Social history and biography of
Robert Sellar (Australian merchant, 1828-1900)
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Robert Sellar, for much of his life, was a Victorian merchant in Melbourne, Australia; he was the business partner of James McCulloch who went on to become a Premier of the state of Victoria. Little seems to have been published about Robert, so here is a small attempt to fill that gap.
Photo opposite: courtesy of the National Library of Australia, digitised newspapers, 'Leader' Melbourne Saturday 15th September 1900.
At the end of this page there are some miscellaneous snippets of information about others with local connections to the colony.
Robert Sellar (born Scotland 1828 - died Melbourne 1900) was the fourth of seven sons of Patrick Sellar (1780-1851) and Ann Craig. Robert's father, a sheep farmer, was very unpopular because he took an active part in the Highland Clearances, while employed as factor to the Duke of Sutherland.
The testament of Patrick Sellar (ref 1), and his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ref 2) together name his sons.
The seven sons were Thomas, a merchant in New Orleans, Patrick Plenderleath, a farmer in Scotland, William Young (see below), Robert, John Alexander, a merchant who moved to England, David Plenderleath an American merchant, and the youngest Alexander Craig Sellar, Scottish Advocate and MP.
Robert's nephew Walter Carruthers Sellar, son of his brother Patrick, became a school teacher and well known humorist writer.
Robert's elder brother William Young Sellar (1825-1890), an academic, married 1852, Eleanor Mary Dennistoun, daughter of wealthy Glasgow merchant Alexander Dennistoun of Golfhill (1790-1874). Robert's brother David married second in 1893, the grand-daughter of Alexander Dennistoun.
In 1907 Eleanor published her reminiscences (ref 1) in 'Recollections and Impressions' by E M Sellar, published by William Blackwood and Sons in 1907; these were stories mainly intended for her grandchildren. You should be able to read her book online by clicking here.
Eleanor writes that the land once owned by Patrick Sellar was purchased by Octavius Smith. Octavius was the uncle of Florence Nightingale, and the eighth child of William Smith (1756 - 1835) MP for Norwich, who fought for the abolition of slavery.
Perhaps influenced by his sister's marriage into the Dennistoun family, Robert joined the mercantile firm of A J Dennistoun.
In 1853 Robert travelled to Melbourne in the same year as James McCulloch, both in the employment of Alexander and John Dennistoun, to manage a branch of Dennistoun Brothers and Company in Australia.
The Dennistoun family were shipping and commission agents importing and exporting goods. At one time they had branches in Glasgow, London, Liverpool, France, Melbourne, New York, and New Orleans (from where cotton was exported). We have found references to the following,
J & A Dennistoun and Company, Glasgow
Dennistoun, Cross and Company, London
Dennistoun, Wood and Company, New York
A & J Dennistoun and Company, New Orleans
but have not yet explored who the other business partners were.
Robert's marriage was announced in the Argus newspaper, Melbourne, Monday 4th April 1859. The transcript reads,
2nd Inst, Christ Church, St Kilda
by Rev D Seddon MA
Robert Sellar Esq, merchant, Melbourne, to
Matilda Charlotte Swyer fifth
daughter of Robert Swyer Esq
of Kersall Lodge, near Manchester
The census tells us Robert Swyer was a wine merchant of Manchester England, who retired to Southampton, where he died in 1865.
Matilda's brother, Charles Robert Swyer, was a civil engineer, who emigrated from Eccles, near Manchester and arrived in Victoria in 1852. He was an architect and engineer who worked on railway survey and construction projects, later appointed Provincial Engineer in New Zealand 1862 - 1865 where he worked with William Barnett Armson. On 5th January 1858 Charles had married Clara Ellen Hall at Christ Church St Kilda, where his sister Matilda married in 1859.
Matilda's eldest sister Eliza Anne Swyer had earlier married 1st November 1854 at Christ Church, St Kilda, prominent architect and civil engineer Albert Purchas.
Charles Swyer and Albert Purchas were the architects of the 'new' Christ Church where building started circa 1854.
Matilda and Eliza must have been adventurous young women to accompany their brother Charles to the other side of the world.
McCulloch Sellar and Company
Closure of the Dennistoun office in Melbourne was announced in the Edinburgh Gazette on 1st October 1861 (ref 4). The transcript reads:
So it was, about 1862, following closure of the Dennistoun branch, James and Robert went into business on their own account forming McCulloch, Sellar and Company. Having learnt their trade, by working for the Dennistoun Brothers, they imported goods into the colony, operated warehouses, and exported bales of wool.
The following advertisement appeared in The South Australian Register on Tuesday 24th July 1866.
BARRET'S ANCHOR TOBACCO
The Undersigned having been APPOINTED SOLE AGENTS in the Australian Colonies for the entire Manufacture of the above Celebrated Brand of Twist, are in receipt of regular shipments direct from New York, which they offer for Sale in Lots to suit purchasers.
McCULLOCH, SELLAR, & CO, Queen-Street, Melbourne.
Other hints of their activities in the 1860s can be found in records of ship arrivals and departures (ref 5).
The Argus, Melbourne 24 June 1865
Kalahome, Barque 320 tons, cargo, coal
Scotsman, Brig 220 tons, from Mauritius
The Argus, Melbourne Monday 14 May 1866
Imports May 12. Veno, schooner, 221 tons, from Calcutta, 3,350 bags of sugar, 300 cases of castor oil, 130 bales of gunny bags, 3 cases of jellies, 769 bundles lines. McCulloch, Sellar and Co.
The Veno appears to have survived a hurricane later that year in which the steamer Cawarra was lost. There was no certainty cargo would arrive safely, so insurance was important. Read about other losses
The Argus, Melbourne, Monday 4 February 1867
Argo, 268 tons, 5,131 bags of sugar, 500 empty, from Mauritius
Anglia, 525 tons, 7,475 bags
The Argus, Melbourne, Monday 13 May 1867
Thomas Brown, Barque from Newcastle, departed in ballast.
The company also leased land for sheep farming from the crown. Sheep farming and the export of Merino wool was then a very profitable business. Even the famous tea clipper the Cutty Sark was at one time transporting bales of wool from Australia to England.
The 'Pastoral Possessions of New South Wales' published by William Hanson in 1889 records that circa 1885 the Mount Gipps Pastoral Holding (no 20) extended to 418,471 acres at a rent of £1,307 per annum.
Sources suggest the area had been named after Australian governor George Gipps (1797-1847).
Circa 1875 James McCulloch appointed his cousin George as manager of Mount Gipps Station.
Sometime between 1883 and 1885 silver was discovered near a rocky outcrop on their property, known as the 'Broken Hill'. In 1885 the Broken Hill Proprietary Company was formed to raise funds to mine the silver, and so it was that the town of Broken Hill was established. As far as we know James McCulloch and Robert Sellar did not acquire a mining lease or benefit.
The document 'Pastoral Possessions of New South Wales' suggests James McCulloch, Robert Sellar and James MacPherson leased another pastoral holding at Illiliwa in New South Wales that extended to 96,926 acres at a rent of £1,292 per annum. Do you know anything about that?
A National Trust of Australia (Victoria) document records Robert Sellar living in 1889 at newly built Northbrook House, 1257 High Street, Malvern, Melbourne. The house was built for Donald Munro, son of James Munro, Scottish born businessman, temperance leader and politician, who established the Federal Bank and became Premier of Victoria in 1890.
Robert Sellar is described as a merchant, member of the firm McCulloch, Sellar, and Co, wool and commission merchants, agents for Lancashire Fire Insurance Co, and Merchants' Marine Insurance Co, with offices in the St James buildings.
The directories show Sellar in High Street, Malvern in 1890. Following the transfer of the ownership of Northbrook House to the Federal Bank of Australia in 1893, Sellar is listed in Alma Road, Caulfield.
So far, we have not been able to discover anything about Leishman Brothers, but Leishman, Inglis and Company was another mercantile business recorded at 122 Cannon Gate, London who became agents handling the London end of the business for McCulloch, Sellar and Company.
They were also agents for the Australasian Mortgage and Agency, who provided funds for sheep farming in Australia. In 1879, Leishman, Inglis and Company are recorded as importing 19,816 bales of wool, and three years later 24,093 bales.
One of the partners was John Inglis born Kirkintilloch, Scotland 1823, died London 1922, who in the 1881 census was recorded as a Scottish Merchant of Phillimore Gardens, London, whose sister married Robert's business partner James McCulloch.
The London Gazette 22nd January 1901 reported that Leishman, Inglis and Company ceased to trade on 31st Dec 1900. The partners at that time were, John Inglis, John Eadie and Charles Murray Puckle, with offices at 22 Cannon Gate, London, and 395 Collins Street, Melbourne.
(Charles Murray Puckle was the son Reverend Edward Puckle who was one of the Canterbury Pilgrims, who landed in the 'Randolph' at Lyttleton Harbour, New Zealand in 1850. He remained in New Zealand only five years, and then came to Victoria where he became minister of St Thomas's Anglican Church in Melbourne. Sadly Charles's son, 2nd Lt Charles Edward Murray Puckle, 11th Battalion Australian Army was killed in action at Gallipoli in 1915 aged 28 years. He was a farmer of Mullewa, educated Melbourne Grammar School and Hawkesbury Agricultural College, ref 8; click to read more.)
Robert and Matilda had a daughter Ella Matilda Sellar born 1866 at St Kilda.
She married at Malvern, in 1887, Francis Joseph Fisher who was born 24 Aug 1859 in South Australia. Francis was the son of the Honourable Joseph Fisher, an accountant and Australian politician who became a Member of the Legislative Council. Joseph was born Yorkshire, England in 1834, married Anne Wood Farrar in 1857, and died Fullarton, South Australia in 1907.
The Argus, Melbourne Monday 12th December 1887 reported the marriage of Robert Sellar's daughter. The transcript reads,
On the 7th Inst, at St George's Church, Malvern, by the Rev C J Godby, MA, Francis Joseph, eldest surviving son of Joseph Fisher, of Woodfield, Adelaide, to Ella Matilda, daughter of Robert Sellar.
The couple had three children,
Matilda Gertrude Mabel born 1888
Guy born 1890
Hilda Madeline born 1892
The Argus, Melbourne, Thursday 6th September 1900, reported the death of Robert Sellar (ref 6). The transcript reads:
Robert Sellar died at Malvern in Australia, which is a suburb of the city of Melbourne in the state of Victoria.
It is no coincidence that the suburb of Malvern in Australia bears the name of our town in Worcestershire. The name is said to have arisen through the business activities of a judge named Charles Bruce Graeme Skinner, about 1853, click to see on this other page.
Charles Bruce Graeme Skinner born in India became a circuit judge in the state of Victoria.
He was the son of Samuel Skinner (1744-1864) of Shirley Park, near Croydon, Surrey, who had made his fortune as a circuit judge in Madras, India, and his wife, the society hostess Mary Skinner (née Routledge), who entertained a wide range of literary figures at their home. The Skinners were friends of Nathaniel Thomas Haynes Bayly (1797–1839), poet and playwright.
This branch of the Skinner family is said to date back to a Norman knight named Sir Robert Skinner, and forebears owned land in Ledbury in Herefordshire on the western edge of the Malvern Hills, some of which was later bought by the Cocks and Somers families.
There is a memorial in Ledbury church to wealthy clothier Edward Skynner died 1631 and his wife Elizabeth Hill, click for Ledbury church guide.
Charles acquired land in Melbourne which he planned to sell for development and intended to name an area Ledbury after the small town near the Malvern Hills in England. To encourage clients he built a small hotel which he named the Malvern Hill Hotel, and the area became known as Malvern instead.
Descendants of David Mitchell Fergusson, elder brother of water doctor John Campbell Fergusson of the Hydro, Great Malvern UK, lived in the East Malvern suburb of Melbourne in Australia (ref 9).
He is thought to have been invited to the colony by Australian governor George Gipps, but they did not get on and he returned to England.
The Lygon family of Madresfield Court, near Malvern in England, also had a connection with Australia.
1. Transcript of the testament of Patrick Sellar, scotlandspeople.gov.uk
2. Patrick Sellar, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
3. E M Sellar, Recollections and Impressions, William Black and Sons 1907
4. Edinburgh Gazette 1st October 1861.
5. National Library of Australia, Trove, Digitized Newspapers
6. Death of Robert Sellar, The Argus, Melbourne, Thursday 6th September 1900.
7. Communication from Robert Corless (AOM), Archivist, St Georges Church, Malvern, Australia
8. Game to the Last: The 11th Australian Infantry Battalion at Gallipoli
9. Communication from L Argaet, October 2016
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Last updated 3rd October 2016