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ANDREW SUTHERLAND LOW – Investigator December 2021

Sydney investor, briefly owner of Osborne House

By Daryl Wight

Andrew Sutherland Low (1831-94), was a Sydney factory owner, mining investor and real estate developer, who owned Osborne House, Geelong, for a brief period in the 1880s.  

He was born in Golspie, Sutherlandshire, Scotland, son of John Low, merchant, and his wife Margaret Sutherland.  He is said to have arrived in Melbourne around the time gold was discovered and presumably tried his luck on the goldfields.  By 1870, he was in New South Wales at the time of the Gulgong gold rush.  He part-owned the successful Happy Valley claim; his share reputedly worth 10,000 pounds.  

It was also in Gulgong that Andrew met Thomas Alexander Browne, Police Magistrate and Mining Registrar – better known as the novelist, Rolfe Boldrewood.  For the rest of his life, Andrew is said to have boasted that a character in Robbery Under Arms was based on him.

Andrew put his goldmining windfall to good use.  He started the Australian Tin Smelting Company, at Pyrmont, in Sydney, firstly in partnership with John Meeks (dissolved 1881) and, later, with a Mr Kelly.  He also started on a profitable real estate development career.

Aged 42 years, and with money to support a wife, Andrew formed a relationship with an 18-year-old Mary Ann Thompson.  Their first child, a girl, was born in 1874 in his bachelor cottage in Newtown, an inner Sydney suburb.  A second daughter was born two years later.  Their eldest son was born in May 1877 in Sydney.  

To all the world they appeared a married couple but in June 1877, across the border in Victoria, the couple were legally married at St Luke’s Church, Emerald Hill (now South Melbourne).  Presumably, the consent of the bride’s guardian had been withheld when the couple wished to marry at an earlier date.

In the mid-1870s, Andrew rented a large house, Sunnyside, on seven acres at Concord, near Sydney, to accommodate his growing family.  All the while he was looking for a permanent home befitting his increasing commercial standing and large family.

Andrew purchased 76 acres at Merrylands, near Parramatta, in 1876 and over the next few years built a two-storey villa, called Sutherland House, on the site.  He improved the estate with trees, an orchard and an ornamental lake.  

Andrew’s commercial dealings were extensive.  He bought, sold or rented out many properties in Sydney’s central business district and developed suburban land into housing estates.  He had interests in several mining ventures, largely related to his smelting business.

In March 1886, Andrew sold his household furniture at Sutherland House and rented out the estate.  He had purchased Osborne House in Geelong, a substantial two-storey bluestone mansion situated on a bluff overlooking Corio Bay.  Mrs Low’s sister, Mrs Frederic Douglass, resided at Geelong and was, presumably, the catalyst for such a move.

In April 1886, Mr & Mrs Low, seven children and nurse took the express train from Sydney.  They had rented furniture from the former occupant of Osborne House, Mrs Maguire, and took only a few items with them.  They were part of the first rank of Geelong society.  Andrew was elected a member of the Geelong Club, presumably nominated by his brother-in-law.

It appears the family made a trip to England in 1887 and was away for a year.  In May 1888, advertising from Osborne House, Andrew announced his wish to rent a house in Melbourne for twelve months.  Perhaps he was unable to conduct his business affairs satisfactorily from Geelong?  In the end, a Melbourne residence was not rented and Osborne House was sold.  The family returned to Sydney in October 1888 and rented the two-storey, sandstone Kilkerran, in Randwick, until Sutherland House was again available.

Andrew, generally a private person, became involved in numerous local ventures at Merrylands.  He was president of the Central Cumberland Protection League.  He was patron of one, and vice-president of another, local cricket club.  He offered to plant trees to beautify the local park.

Now in his 60s, Andrew showed no signs of slowing down.  In 1891, he became a director of the Mulgoa Irrigation Company and, in 1894, a director of the Ernest Giles Gold Prospecting and Exploration Company.

He died suddenly, in his bath, on the morning of 1 September 1894.  The inquest which followed pronounced ‘natural causes’.  His obituarist described him as a ‘thoroughly conscientious, straight-dealing man, whose word was his bond.’  He was buried in Rookwood Cemetery, Sydney.

Although his estate was valued for probate at 19,055 pounds, it was sequestered by creditors worried about their interests and Andrew’s exposure to the property market.  After an orderly disposal of some assets, there was clearly a surplus owing to the estate and the bankruptcy was cancelled in 1899.

Mrs Low, worried about her young family’s financial future, let Sutherland House for a term of years.  She and much of her family moved to Western Australia – a State of much promise, given the recent gold discoveries there.  She died in Perth in 1938.

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