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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Fitzgerald, Robert (1807–1865)

by E. C. B. MacLaurin

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Robert Fitzgerald (1807-1865), pastoralist and politician, was born on 1 June 1807 at Windsor, New South Wales, the second son of Richard Fitzgerald and his wife Mary, née Ford. He was educated at Fulton's School in Sydney. At 21 his father gave him capital, mostly in livestock, and by 1830 he had been granted 500 acres (202 ha) at Rylstone. In 1832 he acquired more land in partnership with William Lawson on the Liverpool Plains and about 1835 Yarraman by a deal with Bonegarley, 'King of Yarraman Plains', receiving official recognition when Fitzgerald paid cash for the land. In 1840 he inherited his father's lands and the agency for Mrs Elizabeth Macquarie's estate. In his own right he had acquired 19,814 acres (8019 ha) in the County of Bligh, 400 square miles (1036 km²) in the Gwydir district, farms in the County of Cumberland and extensive leases on the Liverpool Plains. On 24 February 1855 the Freeman's Journal could reckon that he was fourth among the colony's 'cormorant squatters'.

In 1840 Fitzgerald became a director of the Bank of New South Wales. With his home in Windsor he was active in local affairs and a judge at the Sydney races. On 11 March 1841 he married Elizabeth Henrietta, daughter of Richard Rouse, who brought to him Mamre, St Marys, as her dowry. In November he became a magistrate and in 1842 Master of the Social Lodge, Windsor (Irish Constitution). In 1843 he told electors in the Cumberland Boroughs that he advocated a 'just and liberal system of public education' but refused to recognize 'invidious distinctions' in the selection of immigrants. He stressed his deep interest 'as an Australian, in all that concerns the welfare of the land that gave me birth'. He was defeated by one vote and his supporters rioted at Windsor. Meanwhile he had become a member of the Windsor District Council and was active on a committee against squatters' licences.

In 1849 Fitzgerald, despite his equivocal attitude to transportation and the opposition of the Sydney Morning Herald, easily defeated Archibald Michie in a by-election for the County of Cumberland, retaining his seat until responsible government in 1856. He was appointed to the new Legislative Council and reappointed in 1861 for life. By 1857 he had rebuilt Springfield, Darlinghurst, and lived there when in Sydney. In addition to his pastoral holdings, Fitzgerald acquired much real estate in Sydney. In 1861 he rebuilt the burnt-out Prince of Wales Theatre (Theatre Royal) in Castlereagh Street. He gave £100 to the organ fund of the University of Sydney.

Fitzgerald died from paralysis on 9 May 1865 at Springfield and was buried in St Matthew's cemetery, Windsor. He was survived by his second wife Charlotte, née Bennett, whom he had married on 8 October 1864, and by one son and five daughters of his first marriage. He left an estate of £90,000 which did not include his pastoral empire.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vol 22
  • M. Roe, Quest for Authority in Eastern Australia 1835-1851 (Melb, 1965)
  • R. L. Knight, Illiberal Liberal: Robert Lowe in New South Wales, 1842-1850 (Melb, 1966)
  • Australian, 11, 23 July 1840
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 Jan, 10 Aug 1843, 30 Apr 1844
  • manuscript catalogue and newspaper indexes under Robert Fitzgerald (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Colonial Secretary's land letters, 2/7852 (State Records New South Wales)
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

E. C. B. MacLaurin, 'Fitzgerald, Robert (1807–1865)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

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