Skip to main content

To help keep our visitors and staff safe, please book your spot before visiting.

Menu

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.

The Gallery’s Acknowledgement of Country, and information on culturally sensitive and restricted content and the use of historic language in the collection can be found here.

William Robertson

c. 1852
Thomas Bock (attributed)

daguerreotype, hand-coloured (case: 9.3 cm x 8.0 cm, image: 7.0 cm x 5.5 cm)

William Robertson (1798–1874), pastoralist and entrepreneur, was born in a village south of Inverness, Scotland, one of the eight children of farmer Donald Robertson and his wife Christina. With his brother, John, he emigrated to Van Diemen’s Land in 1822. They took up a 1400 acre land grant before establishing a business with their younger brothers, James and Daniel, on Elizabeth Street, Hobart, in 1832. In September 1834, he married Margaret Whyte (1811–1866), the daughter of free settlers George and Jessie Whyte, who had emigrated from Scotland in 1832. The first of William and Margaret’s seven children – three daughters and four sons – was born in 1835. By this time, Robertson had amassed sufficient capital to join a number of other investors in a scheme to expand pastoral activities to the Port Phillip district. These investors – known as the Port Phillip Association – helped finance John Batman’s explorations of Port Phillip in 1835, during the course of which Batman made a so-called ‘treaty’ with the local Aboriginal people that became the basis for his land claim. Robertson travelled to Port Phillip in 1836 and 1837, selecting land near present-day Sunbury and, later, Colac. By the late 1840s, he was a major landholder, his properties stocked with ‘the best bulls and cows that could be got in the colonies’. Robertson oversaw the operation of his pastoral empire from his home in Hobart until retiring from his business in 1852. He settled permanently at his Colac property, The Hill, in the 1860s, and was described on his death in 1874 as ‘a founder of Victoria’s fortunes’.

William Robertson was a significant patron of local artists. In 1849, he commissioned paintings of himself, Margaret, and their eldest child, Jessie, from Thomas Bock (1790–1855), an ex-convict who in the 1830s became one of Hobart’s most sought after portraitists. Bock was also one of the first practitioners of photography in Tasmania. Though it is not possible to firmly attribute this daguerreotype to Bock, it is reasonable to speculate that it may have been taken by him, given his association with the Robertson family.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Fiona Turner (née Robertson) and John Robertson 2011
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Thomas Bock (age 62 in 1852)

William Robertson (age 54 in 1852)

Subject professions

Agriculture and farming

Donated by

Fiona Turner (6 portraits)

John Robertson (6 portraits)

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Miss Robertson of Colac (Dolly), 1885-86
Miss Robertson of Colac (Dolly), 1885-86
Miss Robertson of Colac (Dolly), 1885-86
Miss Robertson of Colac (Dolly), 1885-86

Brothers on farms

Magazine article by Malcolm Robertson, 2011

Malcolm Robertson tells the family history of one of Australia's earliest patrons of the arts, his Scottish born great great great grandfather, William Robertson.

Self portrait
Self portrait
Self portrait
Self portrait

Fine and dandy

Magazine article by Joanna Gilmour, 2010

Whether the result of misadventure or misdemeanour, many accomplished artists were transported to Australia where they ultimately left a positive mark on the history of art in this country.

© National Portrait Gallery 2021
King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia

Phone +61 2 6102 7000
Fax +61 2 6102 7001
ABN: 54 74 277 1196

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.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency