Samuel Anderson – Born Kirkcudbright 1803 died Anderson, Victoria, Australia 1863

(kindly contributed by Tony Hughes, Australia)

Samuel Anderson.

Samuel was the first colonial pioneer settler east of Melbourne, Victoria, and the state’s third settler, just five months after John Batman foundered Melbourne, the state’s capital on the Yarra River at the top or northern end of Port Phillip Bay, in 1835. 

Thomas Horton and Kenneth Morris published an excellent book in 1983, ‘The Andersons of Western Port’, based on the exploits of Samuel, his younger brothers Hugh (1808-1898) and Thomas (1817-1903) and his close friend and business partner, Robert Massie (1809-1890).

When new information came to light after their 1983 book was published, the original research team followed it up and found why Samuel was in Western Port in the first place, when and how he arrived, together with lots of other information about his brothers and business partner who were not as portrayed in the book.

Virtually everything we know about Samuel, Robert, Hugh and Thomas is from archives and some family records; they didn’t keep journals or diaries, write many letters and avoided, even resisted “authority” at every opportunity. There is essentially no first hand record of their lives.  Pretty dry stuff indeed.

Samuel, a twin with Marion, was born in 1803 to Thomas and Janet (nee McNaught) Anderson in Kirkcudbright, Scotland, the fourth and fifth of their eleven children.  Thomas, a successful ship owner and merchant passed away in 1820, aged 52, leaving Janet to bring up ten surviving children.  By careful management of Thomas’s estate, we understand she kept the family together and provided the skills and knowledge for them to successfully find their own way in life.

Samuel’s last four years of education were at “Kirkcudbright Academy”, which must have served him well for his chosen career as bookkeeper.

There does not appear to be any record of when and why Samuel chose bookkeeping, what we think is that he was working for the London auditors of the Van Diemen’s Land Company (VDL Co.) as a bookkeeper prior to 1830.  VDL Co. was established by a group of eleven London financiers in 1824 to supply fine wool to British textile mills. The Company was granted a Royal Charter for 350,000 acres of remote, rugged, windswept land far from any settlement on the north-west corner of Van Diemen’s Land (VDL (Tasmania)) by King George IV in 1825. A lot of this land has since been sold, but with the only Royal Charter still in place in Australia, the Company continues as a modern, successful, dairy farming operation.

Samuel arrived in Hobart Town, VDL, in September 1830 and applied for a job with the Company through their town agent.  In need of a replacement Storekeeper and with an excellent reference of Samuel just to hand by one of their Company Auditors via the VDL Co., London based Court of Directors, Edward Curr, the Company’s Chief-Agent decided to interview Samuel for the vacant position. So impressed was Curr after the interview, he changed his mind and appointed Samuel bookkeeper with the recently appointed incumbent reporting to Samuel.   The Company books were soon brought up to date and remained so for the remaining five years Samuel was at the VDL Co.’s Head Office, Circular Head (Stanley, Tasmania).   The qualities of competency and good character seen in him by others were clearly and consistently demonstrated.

Robert Massie, a qualified Civil Engineer appointed by the Court of Directors to look after all VDL equipment and install a new saw mill and new flour mill, got on well with Samuel, the two soon becoming good friends.

There is sufficient evidence to support the contention that Samuel and Robert entered into a business partnership as traders with Samuel already operating his own local whaling business at Circular Head.  The proceeds from whaling most likely gave Samuel the funds needed to purchase a small single masted sloop, Rebecca, and venture across Bass Strait to Western Port on the southern shores of New Holland (Victoria, Australia) to harvest lucrative wattle bark for the leather tanning trade.

As the son of a ship owner and merchant in Kirkcudbright, no doubt Samuel was familiar with seafaring, trading and agriculture. During his five years at Circular Head, Samuel would have observed the Company’s agricultural and grazing pursuits first hand, been aware of the ”War with Aborigines” and the acrimonious relationships the Company and Curr had with settlers, the press and Colonial Administration.

At the time he first sailed to Western Port in 1835, all interest in land for agriculture and grazing was based around Port Phillip Bay, settled just five months before by John Batman and his party, closely followed up by John Pascoe Fawkner and his party. It is important to note that Captain Lancey in Fawkner’s party had described Western Port as unsuitable for settlement just weeks before.  This was widely reported and discussed at the time and it is reasonable to suggest Samuel would have been aware of this before departure.   Several early explorers had suggested the area around the Bass River suitable for settlement, but most “official” reports de-bunked the idea.

Bass first Post Office. sketch by Clive Stephen

 

Such was Samuel’s ability, Robert was prepared to join him in July 1837. They soon gave up wattle bark trading, sealing, whaling and shipping to concentrate on farming, expanding to around 160 acres by 1842, growing wheat, potatoes, vegetables and pears.

 

Samuel and Robert went on to build a ship, the Alpha and a tidal powered flour mill on the river flats, near where Rebecca was first moored and after the partnership broke up, Samuel built a salt works on nearby tidal flats

Flour Mill circa 1850

Robert left the partnership and married in late 1845, going on to enjoy a full and productive life as a father, farmer and engineer.

Samuel’s younger brother Hugh, a bachelor, joined Samuel in 1837, became a flour-miller, significant landowner and pastoralist.

Thomas, Samuel’s youngest brother, a Master Mariner joined his brothers in 1842. He returned to sea around 1845, married in 1852 and re-joined Hugh in Gippsland as a father, landowner and pastoralist.

Netherwood

Samuel, a bachelor, for reasons we will never know, died alone and intestate in a hut on Thomas’s land and was buried beside it (with Christian rites) in an unmarked grave.

Samuel’s gravestone

Samuel is remembered by “Anderson Inlet”, which he discovered together with the Tarwin River and the three brothers are remembered by the location, “Anderson”, near where the farm was established and the two younger brothers had properties.

 

 

Three of the original orchard pear trees are still alive some 180 years later, two are struggling, but the third is thriving with a bumper crop of fruit this season.

 

Did growing up in Kirkcudbright give Samuel pioneering qualities, those needed to see the potential of land others couldn’t, the character which prompted others to join him and the determination to create a successful and productive farm in the wilderness?

We will never know why a Scottish boy playing in the broad and busy streets beside the River Dee chose bookkeeping as a career, to become a trader, pioneer, farmer, explorer and an important part of Victoria’s early colonial history.

You have every reason to be proud of this Kirkcudbright son, a true pioneer in every sense of the word, a strong and determined man who treated the local Aborigines and paid workers with respect, worked hard to provide something useful, food, while taking every opportunity to avoid and indulge the English Colonial Administration, a true Scotsman indeed!

AGH: 17th April 2018