Robert Campbell (1769-1846) and Robert Campbell (1789-1851) – The Australian Campbells
Buscot’s Robert “Tertius” Campbell was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1811. He was a member of the Campbell dynasty. They were high achievers in both the old country (England and Scotland) and in the colonies (India, Australia, and to a lesser extent New Zealand). We will examine in summary form these two Campbells.
The patriarch was Robert Campbell senior (1769-1846). He was born at Greenock, Inverclyde, Scotland, and was a direct descendant of the Campbells of Duntrune (Duntroon) Castle on Lock Crinan, in Argyll. At the age of 27 he moved to India and with his brother John and partners they established Campbell Clarke Co. in Calcutta.
Here is a summary of Robert Campbell’s (1769-1846) life and key achievements:
- In 1797, at the age of 27, Robert Campbell in Calcutta renamed a vessel Sydney Cove and sent it to Sydney, New South Wales, with a cargo of alcohol, tea, porcelain, livestock and other goods. Although the ship was wrecked in Bass Strait, the crew was rescued and two-thirds of the cargo was recovered and brought to Sydney.
- The import trial was so successful and profitable that Campbell established a branch of Campbell and Co. in Sydney.
- Campbell took up residence in Sydney at Dawes Point (better known as The Rocks, Circular Cove).
- He built a private wharf, still known as Campbell’s Wharf (just to the north of the Overseas Passenger Ship Terminal) in Campbell’s Cove.
- Campbell established bond warehouses at The Rocks, which are still standing today.
- Campbell owned, built, and operated his own ships.
- He became a government contractor and leading import merchant in Sydney when, at the turn of the 19th century, the Australian colony was run as a gaol. There were few free settlers, and virtually nothing established in trade, commerce or agriculture. All administration lay in official hands.
- With his command of capital, perseverance and adaptability, Campbell used his skill to mobilise and realise the colony’s resources.
- With the support of colonial governors, the Colonial Office, and other official channels, he brought commercial endeavour that helped transform the penal settlement into a colony.
- Campbell established wholesale and retail outlets for his imported goods and spirits.
- Campbell was recognised and synonymous with fair trading, reduced prices and generous credit, and was publicly acknowledged by small settlers, officers and governor alike. A memorial from 200 settlers in 1804 concluded, “But for you, we had still been a prey to the Mercenary unsparing Hand of Avarice and Extortion”.
- He had close personal links with Sir Joseph Banks (botanist of James Cook fame); Governor William Bligh (of Bounty mutiny fame); Samuel Marsden (of New Zealand missionary fame), and many others.
- Campbell built Australia’s first shipbuilding yards in 1807, at Kirribilli. He built his own sailing ships there, like the brig Perseverance.
- Governor Bligh appointed him treasurer to the public funds, naval officer and collector of taxes.
- In 1809 Campbell chartered a ship, The Brothers and sent it to New Zealand under Captain Robert Mason. Unbeknown to Campbell, some of the crew were unscrupulous ex-convicts in search of their own adventures and were landed and left on the shores of Otago Harbour. They were the first identifiable Europeans recorded as landing in the area, although others probably preceded them. The offloaded sealers fraternised with some native Māori, particularly the unpartnered women, and upset many, leading to what become known as the thirteen-year-long feud called the Sealers’ War. The period included thievery, attacks, killings, cannibalism, and one sealer stole a preserved, tattooed head which was later sold in Sydney, notoriously starting the culturally offensive retail trade in heads.
- In search of profitable cargoes to fill his ships on return voyages to India and England, Campbell entered the seal oil and skin trade.
- One of Campbell’s ships, the Perseverance, captained by Frederick Hasselborough, discovered Campbell Island (named after him) with its main anchorage called Perseverance Harbour, named after his ship. This island, way south of New Zealand, was a rich source for seal skins and oils, until it was plundered by sealers within just a few years.
- Campbell was appointed as a member of the first New South Wales Legislative Council in 1825.
- He received 4,000 acres (16 square kilometres) of land and 710 sheep as compensation when Campbell’s ship Sydney was lost under a government charter. The land purchased was where Canberra ACT now stands. Robert Campbell built Duntroon homestead there, named after his ancestral Duntrune Castle at Argyll, Scotland.
- A suburb of Canberra is named after Robert Campbell.
- In the 1830s and 1840s Robert Campbell had large land holdings and squatter sheep farms in New South Wales and Victoria.
This Robert Campbell (1769-1846) was a pioneering and leading merchant, shipper, trader, landowner, pastoralist, philanthropist and politician based in Sydney. He was the patriarch of other Robert Campbells we are following in this Campbell connection to the Selwoods. In 1805 he returned to Sydney from a visit to England with his wife and young family and also brought with him his nephew, yes another Robert Campbell (1789-1851). This Robert Campbell was the father of Robert Tertius Campbell, our Buscot Robert Campbell discussed previously.
Robert Campbell junior (1789-1851) was called “junior” to distinguish him from his uncle. Little was it anticipated that there would be another two generations of Robert Campbells! Like his uncle, he was a successful merchant, entrepreneur and pastoralist. He too was born at Greenock Scotland, the eldest son of William Campbell (brother of Robert Campbell senior) who was a writer and town clerk of Greenock.
In 1805 his uncle, Robert Campbell senior, returned to Australia taking Robert with him. Here is a summary of his life and achievements:
- Arrived in Sydney Cove in August 1806, aged 17.
- Became a clerk in the mercantile house of Campbell & Co. at Sydney.
- Through the help of his uncle he obtained the official post of assistant Naval Officer which provided him “a handsome addition to his income”.
- While in his uncle’s counting house, Campbell engaged in occasional commercial speculations, and by 1810, aged 21, he had acquired some £1,000 “by Speculations in Trade and by fair dealings in the Colony”.
- Married Margaret Murrell in 1811 and had six children, the eldest being Robert Tertius Campbell (the Buscot Robert Campbell), born in 1811.
- Established a partner in a retail goods shop in Hunter Street, Sydney, in 1811 for which he received a half share of the profit.
- From 1813 conducted business from his own home in Bligh Street, downtown Sydney, and purchased a farm of 470 acres (190 ha) on Parramatta Road, with its garden, house, outbuildings and stables.
- Became a prominent member of Sydney’s commercial life as an importer and retailer of general goods with extensive interests. He stated that his successful trading and dealing between 1811 and 1813 had amounted to between £20,000 and £30,000 sterling.
- Tendered for the building of the Bank of New South Wales on his Bligh Street property and eventually became president of this bank in 1843-51.
- Besides being an importer, retailer, farmer, gold trader and speculator, horse racing was an abiding passion. Campbell was one of the first in the colony to participate in this sport, and embarking in race breeding. His stables in Bligh Street were well known to his contemporaries and, for some years, housed the famous Persian stallion Hector (now recognized as the foundation of Australian bloodstock).
- Socially he was convivial and charming, with the flair of a bon viveur, and displayed a sentimental and romantic temperament.
- Retired to England before the firm, affected in 1841 by the depression, had to write off £10,000 in bad debts. By 1844 Campbell & Co. was in liquidation, with its affairs in the hands of trustees.
- The partnership recovered, however, and after the increased demand for wool led to the opening up of new country, he financed landholding and bought wool in the Moreton Bay District.
- In partnership with his son, Robert Tertius Campbell (1811-1887), they prospered as gold buyers and speculators in the 1840s and 1850s.
- Campbell died at Sydney in 1851. He left a large personal fortune, and his property at Bligh Street Sydney later became the Union Club.
- Some of Campbell’s capital was diverted to New Zealand where the Campbells took up land interests in the 1860s.