21-03-1871: Struan House, Launceston, Tasmania, Australia.

In Cameron-street in Launceston, Tasmania, stands the historical Supreme Court Building originally built in 1870-71 as “Struan House”[1] for the wealthy Scottish Colonist James Robertson. It was designed by architect Peter Mills[2] and constructed by building contractor Edward Ford.

In 1893 the building was used as a private maternity hospital and in 1929 was acquired by the Tasmanian Government for use by the Launceston Supreme Court.

During the construction of Struan House in early 1871 the Launceston Examiner tabloid reported;

“…We must not omit to mention that the side and fan lights of the entrance door, and of the doors leading out on to the verandah and balcony are glazed with rich designs in stained glass, manufactured by the well known firm of Ferguson, Urie, and Lyon, of Melbourne…”[3]

In 2011, enquiries revealed that there is still an original piece of Ferguson & Urie stained glass above a doorway in the building having the year 1870 emblazoned on it!

On the 18th April 2011 Mr Chris Nason, wrote:

“Dear Ray, Thankyou for your email. I confirm that Struan House does still exist and has been maintained as part of the Supreme Court since 1929. In terms of stained glass the only item that remains is above a door that opens onto the north facing balcony. I have taken a couple of shots of the window and attached for you. Unfortunately the shot from outside is not great. I hope this is of some use to you. Regards Chris Nason, District Registrar, Supreme Court of Tasmania…“

Photos kindly provided by Mr Chris Nason, 18th April 2011.

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James Robertson (1800- 18741800- 1874).

James Robertson was a native of Alvey, Inverness-shire, Scotland and arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in the early 1820’s where he joined his brothers John, William and Daniel, breeding sheep and cattle in the Campbelltown district.

Later they diversified to form Robertson Brothers Mercantile Importers in Elizabeth Street Hobart in 1829[4], run by John & William, and in Brisbane-street Launceston in 1831[5], headed by James and Daniel.

On the 18th of November 1833, at St David’s Church in Hobart, James married Mary McDonald, daughter of Roderick McDonald of Glengarry[6].

James had been a Justice of the Peace in Launceston since September of 1843 and was a supporter of the anti-transportation of convicts to the colony. In 1853 he declined requests to stand for the election of the first Mayor of Launceston[7] which was subsequently won, under much controversy, by William Stammers Button.

He was a local director of the Union bank of Australia and had been Captain and Paymaster of the Volunteer Artillery[8] and for many years was the treasurer[9] of the Launceston branch of the ‘St Andrew’s Society’ [10]

In January 1841 his brother Daniel had decided to dissolve his partnership leaving James as sole proprietor of the Launceston Mercantile business[11]. Just over twelve months later, on the 12th March 1842, Daniel drowned in the Esk River whilst on a fishing trip with friends[12]. In 1848 unknown persons referred to as “miscreants” attempted to rob Daniel’s grave![13].

In February 1850 James’ wife Mary died at the age of 35 [14] and on the 28th of May 1851 he married Mary’s younger sister Margaret, the eighth daughter of Roderick McDonald of Glengarry[15].

James Robertson died on the 1st of April 1874[16] and was interred in the Robertson family vault at the Scotch Cemetery in Launceston[17]. His wife Margaret died on the 3rd of September 1891[18].

His former residence ‘Struan House’ now forms part of the Launceston Supreme Court. Only the top portion of a fan light window above a doorway in the building exists of the original Ferguson & Urie stained glass created in 1871.

Of coincidental interest, James Robertson’s elder brother William went on to become one of the largest landholders in the western district of Victoria and in 1877 the Ferguson & Urie Company created a large ‘Rose’ stained glass window which was erected to his memory in St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church at Colac, Victoria.

Significant transcriptions:

Launceston Examiner, Tas, 15th January 1853, page 4.

“MR. JAMES ROBERTSON. FEW inhabitants better deserve the tribute of respect about to be paid to him on his departure for Britain, than Mr Robertson. In his sphere of public usefulness, none have been more energetic and successful; and he has often taken the most arduous part, when a benevolent or popular object was in view. There can be no question that if he had assented to the request recently addressed to, him, he would have been the first Mayor of Launceston. But business arrangements prevented compliance, and the St. Andrew’s Society, of which he is a” pillar,” have gracefully come forward to recognise his claims to general esteem. In his commercial career he has been successful, and as a staunch anti-transportationist, he will doubtless exert his influence at home, in favor of the land of his adoption; and the birth-place of his children. The invitations to gentlemen, not members of the St. Andrew’s Club, ought to be very extensive, or they should be permitted, at their own cost, to be present on the occasion. We heartily wish him a pleasant voyage home, success in his mission, and a safe and speedy return.”

The Launceston Examiner, Tuesday 21st March 1871, page 2.

 “MR. ROBERTSON’S NEW RESIDENCE. The new residence of James Robertson, Esq., situate in Cameron-street near the old Military Barracks, and now rapidly approaching completion, is a building that deserves something more than a mere passing notice, for it is one of the best finished, and certainly the most commodious of private dwellings on this side of the island. Erected on the summit of a gentle slope which extends down to the bank of the River Tamar, it commands a fine view of the windings of that stream, and a still finer view of the Cataract on the South Esk, with its bold romantic scenery, and the pretty light looking iron bridge which spans the entrance to what may fairly be termed on of the lions of Launceston. Turning his back on these, a considerable portion of the town is presented to the gaze of the spectator. But the building itself is an ornament to the town, and forms a prominent object that that is sure to attract the attention of visitors or others sailing up the river. The main building is in style Italian, and two storeys high. The walls are constructed of brick, the dressings to the windows, string courses, quoins, cornices, chimneys, and the enrichments generally being executed in Portland cement. The brickwork is uniform in color, and neatly finished with a white joint. The roofs are of slate, and the roof of the main building overhangs the wall about three feet, the projection being supported by ornamental cantalivers [sic]. The front of the building faces the north, but there is an entrance on the east, by means of a massive looking porch and steps. On the ground floor are the large entrance hall, staircase hall, dining, drawing, breakfast and ball rooms, also a business room. The entrance hall is divided from the staircase hall by fluted Corinthian columns and pilasters, supporting a decorated cornice of the same order. The dining and drawing rooms which are well proportioned, open into the entrance hall. The breakfast and ball rooms are entered from a wide corridor leading from the staircase hall to the kitchen, the former room being well lighted by a large bay window of clear plate-glass, from which an excellent view of the Cataract and Tamar can be obtained. The whole of the fittings are of bright cedar French polished, and the finishing’s round the hall side of the doors are ornamented and carved very handsomely. The principal rooms also have elaborately wrought marble mantle-pieces, and are enriched with light and elegant moulded cornices. A verandah, accessible from the staircase hall, runs round the front and a portion of the two sides of the building, terminating on one side against the kitchen wing, and on the other against the entrance porch; and above the verandah is a balcony accessible from the first landing of the staircase. The roof of this is curved and covered with corrugated iron, the railings, trellis work, and brackets being of cast iron, and in appearance very ornamental. The verandah and balcony are wide, and furnish a very agreeable promenade, in which the eye can not fail to be delighted with the surrounding scenery. We must not omit to mention that the side and fan lights of the entrance door, and of the doors leading out on to the verandah and balcony are glazed with rich designs in stained glass, manufactured by the well known firm of Ferguson, Urie, and Lyon, of Melbourne. The kitchen wing contains a large kitchen, scullery, washhouse, stores, pantries, and servants’ staircase. A first-class cooking range manufactured by Mr William Peter, Wellington-street, is fitted up in the kitchen, and from this, by means of pipes, the bedrooms on the upper floor are supplied with hot water for baths, &c. Underneath the building are dry cellars floored with cement. The upper or chamber floor is reached by a handsome staircase, having a continuous ornamental iron railing, and here we find a number of lofty, well-ventilated bedrooms with dressing and bathrooms attached. The nursery and servants’ bedrooms are placed over the kitchen, &c. The baths are fitted up so that hot or cold water can be turned on at pleasure. The whole of the fittings in the rooms, except the mantle pieces, are of French polished cedar. The court yard is enclosed by out-offices – including accommodation for men servants, a coach house, stables, harness room, cow house, hay loft – and by entrance gates, provision been made to get a carriage drive through this court yard round to the river frontage. The Cameron-street frontage is enclosed by an ornamental iron palisading of cast iron with gates, &c., to correspond.
The total cost of erecting these fine premises will be about ₤6000. Mr E. Ford is the contractor, and appears to have executed his work very faithfully. The buildings were designed by Mr Peter Mills, and have been erected under his vigilant superintendence, and we must say that the manner in which everything has been carried out reflects the greatest credit on him.”

Launceston Examiner, Tas, Thursday 2nd April 1874, page 2.

“OBITUARY
Another old colonist has gone from our midst: JAMES ROBERTSON, so long connected with various interests of Launceston, died last evening, in his 75th year, having completed his 74th on the 23rd of March.
After a few years’ occupation as sheep farmer in the Campbell Town district, in this colony, Mr Robertson came into Launceston in 1830, to enter into commercial business with his younger brother, Daniel, unfortunately drowned in the South Esk, in 1841 [sic], which business he carried on very successfully, first on premises now occupied by Messrs. Smith and Poole, and subsequently in the large premises built by the firm for the purpose now known as the International Hotel, until a comparatively recent period, when he retired from more active pursuits to the handsome residence he erected in Cameron-street, known as Struan House, and in which he died.

           Through a long mercantile career Mr Robertson maintained the character of a strictly honourable merchant, and sincere friend. Amongst his mercantile connections he numbered most of the older colonists; and he enjoyed the immediate friendship of an unusually large circle.
            There are some incidents of his “settler life” which possess unusual interest, at once characteristic of his personal courage and of the peculiar difficulties of early settlement in these colonies. On one occasion when sitting reading at the fire in his hut, his back to the door, he was surprised by the entrance of a notorious bushranger, with two equally notorious companions. They had previously secured his shepherd servant, and came so sudden upon him that resistance was useless. After helping themselves to provisions, they set off for a distant rendezvous, marching Mr Robertson and his servant before them, still tied, until they arrived at midnight, on the banks of the South Esk, at a crossing place where they expected to find a boat; which, however was on the opposite shore. One of the bushrangers crossed the river to fetch the boat for the conveyance of the party and their plunder; when the subject of our memoir, seeing an opportunity, succeeded in getting one of his arms sufficiently at liberty to get his hand into his pocket and secure a penknife. The robbers were so intently engaged in watching the progress of their companion that they gave to Mr Robertson the opportunity of communicating by signs, in the light of partial moonlight, with his servant; and after cutting the cord which confined his own arms, he cut that of his servant. They both remained in a position of apparent confinement until they could hear the splash of oars of the returning bushranger, when they each closed upon one of the confederates, and with the handkerchief torn from their own necks tied the hands of each. The man in the boat hearing the conflict turned for the other shore, but was promptly fired on with the arms now in the possession of Mr Robertson and his servant. The two prisoners were soon handed over to the police, and were conveyed to Launceston gaol; and on further enquiry the boat was found riddled with ball but abandoned by the robber, who was afterwards found wounded and captured. On another occasion the self-possession and courage of Mr Robertson were even more conspicuously displayed. A bushranger, who had become the terror of the district, occupied a mi-mi in the depths of the forest. Mr Robertson discovered it, or was informed of the locality – no matter which. Having obtained the co-operation of a neighboring settler he determined to effect capture. Keeping their secret they set out together for the place, but when they arrived found the fellow that occupied it away. They laid their plans accordingly – crouching themselves in the scrub until the evening, when they saw their man return, watched him dismantle himself of his fire-arms with the exception of pistols in his belt, cook his evening meal, and creep into his mi-mi. Mr Robertson immediately rushed in the aperture requiring almost a crawling posture whilst his settler friend made loud demonstrations of directing a body of men outside. He threatened to shoot the robber and disarm him, tied him securely, and led him out to show him (as Mr Robertson often told with considerable humour), to his great disgust, that he had been captured  by two nearly unarmed men!
            Mr Robertson’s genial countenance and bustling habits will long be missed in the streets of Launceston. He leaves an estimable widow, his second wife, and a large family, comfortably provide for. Mr Robertson has been in the Commission of the Peace since the 20th September, 1843. It will be remembered that his eldest brother William died in Victoria on 18th January last.”

Launceston Examiner, Tas, 9th April 1874, page 3.

“THE LATE MR  JAMES  ROBERTSON.

The funeral of the late Mr James Robertson took place on Tuesday afternoon, and was attended by a very large number of personal friends and others from various parts of the colony anxious to pay the last tribute of respect to the memory of one who had maintained business and social relations with the colonists, especially of the Northern districts, for so lengthened a period. By request of Mr Robertson communicated shortly before his decease, the funeral obsequies were superintended by his old friend, Mr Alderman Tyson, Messrs Richards and Son being the undertakers. The remains had been enclosed in a leaden coffin which was encased in a shell, neatly covered with black cloth, and suitably furnished. Shortly after 3 o’clock the coffin was   deposited in a plain hearse drawn by a pair of horses, and the mournful cortege left Struan House, deceased’s late residence in Cameron-street: the following gentlemen acting as pall-bearers, viz., the hon. James Aikenhead, M.L.C., a local Director of the Commercial Bank ; J. T. Sale, Esq., J.P., Manager of the Union Bank of Australia, of which deceased had been for many years a local director; C. J. Weedon, Esq., J.P., one of the Directors of the Bank of Tasmania; Thomas Corbett, Esq., J.P., a director of the Bank of Van Diemen’s Land; John Fawns, Esq., J.P., one of the Executive Committee of the Savings Bank; and Dr. Miller, J.P. The pall-bearers were flanked on either side by members of the Volunteer Artillery Corps, of which deceased had been Captain and Paymaster. The sons of deceased, Messrs. Hector and Angus Robertson were chief mourners with other relatives following; and in addition there were from 140 to 150 townsmen and colonists. There were also a number of private carriages behind. The route of the cortege was Cameron-street, Charles-street, Brisbane-street, and High-street to the Scotch Cemetery, where the family vault is situated; and the esteem in which deceased had been held by his fellow townsmen was evinced by the closing of the shops and other places of business along the line of route. The Revs. J. Gardner, W. Law, J. Lindsay, and R. M’Clean were among the ministers who attended. At the grave the Rev. R. McClean, of Hobart Town, read a portion of Scripture, and delivered an appropriate address. The Rev. J. Lindsay offered prayer. The coffin was borne to the hearse, and to the vault by the Volunteer Artillerymen.”

Footnotes:

[1] The Launceston Examiner, Tuesday 21st March 1871, page 2.

[2] Peter Mills also designed the Launceston Town Hall in 1864 and several other historical buildings in Launceston.

[10] Formed in 1841 to not only entice skilled labourers from Scotland to the Colony, but to provide friendship and assistance to them and their families and benevolent acts to their widows and orphans in times of need.

[17] The Scotch Cemetery opened in 1835 and closed in 1928. It was re-developed as “St. Andrew’s Gardens” from c.1951 with some of the grave stones transferred to the Carr Villa Cemetery.

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