When we first learn of Robert Affleck Robertson it was when he arrived at Wandong around 1883 however his story beyond our town is equally as interesting.
Having migrated to Victoria around 1880, Robert began his sawmilling activities in the forests around Ballarat and Ballan areas. It was here in partnership with John Arbuthnot Evans at the Providence Mill at Korweinguboora in 1882 that Robertson’s sawmilling activities began. This was the beginning of several partnerships, others included Robert McGie, Robert Hall, Thomas Sims and his brother William Alexander Affleck Robertson.
In 1884 Robert along with his brother and others established the Wandong Timber Company Ltd before selling the assets to a consortium, the Australian Seasoned Timber Company in 1892.
Although Robert’s sawmilling operations were based at Wandong, he maintained an office in Melbourne where he cultivated relationships with Melbourne’s elite businessmen, architects and builders. He became a director of the Victoria Terra Cotta Lumber Company of Brunswick, manufacturers of a innovative fireproofing product – terra cotta lumber and successfully persuaded the company to duplicate a second plant at Wandong in 1888. The company exhibited at the Centennial Exhibition of 1888/89 where they displayed their product in the form of a cool storage room for which they were awarded a prize.
Robertson would also look to establish further terra cotta lumber plants in Victoria – establishing one at Yarrawonga in connection with one of his sawmills, while a third plant at Ballarat failed to eventuate.
In 1888 Robert and William were also directors of the Whittlesea Land Company and the Whittlesea Brick and Tile Company. Continuing to explore new opportunities Robertson having viewed a new and improved method of seasoning timber acquired the patents for the process and immediately established a seasoning works at Wandong. He continued his sawmilling activities and in 1889 went into partnership with G.E. Thompson at the Boho sawmill in Violet Town.
During the boom of the 1880s, Robertson acquired shares in various land companies – one, the Coburg & Somerton Junction Estate Company and another a gold mining company in Tasmania.
Having divested his interests in the Wandong operations Robertson then sought out new opportunities and acquired the sawmills of Geeves in Tasmania around 1901 and established the Huon Timber Company. He later sold the company to Henry Jones of IXL fame and then began advocating the Tasmanian Government for access to land to create a cement works at Coles Bay. The venture failed to realise and Robertson made a return to Victoria where he later retired.
Robertson did not restrict his activities to Australia and apparently also travelled to South Africa prior to the Boer War promoting the export of seasoned timber. While there he is known to have given lectures on the earth being flat, earning him the monicre ‘Flat Earth Robertson’. He was also said to have travelled to Germany at the outbreak of World War I making enquiries about reinforced concrete for bridge building.
Robertson certainly had many irons in the fire and made good of the opportunities that came his way. Not all were successful however but through his activities we gain a glimpse of a man intent upon making his mark in life.