Person:James Robinson (59)

James William Robinson
m. 7 Jul 1823
  1. James William Robinson1824 - 1906
  2. Sarah Ann Robinson1825 -
  3. Elizabeth Henrietta Robinson1825 - 1894
  4. Stella Ann Robinson1827 - 1904
  5. Emma Robinson1829 - 1852
  6. Matilda Robinson1831 - 1918
  7. George Robinson1834 - 1836
  8. George Washington Robinson1837 - 1882
m. 25 Nov 1847
  1. George William Robinson1849 - 1874
  2. Alfred Bingley Robinson1851 - 1934
  3. Emma Robinson1853 - 1853
  4. Fanny Robinson1855 -
  5. Charles Robinson1856 -
  6. James Kerguelen Robinson1859 - 1914
  7. Charles Bayley Robinson1861 - 1874
  8. Willard Arthur Robinson1862 - 1945
  9. Florence Eliza Robinson1865 -
  10. Robinson1869 - 1869
Facts and Events
Name James William Robinson
Gender Male
Birth? 25 Apr 1824 Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Christening? 23 May 1824 Tasmania, Australia
Marriage 25 Nov 1847 Hobart, Tasmania, Australiato Jane Parsons Bentley
Marriage 10 Jan 1872 Hobart, Tasmania, Australiato Ann Lucinda James
Death? 16 Aug 1906 Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Dan Cerchi (Robinson descendant) writes: James William Robinson was born in Hobart Town on 25 April 1824 and first went to sea at 13 months of age. He began his maritime career proper at age 11 years when he was embarked on a voyage to New England to visit his father's relatives. James subsequently spent almost 40 years at sea as master of a number of whaling and trading ships. He made 2 voyages to California at the height of the gold rush there. He also visited the goldfields of Victoria during the great goldrush of the 1850s. During July 1858 - January 1860, James visited Heard Island & Kerguelen Island in the southern Indian Ocean in the barque Offley. James was the only (Australian) colonial master to have joined in the exploitation of Heard Island's elephant seals for their oil. His voyage of 20 months was unsuccessful due, largely but not entirely, to events beyond his control. James was accompanied by his family on the voyage, his wife giving birth to a son at Kerguelen Island. After his return from this voyage, James spent a further 16-17 years at sea before "retiring" and taking-up tin mining in north-eastern Tasmania. When James was nearing the end of his life he wrote his Reminiscences, which gave a lengthy account of his maritime career. James William Robinson, master mariner, died at Hobart on 16 August 1906, aged 82 years.

In "The Robinson Saga, Notes for an Exhibition in the State Library of Tasmania", 30 June 1978, Sir William Crowther writes:

"James W. Robinson was born in Hobart on 25th April 1824, the eldest child of George William Robinson and his wife Elizabeth, nee Presnell. His earliest years were spent on the Presnell's property at Sorell Springs, but he was later educated at Mr A. C. Mummery's boarding school in Macquarie Street, Hobart. James Robinson's introduction to seafaring life came in January 1836 when he sailed for Valpariso as cabin Boy on the "Esperanza". The "Esperanza" was owned in Buenos Ayres, but the captain, Moses H. Sargent, was an American, who left his wife with the Robinsons until his return.

"After returning to school in September 1836, James left Hobart again in February 1837 aboard the New England whaler "Huntress", Captain Cole, to visit his father's family in Providence, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. In March 1839 he arrived back in Hobart, after working his passage home on the "South Boston", Captain Butler. Almost immediately he left school permanently, and worked for sixth months at Mr Young's bay whaling stations at Trumpeter and Adventure Bays on Bruny Island.

"By 1843 when he came to be second mate of the barque "Fortitude", Captain Charles Bayley, James Robinson was an expert whaleman, having served as a crewman on the schooner "Tasmanian Lass" and as a boatsteerer for two voyages on the barque "Wallaby". Service as chief mate of the barque "Eamont" was followed by his first command, the schooner "Abeona", which he took on a successful whaling cruise to the western and middle grounds in 1847. Robinson's next command was the brig "Pryde", in which he made his first trading voyage to San Francisco. In association with Dr W. L. Crowther, he engaged in further trading ventures to San Francisco in the barque "Panama", and the schooner "Montezuma" until 1851 when gold was discovered in Victoria, and he went to the diggings at Ballarat. At Clunes he put up the first quartz-crushing machinery, but the venture was a financial failure.

"Captain Robinson went back to sea, commanding the 376 ton barque "Offley" for Dr Crowther, on both trading and whaling voyages. The most difficult period in Captain Robinson's maritime career began on July 4th 1858 when the "Offley" sailed on W. L. Crowther's instructions, for the Kerguelen and Heard Islands to obtain a cargo of sea elephant oil. Dr Crowther had previously despatched the schooner "Elizabeth Jane" to act as tender for the "Offley". She did not arrive due to being unseaworthy and neither did the "Flying Squirrel", her replacement, as the crew mutinied. Without a tender, the "Offley" was crippled so Robinson struck a bargain with Captain Nash of the "Mary Powell", one of the American vessels operating from Kerguelen. The two vessels worked together successfully in the hazardous conditions, but the "Mary Powell" was wrecked and her cargo could not be salvaged. The "Offley" returned to Hobart on January 10th 1860, Robinson having achieved much in the circumstances, though the voyage was a failure financially. [See below.]

"James W. Robinson sailed on whaling and guano voyages until 1865 when he was asked by Dr Crowther to take charge of the guano workings on Lady Elliott Island for two years. While there, he established the Lady Elliott Light for the benefit of ships entering the Capricorn Channel, and his son Alfred became the first keeper. He returned to the sea in 1867, trading to New Zealand in the barque "Island City". The following year the whaling barque "Othello" was bought in Sydney and Captain Robinson sailed her on a series of most successful voyages.

"After selling "Othello" he traded in the "George H. Peake", a Western Australian owned brig, to Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, sailing from Fremantle in July of 1872. Robinson then bought the schooner "Twins" in 1873 and took a cargo of timber and foodstuffs to Darwin. Further trading voyages were undertaken in the barque "Isle of France" until 1874 when, at the request of Alex McGregor he bought the beautiful ship "Lufra" from Adelaide to Hobart. His last voyage was for Dr Crowther in the whaling brig "Velocity" in 1876.

"At this time Robinson was asked by Dr W. L. Crowther to manage some tin sections of the Blue Tier, and he became an original owner of the Anchor tin mine, but the speculation failed. In 1879, his only brother, George William Robinson, manager of the Cambria Mine, was killed in an explosion [this should be George Washington Robinson, b. 6 February 1837, d. 23 6 1882. He was killed by exploding dynamite at Georges Bay, Portland, Tasmania. His death certificate states he was accidently killed. (Marcia Millner)], and this added to the great blow suffered in 1874 [should be 1878?] when two of his sons, George William and Charles Bayley Robinson, disappeared in the pearling schooner "Kingston" and were never heard of again. Captain Robinson retired from public life, highly respected for his integrity and skill as a seaman. His proudest boast until his death on August 16th 1906, was that in forty years at sea he had never lost a vessel."

Crowther lists his references as:

  • Lawson, Will, "Blue Gum Clippers and Whale Ships of Tasmania", Melbourne, Georgian House, 1949.
  • Mercury, August 17th 1906.
  • Norman, L, "Pioneer Shipping of Tasmania", Hobart, Walch, 1938.
  • O'May, H, "Whalers out of Van Diemen's Land", Hobart Government Printer (n.d.)
  • Robinson, James William, "Reminiscences" (typescript).
  • Archives Office [of Tasmania]: PMB microfilm 285, MB 2/39/2, Hobart Town Courier, December 4th 1835, H.T.C., January 1st 1836, H.T.C., March 1st 1839.

About the trip to Heard and Kerguelen Islands, W. J. Dakin, in "Whaleman Adventures", 1977 ISBN 0207 13540, writes:

"Crowther had heard that the Americans had enjoyed a lucrative business in sea-elephant oil at Kerguelen and Heard Island. But Heard Island was an open roadstead; the only possible way to work matters there was to use a small vessel and very heavy moorings. Even then it was only possible to hold out for a very short time. So the whalers arranged partnerships, one ordinary whale-ship taking a small one as tender. The small vessel landed the crew, who killed the sea-elephants and casked the blubber. This was "rafted" out to the tender, which, on being loaded, made for the harbour in Kerguelen Island and transshipped the spoil to her consort, which, in the meantime, had been hunting the sea for whales. Crowther decided to try the American game, too, and in 1858 fitted out the "Offley" as the whale-ship and the "Elizabeth Jane" as the tender - regardless, it is said, of expense.

"The "Offley" reached her destination as arranged, whaling on the way. The "Elizabeth Jane" got within sight of Kerguelen Island, and then, owing to trouble with the crew who had suffered from the weather, seems to have given up the project (in other words, the men mutinied). Without sighting the "Offley", the vessel sailed to Mauritius, where the boat was suspiciously condemned (although she carried cattle for years between Madagascar and Mauritius). It was some time, in those cableless days, before news of the "Elizabeth Jane"s doings reached Crowther at Hobart. Thinking of the waiting "Offley", he immediately bought the "Flying Squirrel" and fitted her out to do what the "Elizabeth Jane" had been intended for. By reason of the continuous westerlies in high southern latitudes she was sent via the Horn. The crew, however, got tired of this and mutinied, landing at Valpariso....

"The "Offley" was under Captain J. W. Robinson, one of Hobart Town's best-known whaling captains, and he, being more than surprised at the non-arrival of his tender, landed some of the crew at Heard Island and actually rode it out for about eight months. Sea-elephants were killed but it was impossible to disembark the blubber. On the point of sailing back for Hobart Town, the "Offley" fortunately met an American schooner, the "Mary Powell", which curiously enough was also waitng for her consort. So Hobart and America mated and between them 400 tons of sea-elephant blubber were obtained. Captain Robinson says he was in a fair way to make up for lost time, but a happy ending was not to be. When ready to start for Christmas Island the "Mary Powell" lost her cable.... She ran on shore under ice cliffs higher than the topmast, and all on board (there were eighteen of the "Offley"'s men besides the crew) would have lost their lives had it not been for a young American sailor who climbed a mast and got out on a yard-arm. When the ship rolled into the cliffs he jumped, cut steps to the top with a tomahawk and hauled up one of the lighter men on a lance warp he had taken with him. These men hauled the next heaviest up and so on till all had gained the land. Eventually, after suffering frost-bite, lost toes and much tribulation, the castaways were saved by the "Offley" which sailed back to Hobart Town.

"But 8000 pounds worth of blubber had gone and the loss on the "Offley"'s trip was over 5000 pounds. The tale doesn't end here for the men injured through frost-bite brought an action against Dr Crowther! [See below.]

"On this risky and uncomfortable voyage in the Antarctic seas Captain Robinson had his wife and two young children on board..."

About the same voyage, Joan Dennett in "Petticoat Whalers: Whaling Wives at Sea 1820 - 1920", 1991, ISBN 186950 0431, writes:

"The American success in sea-elephanting encouraged a Hobart owner, Dr Crowther, to send a vessel to Heard Island, and so, in 1858, an Australian whaling wife accompanied her husband there, to take up the same strange existence as her American predecessors. This was Mrs. Robinson. The expedition proved outstandingly unsuccessful....

"Captain J. W. Robinson was resourceful enough: among other feats, he amputated the frostbitten fingers of one of his men with an axe. However, even he could not turn a profit from such terrible luck. On 11 January 1860 the "Offley" finally arrived back in Hobart, reporting a loss of 5000 pounds and with a live sealion (some say a sea-elephant) on deck. The animal was put on exhibition and the money raised was given to the man who had lost his fingers to Captain Robinson's hatchet but that was not enough to prevent the court action (citing ill-usage and misery) that the crew brought against Crowther at a subsequent date.

"Later, in a letter written in 1898, Captain Robinson admitted that he might have been unkind when he concluded to take his wife and family along to such a godforsaken place. "It was a wrong thing perhaps to do, to take my wife with me and two young children, but she begged to go and brought home two boys and one girl instead of a boy and a girl. I have been at all kinds of trades in my time, Merchant Service, Whaling, Guano trade, etc. etc., but the sea-elephant voyage to Heard Island capped all."

"That son Mrs Robinson bore him on that awful voyage was known afterwards as "Kerguelen Jim": many years later he perished of thirst in the Australian desert."