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ROBERT MUIRHEAD – Investigator December 2021

of Yarram Yarram and Osborne House

By Daryl Wight

Robert Muirhead (1813? – 1862), shepherd and squatter, was born in Stirlingshire, Scotland, son of John Muirhead.  He was already ‘accustomed … to the management of sheep’ when he boarded the ship Rajah, at Leith, in April 1838, for the long journey to Australia.  The ship arrived in Hobart, Van Diemen’s Land, on 22 August 1838. 

Robert’s colonial hopes were quickly realised when he was contracted immediately by the Clyde Company for its pastoral holdings in the Port Phillip District (now Victoria). He took passage for Port Phillip on the brig, Francis, in October 1838.  By the end of 1838, Robert was working on the Golf Hill squatting run, near present day Shelford.  It comprised 72,700 acres, carrying 36,000 sheep; George Russell, superintendent.  

Given his experience in Scotland, there was discussion within the firm as to whether Robert would just help out with the task at hand – shearing – or be given a higher wage to tempt him to stay longer.  The fear was that, once he found his colonial feet, he would be in high demand in a District with few experienced hands.  Robert proved quiet and steady and, by June 1839, the run’s Middle station had become Muirhead’s station.  He was now an overseer, in charge of part of the Golf Hill run and various shepherds and huts. He stayed with the Clyde Company until the end of 1842.

In 1843, Robert became a squatter.  He took up the Tea Tree Creek run, firstly in partnership with William Ewing.  The Tea Tree Creek run comprised 6,400 acres, carrying 4000 sheep.  From 1846-1848, Ewing held the run.  Robert, this time in partnership with Edward Parker, again held the run from 1848-1852, at which time he gained sole control of the run until he sold it in 1855.

Robert expanded his holdings considerably when he took up the Yarram Yarram pastoral run in 1844.  Again he was in partnership with Edward Parker (1844-52) before it became his sole holding.  This run, at the foot of the Grampians, was 32,000 acres, carrying 13,000 sheep.  He also held the adjoining Pollockdale run to the south, of 16,000 acres, carrying 7,000 sheep, from 1853-59.

Robert’s main property was the Yarram Yarram run where his near neighbour was the squatter, Robert Adams, of Greenvale.  It was at Greenvale, on 26 January 1846, that Robert Muirhead married Mary Jane Adams, a native of Portglenone in county Antrim, Ireland, and sister of Robert Adams.  The Reverend Andrew Love, of Geelong, performed the rites.  

Robert Muirhead brought Mary Jane back to Yarram Yarram.  The following year, in a letter to a brother in Ireland, Mary Jane wrote that he would be ‘delighted with our place.  We are surrounded by the fine Grampians and Mount William.’ ‘Since I last wrote you, we have got a very good comfortable house built which has cost L200.  It has six rooms, the doors etc all cedar.’ ‘So we live most comfortably.’

Over the next ten years, Robert managed his various runs, taking seasonal trips to Geelong or Melbourne.  Mary Jane, confined six times, exchanged visits with her brother and sister-in-law.  Another brother, Dr George Hill Adams, visited for an extended period in 1848-49.  Throughout the 1850s, Robert maintained his pastoral runs and also acquired the Anakie Park estate and various parcels of land in Geelong.

In 1857, Robert engaged Melbourne architects Webb and Terry to build a town residence in Geelong on a bluff overlooking Corio Bay.  In 1859, the family turned their back on the interior of the colony and moved into Osborne House, a two storey bluestone house, with Barrabool freestone trim and a single storey colonnaded verandah.  Now classified by the National Trust, the house, extended over time, has had a number of individual and institutional owners over the years, including as offices for the Corio Shire (1937-93).

Robert died at Osborne House on 15 March 1862, aged 49 years.  He was buried in the Presbyterian section of Geelong’s Eastern Cemetery.  He was survived by his widow Mary Jane and three daughters; three other children having died in infancy.  His will provided for trustees to be appointed to administer his deceased estate.  Each daughter was given property in trust: Janette, the eldest, Anakie Park; Annie, the middle daughter, Osborne House; and Margaret, the youngest, land at Cowie’s Creek.  

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