The Folk from the Wind Wound Isle > Chapter 15: The Children of James Robertson & Frances Halls

Chapter 15:
The Children of James Robertson & Frances Halls



Eldest child of James Robertson and Frances Halls, born at Darlington on 6 October 1869. Probably named after James’ dead brother John.

Photos of John show a handsome young man, seemingly full of life. He is listed as a founding member of the Baptist church at Port Campbell in 1888. His niece Margaret Haine was told by her mother that John mixed with worldly people; went to plays and enjoyed the theatre. Margaret has John’s opera glasses, which were among her mother's effects.

Apart from these snippets, the only information we have about John is provided by the registration of his death in the Victorian records. His occupation is recorded as clerk and that of his father as boarding house keeper. John died at the age of twenty-one from ‘pleurisy with effusion’, in the Gipps ward at the Melbourne Hospital on 29 March 1891. He was buried in the Melbourne ‘new cemetery’. The undertaker was T H Allen and the attending ministers/witnesses at the burial were J A Archibald and G A G Clowes.

There are four other deaths recorded on the same page as John’s death, all in the Gipps ward at the Melbourne Hospital and all buried at the new cemetery. Mr Clowes witnessed the burial of all five, suggesting perhaps that he was some sort of official.



Second son of James Robertson and Frances Halls, born at Darlington on 17 February 1871. The name Abbott comes from his maternal grandmother’s maiden name and Arthur from his paternal grandfather.

I have been told that Abbott Arthur went to the gold rush in Western Australia with brothers Frederick, James and William. Gold was discovered by Paddy Hannan at Mt Charlotte, WA in June 1893, so the brothers' search for gold would have been after that date. Abbott is thought to have returned to Victoria where he married and had two daughters, one called Dorothea. Margaret Haine remembers Abbott visiting her family and describes him as a ‘shocker’. He was always short of money and as he walked around, he would scan the ground for cigarette butts, which he picked up and reused. He would say, ‘Have you been to Moonta?’ as if describing the ‘last place on earth’. This suggests he may have worked at the Moonta Mines in South Australia at one time. He worked on the Murray River locks in the 1920s and as a draughtsman at Lakes Creek Meat Works, Rockhampton in Queensland during the 1930s, then for Vestey in Sydney about 1935. Margaret also tells us he was separated from his wife and family, but they took him in and cared for him in his old age. [Interviews with Margaret Haine in 2000 and 2002]


Abbott’s death certificate states that he was married twice. The certificate provides no details of the first marriage and I have not been able to find a record of that marriage or any children from it. From the South Australian records I have discovered that Abbott’s second marriage to Sylvia Charlotte SWIGGS took place at Croydon, SA on 5 February 1910. Sylvia was the daughter of William Thomas Swiggs and Louise Laker Hamilton. She was nineteen years of age and single. Abbott is recorded as a thirty-nine year old widower. [The marriage is recorded in the SA register in Box 242, p. 255]

James Robertson’s Sons
Thought to be Abbott, John and Frederick

The death certificate does not record any children from the first marriage, and the names and occupation of Abbott's parents are stated as unknown, which suggests his second family knew little about the Robertsons. Abbott and Sylvia’s children are listed on the certificate as Freda Sylvia - 38 years, Frederick Arthur - 36 years, Dorothy Ethel - 34 years, and William James - 29 years. It would seem that Dorothy and Dorothea are probably the same person. I have made contact with relations on the Swiggs side of the family but unfortunately they know nothing about Abbott, Sylvia or their children and I have had no success in tracing any of Abbott Arthur’s descendants.

Abbott died on 12 October 1948 at 14 Price St, Regent, in the city of Preston, Victoria. On the death certificate his occupation as given as draughtsman and the cause of death as “Broncho-pneumonia - 2 days, and Myocarditis - 10 years". Abbott Arthur was cremated at the Faulkner crematorium on 14 October 1948, with the service conducted by D Mathieson.



Frederick Peter Robertson with his gold nugget

Third son and fourth child of James Robertson and Frances Halls, born at Cobden, Victoria on 4 April 1873.


Frances Halls Robertson with her son Frederick

When he was a boy Frederick fell out of a tree and broke his arm. His uncle Michael McCue said to him, ‘What dost thee doin up the tree, dost want to break thy titherirum?’ On another occasion when one of the boys was looking for the hammer, grandfather James told him - ‘gang dhu an sick it’ - meaning 'go you and seek it'. [Interview with Margaret Haine, November 2000]

Margaret Haine has a photo of Frederick with a large gold nugget he found while prospecting in Western Australia. She believes the money raised from the sale of the nugget was used to send his mother on a trip to visit her relations in England in 1908.

Frederick married Edith TAYLOR (1881-1966) at Mt Magnet, WA, on 6 October 1915. They had two children, lvy (1916) - and Peter (1917). Frederick owned a gold mine at Payne's Find, WA, which he sold for not much money. Later he had a contract to cart wood for another gold mine at Hill 50, Mt Magnet. edithtaylor Harry Strickland worked with him and that is how Frederick's daughter lvy came to meet and marry Harry Strickland. [Letter from Desma Strickland, 2000]

Edith, Peter and lvy Robertson

Frederick never got over the death of his son Peter during World War II and died after a stroke in 1945. Edith Taylor died in 1966 at the age of eighty-five years.

Although Frederick lived in the next Perth suburb to his younger brother James Need Robertson, it seems the two families were unaware of each other’s presence. According to Ian Strickland, his mother Ivy died believing she had no relations on her side of the family.


Fourth child and eldest daughter of James Robertson and Frances Halls born at Ellerslie, on 4 June 1876. A mistake was made on the birth certificate, according to her son Neil, and Frances’ name is spelt Francis and her sex recorded as male.


Frances Manson Robertson at 25 years

Frances trained as a home missionary at the Dr Angus Bible College in Adelaide. This was a residential college that trained both home and foreign missionaries. Henry Saunders also trained there but at a different time and the two did not meet each other until later. [Information about Frances and Henry was obtained from their youngest daughter Margaret Haine, and from Henry Saunders obituary, published in the The Queensland Baptist, 15 April 1960.]

In February 1903, Frances and Henry SAUNDERS (1876-1960) were married at the Albert Park Baptist Church in Melbourne. The reception was held in a marquee erected in the yard of the house where James and Fanny lived at Moonee Ponds. Photos of the wedding suggest it was quite an elegant affair with two bridesmaids and a flower girl. One of the bridesmaids was Frances’ cousin Nan Robertson.

Henry's parents were Thomas Saunders and Ruth Lade. They had a property at Mickleham outside of Melbourne and Henry was the sixth of their ten children. They must have also had property at Coburg, as Thomas was on the Council there and was responsible for planting the gum trees outside of Pentridge jail, an act which led to much teasing among friends and family. [By one of those strange coincidences in life, Peter Williams, another descendant of Thomas and Ruth Saunders, is a friend of mine. I {MDW} can put anyone wanting more information about the Saunders and Lade families in touch with Peter.]


Saunders Family, circa 1928 Left to right: Gordon, Henry, Frances Jnr, Douglas, Margaret, Neil, Frances, Alan

Frances and Henry had seven children. The places of birth of Neil (1904), Frances (1906), Hazel (1908), Gordon (1912), Alan (1914), Margaret (1915) and Douglas (1918), give us an indication of the family’s frequent moves, as they were all born in different localities; Boort and Alexandra in Victoria, Beaudesert in Queensland, Latrobe and Sheffield in Tasmania, and Albion and Enoggera in Queensland. Hazel died in Tasmania from meningitis at the age of three.

Henry Saunders started training for the Baptist ministry in 1903, working at first as a home missionary. Based at the Baptist Church in Beaudesert, Henry served the Logan/Albert district for two and half years. He was advised to go south for health reasons and in September 1910 he was called to the Moonah Baptist Church in Tasmania, followed by churches at Latrobe and Sheffield. Henry was ordained 1911 while the family was living in Tasmania. We must assume that Henry’s health improved as his next move was back to Brisbane (Albion and Enoggera) in Queensland.

Rejected for war service on medical grounds during World War I, Henry devoted himself to the work of the Young Men’s Christian Association in camps and organizing War Savings Groups. Later he was secretary of the Queensland Temperance Alliance.

The family returned to Tasmania sometime after the end of the war, accompanied by Frances’ ailing mother. Fanny Halls died at Sheffield in 1924. ln 1925 the family was at Rainbow in the Mallee of Victoria, where Frances’ Uncle, William Adie Robertson, had served before them. The stay at Rainbow was relatively short and the family moved on to spend about six months at Port Campbell. From here Henry was called to Bendigo, then to Portland.

For a time Henry made a living as a travelling salesman in the country area around Bendigo, selling drapery and haberdashery. He mixed this with missionary work and called his business the ‘Highways and By-ways Mission’. Sales fluctuated and in some places ‘he was lucky to sell a pair of boot laces’. On the whole however he did quite well and according to his daughter Margaret, he made more money this way than he ever did as a church minister.

Frances was always very involved in church activities, helping her minister husband and often taking services at the various out stations where they served the Baptist Church in Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland. She wrote two tracts entitled ‘My Grandmothers Prayer’ which relate the tale of the Robertson family’s conversion during ‘the great revival’. There is a piece written by her in the ‘Jubilee Historical Outline of the Rainbow District Baptist Churches’, published in 1945, outlining work undertaken while at Rainbow. We learn from this publication that Henry owned his own car, which he used for parish work.

Margaret Haine tells us that Henry reckoned he could divine water and offered to locate water on Mime Ward‘s farm at Port Campbell. He did find water but it was brackish and of little use.

The family finally settled in Queensland. Here Frances would visit patients at the Brisbane General Hospital, singing to them while accompanying herself on the autoharp her father had given her on her eighteenth birthday. A hymn entitled ‘To the Heart’ was written by her son Neil and dedicated to his mother ‘for her ministry of song in the hospital’ (see Appendix 5).


In the 1930s and early 1940s, Frances was a member of the Oriental Missionary Society and served for a time as general secretary for the Society in Queensland. Meetings were sometimes held in the family home and Frances got to know members of the local Chinese community as well as those visiting from overseas. The society was very concerned about the Japanese invasion of China and Frances was responsible for writing to the Prime Minister expressing this concern. The Chinese Central News Agency published the following resolution from the Rockhampton branch of the society in March 1938:

We the citizens of Rockhampton  appeal to the Prime Minister of Australia to intercede with the League of Nations on behalf of the defenceless people of China against Japanese aggression, requesting the League of Nations to institute all measures within its power for the prevention of further slaughter of innocent people. [Newspaper cutting in the possession of Margaret Haine]


Chinese poster and gown

Margaret Haine possesses a letter addressed to Mrs Saunders from the National China Military Council, dated 21 March 1938, thanking the Rockhampton group for their resolution, on behalf of Madame Chiang Kai-shek.

Frances expressed her concern in a practical way by organizing ‘A Mile of Milk‘ and speaking on the radio to advertise the campaign. She achieved her goal and the tinned milk collected was sent to help sustain babies and children suffering because of the Sino-Japanese war. As a token of appreciation Frances was presented with a beautifully embroidered Chinese jacket. The jacket, along with Frances’ autoharp, is now in the custody of Francis’ granddaughter Kirstin Robertson Gillam.

Both Frances and Henry died in Brisbane, Henry at the age of eighty-four and Frances at the  age of eighty-nine years.



Born at Woodford, Victoria on 10 October 1877, the fifth child and fourth son of James Robertson and Francis Halls. His birth certificate, which is in the possession of his youngest grandson, Garry Gillard, states that witnesses to James Need’s birth were his father and his grandmother, Margaret (Henderson) Robertson. Evidence of business dealings between James Robertson and a James Need at Ellerslie in 1878 suggests that this is where James Need Robertson’s name came from. [These documents are in the possession of Margaret Haine and are referred to in the section about James Robertson.] He was generally known as Jim.

James Need sounds like a colourful character. It seems he started to study for the Baptist Ministry but left. One story has him climbing out through a window to escape from the seminary. He is quoted as saying ‘I could say the words, but I couldn’t live the life’.

Pre-1900, James Need was a fireman on a Murray River paddle steamer. At some stage he went off to join the gold rush in Western Australia and he married Christina BENNETT (1880-1968) at Claremont, WA in December 1906. Christina was born in Ballarat and how she got to WA we do not know. Her mother, also called Christina, came from Stirling, Scotland. Christina worked as a domestic and at the time of her marriage was employed as housekeeper by the Shugg family, who lived in John St, around the corner from the municipal yards at Claremont where James was working. Knowing she had neither money nor family, her employers arranged for the marriage to take place at their house.


Christina and James Robertson and their family

The couple moved back and forth between Victoria and Western Australia. Their first child, Adie, was born at Ballarat in 1907, Norman was born at Claremont in 1910, and Mollie at Geelong in 1915. In 1913 James was construction foreman for building the Geelong abattoir. The family finally settled in Maylands, Perth next to the suburb of Bayswater where James’ brother, Frederick, lived. The two families were apparently unaware of each other’s presence. James Need worked in a variety of construction jobs, including the pipeline for water to Kalgoorlie, and with the Claremont Municipal Council, known at that time as the Claremont Roads Board. His grandson, Garry Gillard, has letters and references relating to his work history.

Graeme Robertson, another grandson, writes:

I remember my Grandfather, James Need Robertson very clearly. He used to call all his male grandchildren “Boy” and all his female grandchildren “Girlie”, regardless of their names. He was a real ‘bushie’ and when staying up on his daughter Adie’s farm in the Jibberding (Wubin) area of WA he use to camp in a tent about half a mile from the homestead where I use to visit him when I was there on my many visits. Keeping in mind that my mother and I lived on the farm with the Reudaveys for two years of the Second World War and I started school at the Jibberding School with the Reudavey children. [Letter from Graeme Robertson, 10.12.1998]

Jim had a block of land, now incorporated in the Reudavey property. He kept pigs for many years as a source of income, building pig sties just below the mud brick house at ‘Limberlost’. (See notes on James’ Reudavey grandchildren in Part IV.)

The house in which the Robertsons lived at 98 Eighth Avenue, in the working class suburb of Maylands, belonged to Christina. She saved to buy the house and on her death it was left to her five grandchildren. [G Gillard has the original contract showing Christina Robertson as the purchaser in her own singular right.] The house has now been demolished and three units are built on the site. The Maylands house was a centre for family activities in Perth and many of the family photographs are taken there. Originally there were only four rooms and a verandah but rooms were added and the verandah enclosed until there were eventually ten rooms. Christina took in relatives or friends as boarders, including the Cummins boys who were related on either the Halls or Bennett sides of the family. When James Need went camping on the farm at Wubin, Christina would stay in Perth to look after her ‘paying guests’. As the Jibberding children got older, some of them lived with their grandmother, Christina, and Aunt Mollie at Maylands and went to school, tertiary training or work in Perth. When Rod Reudavey was attending Claremont High School he boarded with Norm and Gert Robertson who lived just up the street, on the opposite side of the road to 98 Eighth Avenue.

Christina was known to her friends as ‘Teen’. She was a talented dressmaker. “Gran was good at ‘turning’ clothes. Unpick and reverse the material and remake into a new garment. She loved millinery, reshaped hats, dyed them and trimmed them into new models. [She would say] ‘Just because you are poor you don’t have to look poor’." [Letters from Phillis Dolling, 1999] She was a small woman, just on 5 feet tall and Graeme tells us that Christina's “legs were so short she had to have a footstool to rest her feet on, even when she was sitting in a lounge chair. She was an absolute first rate lady and l have fond memories of her.”

James died of heart failure in 1953 and Christina died in 1968.



Sixth child and youngest son of James Robertson and Frances Halls, born at Port Campbell on 19 February 1879.

William is a mystery. No one seems to know much about him, not even how he got the name De Witt. He is thought to have gone to the gold rushes in Western Australia with other members of the family but after that, nothing! I have not been able to find any trace of him in WA records.

William de Witt Robertson
Authenticity uncertain

My daughter, Lisa Worrall, tells an amusing story that seems worth relating here, even if it does involve a flight of fancy. In her work as a geologist, she was out on a field trip north of Kalgoorlie. One of the other geologists on the trip was Ian Reudavey, who is the great grandson of James Need Robertson. They had never met before but Lisa recognized the name and the relationship. While they were out in the middle of nowhere, they came upon a skeleton half buried in the sand. They decided that they must have found the missing William De Witt.

MIRIAM BAEYERTZ ROBERTSON (1887-1970) - married name LAWSON


Miriam Robertson and David Lawson on their wedding day, 10 September 1910 [with her cousin Rab Robertson? and unknown child]

The youngest of James Robertson and Frances Halls’ eight children, born at Cobden on 18 June 1887. In the Victorian records Miriam’s name is recorded as Marion Bazaret Robertson (file number 18404). Her second name was that of an evangelist her mother admired. Miriam apparently hated the name and would be extremely embarrassed if she was asked to give her full name.

williammiriamWilliam de Witt (?), Miriam and James Robertson

Margaret Haine relates that much money was spent on having Miriam taught music. She was both a pianist and a violinist and after her father’s death in 1905 when Miram was eighteen, she was able to make a living by teaching music. James’ death caused the break-up of the family home. Miriam’s sister, Frances, was married and living in Queensland and the boys had all gone to the goldfields in Western Australia. Miriam had to decide whether to join her brothers in WA or her sister in Qld. Her brothers told her she would easily get a job as a waitress in WA but this did not appeal to Miriam, so she decided to go and live with Frances at Beaudesert. [Interviews with Margaret Haine, April and November 2000]

francesjamesneedIt was in Beaudesert that Miriam met and married her husband, David LAWSON (1886-1968). David worked in the office at the local butter factory. The couple married in 1910 with Miriam’s brother-in-law, the Rev H E Saunders conducting the service and her cousin Rab Robertson giving the bride away. David had come to Australia from Scotland. Later he was to work as the secretary of a department store in Brisbane.

Frances and James Need (?) Robertson

Margaret Haine recalls that ‘Uncle David’ recited poetry such as 'It’s good to be British today’, and played the ocarina, to entertain the family. He never owned a car but would hire one, along with a driver, to take the family on outings to the hills or to local beauty spots for picnics.

Miriam and David had three daughters, Winifred, Gwen and Irene. David died in Brisbane in 1968 and Miriam died two years later.miriamfrancessnr

Miriam with Frances Snr Robertson


Frances Robertson and Henry Saunders on their Wedding Day, 1903
Nan Robertson, Frances' cousin was her bridesmaid.


Extended family at Frances Robertson and Henry Saunders Wedding, Melbourne 1903
This photograph includes Frances Halls and James Robertson as well as Nan Robertson who is a bridesmaid.

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