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From genteel drawing room to wild Australian bush

Updated: May 1, 2020

Two lonely graves - hidden from passing traffic by overgrown pasture, surrounded by iron fencing in a paddock - are the only indication of what remains of Sandilands Homestead. The homestead once belonged to the Robertson family and covered 16,000 acres in the Mallanganee area on the way to Bonalbo, west of the Great Dividing Range in northern NSW.

Photo 1: The overgrown graves of Alexander and Isabella Robertson, situated where Sandilands Homestead had been. Photo: Renai Gardner

The homestead was named after Thomas Robertson's mother, when she was Miss Sandilands, and it ran 4000 sheep and 500 cattle in 1848. The graves contain the remains of Alexander Robertson, Thomas' brother and Isabella Robertson, Thomas' niece. They are members of the family that established the villages of Mallanganee and Bonalbo, starting with Thomas and his brothers William and Richard who bought the Sandilands station.

Isabella immigrated in 1851 with her elder sister Mary and Mary's husband John Edward Chapman, who later became the first Mayor of Grafton. She unfortunately died only a couple of years after arriving in the country.

The Robertson brothers' sister Jane and her husband William also Robertson, made their way from the genteel drawing rooms of Britain to become Bonalbo's pioneer family. The brothers had bought Bonalbo station for their sister in preparation for her arrival.

In 1861 tragedy welcomed Jane, William and their 5 daughters when they arrived in Sydney. After only a short time after arriving in the southern continent on the ship 'Waterloo', William died, was buried at St Stephens, Camperdown and leaving Jane with a huge decision to make. Should she take her brood on the next ship back to England or make her way to where her brothers were, in an unknown land?

Jane chose the latter, making her way to Sandilands station via ship to the Clarence River, then by cart with her family and faithful servant Una Coe. It was the only form of travel across land in those days. The family had to camp out for a number of nights in the Australian bush as they travelled north. It is recorded that they made merry around the campfire, while eating the local damper.

After staying some time with her brothers at Sandilands, Jane finally moved her brood to Bonalbo station where her sons William and Richard helped her run the business, until her death in 1876. Jane was buried in Old Bonalbo cemetery alongside Una's grave.

Photo 2: Jane Robertson Photo: Trove

William sold Bonalbo Station shortly after his mother's death. Richard bought Sandilands station from his uncles, but sold it soon after and moved to Queensland.

More Tales:


* 'The Bawden Lectures - Tabulam and Sandilands Stations', Daily Examiner Grafton, Saturday 30th October, 1937, Page 9

* 'Early Bonalbo History', Sydney Mail, Wednesday, 27 February 1929, Page 2

* ' Bonalbo: Early History Recalled', The Kyogle Examiner, Friday 25th June, 1926, Page 2

* 'The Robertsons of Bonalbo', Sydney Mail, Wednesday 20th May, 1936, Page 33

* 'Nineteenth century occupation - The Planted Landscape: forest transformation in the Upper Clarence catchment, northern NSW', Australian Forest History Society Inc,, accessed 26th April, 2020

* 'Robertson', All New South Wales, Australia, Unassisted Immigrant Passenger Lists, 1826-1922 results for Robertson,,, accessed 26th April, 2020

* Email from Di Piggott to Tales From The Grave, 1st May, 2020

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David Stonier
David Stonier
Sep 05, 2021

Very well researched and Richard is my Great great Father. When he moved to Brisbane he established a property north of the new settlement and named it The Grange. It is now become known as the suburb called Grange. We still have some items passed down through the family from him and they are very cherished.

Samantha Elley
Samantha Elley
Sep 05, 2021
Replying to

Thank you. Amazing what you find out starting with a lonely grave.

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