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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Gray, Robert (1839–1931)

by S. J. Routh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Robert Gray, by E. Spike, c.1905

Robert Gray, by E. Spike, c.1905

State Library of Queensland, 193938

Robert Gray (1839-1931), military officer and pastoralist, was born on 4 February 1839 at Hughenden Manor, West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England, eldest of eight children of Charles Gray, clerk, later clergyman, and his wife Agnes, née Norris. Educated at Marlborough and at Brighton College, Robert joined the 97th Regiment of Foot in April 1857 as an ensign. Embarking for India, he served with the force commanded by Brigadier-General (Sir) Thomas Franks, which routed mutinous sepoys in Oudh before joining in the final recapture of Lucknow in March 1858. Gray fought in the taking of the Kaiser Bagh there. He was later adjutant of the 4th Sikh Cavalry and the 7th Bengal Cavalry. Granted six months leave, he visited Sydney in 1862. On 19 November at St Mark's Church of England, Alexandria, he married Charlotte Grayson, daughter of Rev. Wiliam Sowerby. Next year Gray resigned his commission and the couple returned to Sydney.

With his cousin Ernest Henry, Robert sailed to Port Denison (Bowen), Queensland, then travelled inland to a cattle station that Henry had near Mount McConnel and the Burdekin River. Gray bought 1800 sheep, and entered into partnership with Henry. They then took up land in the Flinders River region, naming their station Hughenden. Lottie Gray was the first woman of British descent in the region. Over-extended financially, Henry sold his share of Hughenden to Robert's brother Charles in 1865. Charles and his first wife Lucy were at Hughenden or Glendower, an outstation principally used for cattle, most of the time from 1868 to 1876. Lucy was an energetic rider, and also left vivacious descriptions of outback travel and station life. Another brother Mowat participated in the enterprise for some years. From late 1874 to 1876 Robert took Lottie on a visit to Sydney, Goulburn and on to England.

There was a preliminary survey for a township at Hughenden in 1877. When the railway reached there in 1887 it became easier to move both wool and livestock to market. In 1891 Gray shore 80,000 sheep. Described as still 'of smart build, and of quiet, cheerful disposition' late in his Australian career, he sold out in 1911. 'Of my contemporaries in the Hughenden district none remain there', he wrote.

Robert and Lottie retired to live in England in 1912, and his Reminiscences of India and North Queensland 1857-1912 were published next year. In them he described, almost imperturbably, battles in India; times as his own shepherd when workers found isolation and Aborigines too frightening; 'fever and ague'; lack of meat markets until the Cape River (1867) and later mineral strikes; droughts and cyclones. He was not as successful as his neighbour Robert Christison in relations with Aborigines, but did for a time use South Sea Islanders as shepherds. The detail of the Reminiscences petered out when he reached the mid-1870s but the book adds an extra dimension to the story of the occupation of the Flinders region.

Lottie died in February 1921; they had had no children. On 3 August that year at St Dominic's Catholic Church, St Pancras, London, the widower married 41-year old Jane McBreen. Robert Gray died on 24 March 1931 at Kensington, London. The funeral took place at Godmanchester, Huntingdonshire. His estate was sworn for probate at £14,235.

Select Bibliography

  • G. B. Malleson (ed), Kaye’s and Malleson’s History of the Indian Mutiny of 1857-8 (Lond, 1888-89)
  • J. B. Burke, A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Colonial Gentry, vol 2 (Lond, 1895)
  • J. Black, North Queensland Pioneers (Townsville, Qld, 1932?)
  • D. F. and J. Erricker (compilers), Official Souvenir of the Centenary of Settlement in Hughenden and District 1863-1963 (Hughenden, Qld, 1963)
  • A. Allingham, Taming the Wilderness (Townsville, Qld, 1978)
  • Pastoralists’ Review, Nov 1906, p 755, Dec 1906, p 837
  • Cummins and Campbell’s Monthly Magazine, Oct 1934, p 83
  • Queensland Heritage, 1, no 1, Nov 1964, p 11
  • 1, no 2, May 1965, p 17
  • Times (London), 26 Mar 1931, p 16.

Citation details

S. J. Routh, 'Gray, Robert (1839–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 30 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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