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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

A charming prospect

On appearance, education and net worth, William Robertson might well have found a well-to-do British girl for his wife. Instead, he fell for a woman cut from the same colonial cloth.

1 William Robertson and Martha Mary Robertson, 1863 William Edward Kilburn. 2 Martha Mary Robertson with her child William St Leonards Robertson, c. 1865 an unknown artist. 3 William St Leonards Robertson, c. 1865 an unknown artist. 4 William and Martha Mary Robertson and their children [William St Leonards, Eliza, John, William St Leonards on a horse, Beatrice and Ida], 1860s-1870s Various.

William Robertson was born in Hobart, but like the sons of many upwardly mobile colonists was sent ‘home’ to be prepared for a gentlemanly life. Having graduated from Oxford in 1862, his next task was to secure a bride. Enter one Martha Mary Murphy, age nineteen. Martha was from a fabulously successful colonial family too. Her father, a brewer, had emigrated to Tasmania and then, like William’s father, availed himself of property in Victoria. William and Martha married in England in 1863 and their first child was born there in 1864. Another four children were born after they’d returned to Victoria. In 1874, William inherited The Hill, near Colac, one of several pastoral properties he managed in partnership with his brothers. A barrister and member of the Legislative Assembly, he was ‘much better fitted to shine in social life’, his obituary said, ‘being a man of amiable disposition and high private character’.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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