
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Citation details

E. J. Lea-Scarlett, 'Rotton, Henry (1814–1881)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 21 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

Life Summary [details]


Frome-Selwood, Somerset, England


11 October, 1881 (aged ~ 67)
Moruya, New South Wales, Australia

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