Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Robert Matterson Vaughn (1833–1908)

by Ann-Mari Jordens

This article was published:

Robert Matterson Vaughn (1833-1908), by unknown photographer

Robert Matterson Vaughn (1833-1908), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 08578

Robert Matterson Vaughn (1833-1908), building contractor and politician, was born in Ohio, United States of America, son of Jesse Vaughn, farmer, and his wife Betsy, née Matterson. Educated at the Baptist Geauga Seminary, Chester, Ohio, in 1852 he sought his fortune on the Californian goldfields. Arriving in Sydney in 1853, he became a professional goldminer on the major diggings in New South Wales and Victoria.

On 12 February 1864 he married Sarah Anne, daughter of Thomas Colls, in St Clement's Anglican Church, Yass, New South Wales, and in 1867 settled in the gold-mining town of Grenfell where he became a partner in a company operating a steam-driven quartz-crushing machine. By 1875 he was proprietor of several steam sawmills and later set up an iron-foundry. Involved deeply in the local community, he was appointed magistrate on 16 February 1870, became president of the School of Arts next year and of the hospital in 1872, and on 10 June 1873 was appointed coroner for the district. By 1879 he was chairman of the Public School Board, a committee-man of the Pastoral, Agricultural, Horticultural and Industrial Association and of the Prospecting Association, a leading Anglican layman, steward for the races and from May 1879 commissioner of insolvent estates for the district. As chairman of the Railway League, with James Watson he led a deputation to the secretary for public works in a vain attempt to get the southern and western railways connected from Murrumburrah to Orange via Young, Grenfell and Forbes. He also owned land in Grenfell, was local agent for the Australian Mutual Fire Insurance Society and operated as a building contractor, successfully tendering to construct the Forbes post office. Later he set up business as a civil engineer in Sydney in partnership with J. H. May and became a director of the Illawarra Harbour and Land Corporation, acquiring large land holdings in the Lake Illawarra area.

In 1880 Vaughn was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Grenfell and was secretary for mines in Sir John Robertson's 1885-86 ministry. A staunch protectionist, he was returned at every election until 1889 when he was defeated by the free-trade candidate George Greene. He was re-elected in 1891 as the oldest of thirty-five members of the new Labor Party, twenty-one of whom were under 40; he could not conform to the 'solidarity' discipline of the party and was defeated in 1894 by M. J. Loughnane, a young Grenfell solicitor who had gained the support of the local Labor Electoral League. Able and energetic, Vaughn represented country interests, especially those of selectors. His speeches show liberal democratic sympathies, wide practical experience and sound common sense.

Vaughn became a member of the Grenfell Municipal Council in 1898-99; chairman of the progress committee, he was a trustee of the Show and Recreation Grounds in 1900. He moved to Sydney in 1903 and, aged 75, died of chronic endocarditis at his home in Paddington on 14 April 1908. Survived by his wife, five daughters and three sons, he was buried in the Anglican section of Rookwood cemetery. Vaughn Park in Grenfell is named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Nairn, Civilising Capitalism (Canb, 1973)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1883, 2nd S, 1149
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1889, 2, 57, 1898, 2nd session, 3, 777
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Oct 1879
  • Town and Country Journal, 16 Jan 1886, 5 Mar 1887
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 6 July 1894
  • Grenfell Record, 18 Apr 1908.

Citation details

Ann-Mari Jordens, 'Vaughn, Robert Matterson (1833–1908)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 20 July 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 Matterson Vaughn (1833-1908), by unknown photographer

Robert Matterson Vaughn (1833-1908), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 08578

Life Summary [details]


Ohio, United States of America


14 April, 1908 (aged ~ 75)
Paddington, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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.