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Robert James Sadler (1846–1923)

by Barbara Payne

This article was published:

Robert James Sadler (1846-1923), civic leader and politician, was born on 7 January 1846 at Launceston, Van Diemen's Land, son of James Sadler, carver, and his wife Elizabeth, immigrants to the colony in 1842. An expert craftsman, his father carved the ceremonial wheelbarrow for the Duke of Edinburgh's opening of the Launceston and Western Railway in 1868. After a local education at Rev. Charles Price's school, Robert spent four years in Sydney with S. Hoffnung & Co., wholesale warehousemen. He joined the Sydney Masonic Lodge Cambria and on returning to Launceston in 1868 entered the Lodge of Hope: this association, in which he attained high rank, became the dominant influence in his life.

Before setting up independently as a general merchant, Sadler worked for Samuel Tulloch whose daughter Adeline Marian he married at Launceston with Primitive Methodist forms on 16 July 1873. In the 1880s he became a mining agent and sharebroker, his career flourishing with the mining boom and the growth of political power among the city's commercial class. Secretary to many mining ventures, he was legal manager of the Rosebery mine and strongly supported the development of the Lefroy goldfield.

Sadler was remarkable for his distinguished membership of numerous organizations. An early member of the Launceston Stock Exchange (1882), he became chairman (1915) and trustee. He was warden of St John's Anglican Church from 1884 and for many years auditor, a justice of the peace from 1887, treasurer of the Queen Victoria Hospital for Women (which he helped to establish), a member of the Blanket Loan Society, Royal Society of St George and the Chamber of Commerce, a captain in the Launceston Artillery and president of the Northern Club. A sportsman, part-owner of the 'unlucky' racehorse Silvermine, he was on the committee of the Tasmanian Turf Club from 1885, first president of the Newnham Racing Club and the Northern Tasmanian Cricket Association Bowling Club (1898-1903), and an executive member of the Northern Tasmanian Athletic Association.

Sadler served on the Launceston Marine Board in 1884-1920, as master warden in 1887-90, 1906-07 and 1913-14. He supported attempts in 1897 and 1901 to merge the board with the city council and, later, the implementation of the Tamar improvements recommended in 1912 by W. Henry Hunter. A city councillor from 1894, he was concerned with housing, tramways and sewerage and on his retirement in 1921 was pressing the Greater Launceston scheme. His mayoralty in 1897 provided monarchical and patriotic fervour to the celebration of Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee and, with his interest in rail links to mining areas, may have prompted his entry to the House of Assembly in 1900.

Except for 1912, when he briefly lost his seat, Sadler remained in parliament until 1922, his exclusive concern with northern Tasmanian matters—mining, marine board, city council bills—attracting good-humoured banter from his fellows. He was chairman of committees in 1913-14 and 1916-22.

Flags flew at half mast and the stock exchange suspended trading on Sadler's death at Launceston on 10 May 1923. Survived by his wife, four sons and three daughters, he was buried in Carr Villa cemetery, leaving an estate valued for probate at £2775. In his obituaries he was praised for his 'spontaneous and unostentatious acts of charity' and his 'cheerful personality, always ready to help but never obstruct'. His portrait by Gladstone Eyre in the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery depicts a figure of strength and rectitude, yet with kindly, paternal demeanour.

Select Bibliography

  • R. A. Ferrall, The Story of the Port of Launceston (Launc, 1983)
  • Examiner (Launceston), 16 Nov 1901, 11 May 1923
  • Daily Telegraph (Launceston), 11 May 1923
  • Weekly Courier (Launceston), 17 May 1923.

Citation details

Barbara Payne, 'Sadler, Robert James (1846–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 22 May 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

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