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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mather, Robert (1782–1855)

by Robert Mather

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

Robert Mather, n.d.

Robert Mather, n.d.

University of Tasmania, 3036

Robert Mather (1782?-1855), retailer, was born on 1 May 1782? at Lauder near Berwick upon Tweed, Northumberland, England, eldest son of Andrew Mather, blacksmith and farrier, and his wife Agnes, née Hamilton. He had little formal education but developed a sturdy, practical and independent character. At 14 he went to London, where he was apprenticed to a Scottish hosier for seven years and then set up for himself and became a member of the Weavers' Company and a freeman of the city. In the new Methodist movement his warm emotional temperament found a congenial atmosphere. On 16 October 1811 at St Luke's, Old Street, London, he married Ann, daughter of Rev. Joseph Benson and his wife Sarah, née Thompson; they had seven children, of whom one daughter and four sons survived infancy.  

Mather became interested in emigrating to Van Diemen's Land because of representations from Rev. William Horton, Wesleyan minister at Hobart Town, to his co-religionists in England seeking to entice industrious and God-fearing men to emigrate. He was also influenced by the publications of William Charles Wentworth and Lieutenant Charles Jeffreys. In October 1821 he sailed with his family in the Hope, but the ship was damaged at sea, put back to Ramsgate and was seized by the Customs for being overloaded. The family sailed again in the Heroine and arrived in Hobart on 10 September 1822.

Mather secured a house on Potter's Hill and set up in business, for the goods and implements in which he had invested his capital had reached Hobart before him. For a few months he was in partnership with Henry Hopkins. Early in 1823 Mather moved to London House, which he had built as a residence and place of business at the corner of Elizabeth and Liverpool Streets. In that year he was appointed a foundation trustee of the Wesleyan Church. His conscience did not allow him to apply for a land grant, because the residence conditions clashed with his wish to live in town where his children could be educated to his satisfaction. However, the regulations were changed in 1824 and he was granted 1200 acres (486 ha) at Muddy Plains; by later grant and purchase he held some 2000 acres (809 ha) which he called Lauderdale.

His wife died in 1831, and a few months later he closed his Hobart business and moved to his farm. At Muddy Plains he did all he could to encourage his neighbours and servants in religious observance. He held services in his home and established a Sunday school, with his family's help endeavouring to teach the children to read. In August 1832 and later, Lauderdale was visited by the Quaker missionaries, James Backhouse and George Washington Walker. In 1837 Mather became a member of the Society of Friends, and in 1840 Walker married Mather's daughter Sarah.

Mather's land was poor but he continued to sink large sums in unremunerative development of his farm; his financial position deteriorated and in February 1836 he was declared insolvent. Helped by friends, he made a fresh start in business in Hobart with his two elder sons. The business prospered, all his creditors were repaid and the moneys subscribed by his friends fully refunded. On 18 August 1842 he married Esther, sister of Captain James Dixon of the Skelton, who had published in London his Narrative of a Voyage to New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land in the Ship Skelton During the Year 1820.

Throughout his life Mather always tried to apply his religious principles in business. For his great integrity and generous and confiding nature, he earned widespread respect and affection. He died in Hobart on 26 March 1855.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Backhouse and C. Tylor, The Life and Labours of George Washington Walker (Lond, 1862)
  • S. Benson, ‘Memoir of Mrs Ann Mather’, Wesleyan-Methodist Magazine (London), Apr 1836
  • S. Benson, ‘Letter to the Editors’, Wesleyan-Methodist Magazine (London), Jan 1857, pp 88-89
  • Critic (Hobart), 22, 29 Sept, 7, 13, 20, 27 Oct, 3, 10, 17 Nov 1922
  • Walker papers (University of Tasmania Library)
  • Mather papers (University of Tasmania Library).

Citation details

Robert Mather, 'Mather, Robert (1782–1855)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 2 October 2020.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Robert Mather, n.d.

Robert Mather, n.d.

University of Tasmania, 3036