“Bullocky” Robinson – Part 1

On 29 May 1873, James Robinson and Hannah Slade married at the home of Mr Richard Perring in Wentworth, New South Wales.  At the time of their marriage James was a stockman working at Gol Gol Station in western New South Wales near the banks of the Murray River and not far from the township of Mildura. 

Image from the book “Mungo 1788 – 1901”

Gol Gol was harsh country to some of the first colonists in the late 1860’s to New South Wales who had endeavours to be graziers in the Mallee. .  This remote station spanned over 200,000 hectares of land but continued to be impacted by long periods of drought and massive storms.   At the time of his marriage in 1873 Gol Gol Station was owned by the Peppin brothers who sold Gol Gol Station in 1875 to John Patterson.  

Pastoral Runs of Victoria and NSW

By 1874, James and Hannah, were living on Para Station a large cattle and sheep station consisting of over 528,000 acres and recorded as having one of the largest stock returns in the district.  It would later be bought and renamed as part of Avoca Station and owned by the Cudmore family.  In this same year on 5 March 1874, Hannah gave birth to their first son, William James.  They would then move to Wentworth where Hannah would go on to have another four children Sarah Ann (1874), Mary (1881), Jane (1882), Robert (1883) and George (1885).  Sadly her two sons, Robert and George, would die soon after birth and it would be her last pregnancy in 1885 that would claim Hannah’s life.

On 2 January 1885, after giving birth to her son, George, Hannah passed away from a dynamic puerperal fever, a bacterial infection that occurs following child birth.  One month later, George, would also pass away.  At only 35 years of age, Hannah, left behind her husband and four young children.  Heavily reliant on his income as a stockman to support his young family, Hannah’s younger sister, Harriet Matilda, would support James and his children.  

One year after Hannah’s death, James and Harriet Matilda married on 19 December 1886.  Their family grew with Harriet Matilda giving birth to four more children, John Albert who died at birth, Issac John (1888 – 1907), George Frederick (1891 – 1961) and May Emma Elizabeth (1896 – 1988).

During the late 1880’s James bought some 200 bullocks and become a contractor working for the Chaffey brothers, George and William, from 1888 and was responsible for excavating some of the 170 miles of irrigation channels..  The Chaffey brothers were respected pioneers of the Mallee district for their instrumental work in establishing the irrigation channels that were vital for supporting the many fruit growers who would settle in the Mallee district.  It may be that James met the Chaffey brothers while working at Avoca station, which they bought and farmed until its sale years later.  As a bullock driver in addition to his work building irrigation channels, James was also responsible for sinking dams and building roads across the district. 

James soon become known as “Bullocky” Robinson and was one of the first to work at “Rio Vista” the grand estate of Mr William Chaffey.  He also used his team of bullocks to cart between Menindee and Broken Hill when he would live in a galvanised iron shed on the banks of the river where he remained until his home was built in Mildura.

On 21 September 1907, James and Harriet’s son Issac John passed away after a six month illness with acute nephritis that resulted in heart failure.  Their two remaining children George Frederick and May Emma Elizabeth would go on to live into their later years.  George would have four children to Elizabeth Cramp.  May while she remained single into her older years would take over a caring role for her brother’s children, particularly the youngest John Edward, after their mother Elizabeth left when John was just an infant. 

After the birth of their children James and Harriet moved to Mildura and remained there until their deaths.

Four years before James’ death on 14 October 1923 at the age of 75 years, James became ill and as a result of blood poisoning had part of his arm amputated.  It was following this that his health declined and led to his passing. 

In his obituary it was written that he was a early pioneer of the mallee district and renown as being well respected and a popular identity in the district.  His friend Steele Blayde would write “we of the bushland, who have followed the tracks through the silences will miss him“.  He would go on to say that Bullocky “did not belong in town and was more at home in some camp in the mallee” and concludes his obituary saying “lets hope the long western track is pleasant travelling’ for the old bushman and a permanent camp at the end of a tree“.

Harriet Matilda would outlive her late husband, James, for another 23 years and die on 9 September 1946 and like her husband was recognised as one of the early pioneers of the Mildura district.

Robinson Grave – Mildura Cemetery

You may be wondering why I have told James Robinson’s life storey from 1873 when he was working as a stockman at Gol Gol Station. Well James became my first “brickwall” in my genealogy journey. His life in Australia is well documented through official records, media articles and literature (that I am yet to fully explore), however my brickwall became apparent when I was unable to find records of how he got to Australia and who is parents and family were.

In part 2 of Bullocky Robinson, Ancestor Detective will delve into the official records found for James and write about how little clues left in these documents leads her back to his birth, parents and hopefully how he ended up in Australia. I hope this will help you knock down some of your genealogy brickwalls.

Registration of Marriage, James Robinson to Hannah Slade, 29 May 1873, Wentworth, NSW. NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Sydney, NSW. Copy in possession of author.

Office of Environment and Heritage, 2020, Understanding Mungo Pastoral Heritage, accessed 17 January 2020 at http://www.visitmungo.com.au/pastoral-history

Australian Government, n.d, Mungo 1788 – 1901, accessed 17 January 2020 at http://www.visitmungo.com.au/downloads/mungo-book-1788-1901.pdf

Registration of Birth, William James Robinson, 5 March 1874, Para Station, NSW. NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Sydney, NSW. Copy in possession of author.

Office of Environment and Heritage, 2020, Avoca Homestead Complex, accessed 17 January 2020 at https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=5062573

Registration of Death, Hannah Robinson, 2 January 1885, Wentworth, NSW. NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Sydney, NSW. Copy in possession of author.

Registration of Marriage, James Robinson to Harriet Matilda Slade, 19 December 1886, Wentworth, NSW. NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Sydney, NSW. Copy in possession of author.

Lapthorne, Alice, 1981, Mildura Calling, The Sunnyland Press, pg. 26

Mildura Cultivator, 17 October 1923, A Pioneers Death – The Late Mr J. A Robinson of Mildura.

Registration of Death, Issac John Robinson, 21 September 1907, Mildura, VIC. Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Melbourne, VIC. Copy in possession of author.

Mildura Cultivator, n.d, “Bullocky” Robinson.

Registration of Death, Harriet Matilda Robinson, 9 September 1946, Mildura, VIC. Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Melbourne, VIC. Copy in possession of author.

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With a love of genealogy and research, I started my blog Ancestor Detective. My passion for this field continues to grow and I am starting to pursue a part time career in delving into the lives of other peoples ancestors.

3 thoughts on ““Bullocky” Robinson – Part 1”

  1. I like that you’ve told us a lot about the area of Australia that your family lived in. Often hard times, indeed. And I’m looking forward to reading ‘Part 2’. I’m always interested in thinking about how people adapted to such different lives after emigration.


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