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Biography of Robert Sellar (Australian merchant, 1828-1900)

This page has a connection to another Malvern, a district of Melbourne in Australia

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Robert SellarRobert Sellar, for much of his life, was a Victorian merchant in Melbourne, Australia; he was the business partner of James McCulloch who went on to become a Premier of the state of Victoria. Little seems to have been published about Robert, so here is a small attempt to fill that gap.

Photo opposite: courtesy of the National Library of Australia, digitised newspapers, 'Leader' Melbourne  Saturday 15th September 1900.

At the end of this page there are some miscellaneous snippets of information about others with local connections to the colony, including Earl Beauchamp of Madresfield Court.

More about the early days of the settlement in Australia can be found by clicking here



Early life




Malvern in Australia

Charles Bruce Graeme Skinner

John Walpole Willis

Earl Beauchamp



Robert Sellar (born Scotland 1828 - died Melbourne 1900) was the fourth of seven sons of Patrick Sellar (1780-1851) and Ann Craig. Robert's father, a sheep farmer, was very unpopular because he took an active part in the Highland Clearances, while employed as factor to the Duke of Sutherland.

The testament of Patrick Sellar (ref 1), and his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ref 2) together name his sons.

The seven sons were Thomas, a merchant in New Orleans, Patrick Plenderleath, a farmer in Scotland, William Young (see below), Robert, John Alexander, a merchant who moved to England, David Plenderleath an American merchant, and the youngest Alexander Craig Sellar, Scottish Advocate and MP.

Robert's nephew Walter Carruthers Sellar, son of his brother Patrick, became a school teacher and well known humorist writer.

Robert's elder brother William Young Sellar (1825-1890), an academic, married 1852, Eleanor Mary Dennistoun, daughter of wealthy Glasgow merchant Alexander Dennistoun of Golfhill (1790-1874). Robert's brother David married second in 1893, the grand-daughter of Alexander Dennistoun.

In 1907 Eleanor published her reminiscences (ref 1) in 'Recollections and Impressions' by  E M Sellar, published by William Blackwood and Sons in 1907; these were stories mainly intended for her grandchildren. You should be able to read her book online by clicking here.

Eleanor writes that the land once owned by Patrick Sellar was purchased by Octavius Smith. Octavius was the uncle of Florence Nightingale, and the eighth child of William Smith (1756 - 1835) MP for Norwich, who fought for the abolition of slavery.

Early Life

Dennistoun Brothers

Perhaps influenced by his sister's marriage into the Dennistoun family, Robert joined the mercantile firm of A J Dennistoun.

In 1853 Robert travelled to Melbourne in the same year as James McCulloch, both in the employment of Alexander and John Dennistoun, to manage a branch of  Dennistoun Brothers and Company in Australia.

The Dennistoun family were shipping and commission agents importing and exporting goods. At one time they had branches in Glasgow, London, Liverpool, France, Melbourne, New York, and New Orleans (from where cotton was exported). We have found references to the following,

J & A Dennistoun and Company, Glasgow

Dennistoun, Cross and Company, London

Dennistoun, Wood and Company, New York

A & J Dennistoun and Company, New Orleans

but have not yet explored who the other business partners were.


Robert's marriage was announced in the Argus newspaper, Melbourne, Monday 4th April 1859. The transcript reads,

2nd Inst, Christ Church, St Kilda

by Rev D Seddon MA

Robert Sellar Esq, merchant, Melbourne, to

Matilda Charlotte Swyer fifth

daughter of Robert Swyer Esq

of Kersall Lodge, near Manchester

The census tells us Robert Swyer was a wine merchant of Manchester England, who retired to Southampton, where he died in 1865.

Matilda's brother, Charles Robert Swyer, was a civil engineer, who emigrated from Eccles, near Manchester and arrived in Victoria in 1852. He was an architect and engineer who worked on railway survey and construction projects, later appointed Provincial Engineer in New Zealand 1862 - 1865 where he worked with William Barnett Armson. On 5th January 1858 Charles had married Clara Ellen Hall at Christ Church St Kilda, where his sister Matilda married in 1859.

Matilda's eldest sister Eliza Anne Swyer had earlier married 1st November 1854 at Christ Church, St Kilda, prominent architect and civil engineer Albert Purchas.

Charles Swyer and Albert Purchas were the architects of the 'new' Christ Church where building started circa 1854.

Matilda and Eliza must have been adventurous young women to accompany their brother Charles to the other side of the world.

McCulloch Sellar and Company

Closure of the Dennistoun office in Melbourne was announced in the Edinburgh Gazette on 1st October 1861 (ref 4). The transcript reads:

Notice, Glasgow, September 30th 1861

The partnership carried on in Glasgow under the firm of Dennistoun, Inglis and Company and in Melbourne under the firm of Dennistoun Brothers and Company as merchants and commission merchants was this day dissolved by mutual consent.

The business will be carried on by the subscribers Messrs James McCulloch, Robert Sellar, and John Inglis (who have active management thereof) in conjunction with Messrs Leishman, Brothers and Company of London.

WA Dennistoun

James McCulloch

Robert Sellar (by his attorney, James McCulloch)

John Inglis

Anderson Kirkwood of 151, West George Street, Glasgow, solicitor, witness.

James Dow of no 151, West George Street, Glasgow, clerk-at-law, witness

So it was, about 1862, following closure of the Dennistoun branch, James McCulloch and Robert Sellar went into business on their own account forming McCulloch, Sellar and Company. Having learnt their trade, by working for the Dennistoun Brothers, they imported goods into the colony, operated warehouses, and exported bales of wool.

The following advertisement appeared in The South Australian Register on Tuesday 24th July 1866.



The Undersigned having been APPOINTED SOLE AGENTS in the Australian Colonies for the entire Manufacture of the above Celebrated Brand of Twist, are in receipt of regular shipments  direct from New York, which they offer for Sale in Lots to suit purchasers.

McCULLOCH, SELLAR, & CO, Queen-Street, Melbourne.

Other hints of their activities in the 1860s can be found in records of ship arrivals and departures (ref 5).

The Argus, Melbourne 24 June 1865

Kalahome, Barque 320 tons, cargo, coal

Scotsman, Brig 220 tons, from Mauritius

The Argus, Melbourne Monday 14 May 1866

Imports May 12. Veno, schooner, 221 tons, from Calcutta, 3,350 bags of sugar, 300 cases of castor oil, 130 bales of gunny bags, 3 cases of jellies, 769 bundles lines. McCulloch, Sellar and Co.

The Veno appears to have survived a hurricane later that year in which the steamer Cawarra was lost. There was no certainty cargo would arrive safely, so insurance was important. Read about other losses

The Argus, Melbourne, Monday 4 February 1867

Argo, 268 tons, 5,131 bags of sugar, 500 empty, from Mauritius

Anglia, 525 tons, 7,475 bags

The Argus, Melbourne, Monday 13 May 1867

Thomas Brown, Barque from Newcastle, departed in ballast.

The company also leased land for sheep farming from the Crown. Sheep farming and the export of Merino wool was then a very profitable business. Even the famous tea clipper the Cutty Sark was at one time transporting bales of wool from Australia to England.

One of the businesses they acquired was a large sheep farming station at Mount Gipps in the outback of New South Wales known as the Mount Gipps Pastoral Company.

The 'Pastoral Possessions of New South Wales' published by William Hanson in 1889 records that circa 1885 the Mount Gipps Pastoral Holding (no 20) extended to 418,471 acres at a rent of £1,307 per annum.

Sources suggest the area had been named after Australian governor George Gipps (1797-1847).

Circa 1875 James McCulloch appointed his cousin George McCulloch as manager of the Mount Gipps Station.

Sometime between 1883 and 1885 silver was discovered near a rocky outcrop on their property, known as the 'Broken Hill'. In 1885 the Broken Hill Proprietary Company was formed to raise funds to mine the silver, and so it was that the town of Broken Hill became established. As far as we know James McCulloch and Robert Sellar did not acquire a mining lease or benefit.

The document 'Pastoral Possessions of New South Wales' suggests James McCulloch, Robert Sellar and James MacPherson leased another pastoral holding at Illiliwa in New South Wales that extended to 96,926 acres at a rent of £1,292 per annum. Can you tell us anything about that?

A National Trust of Australia (Victoria) document records Robert Sellar living in 1889 at newly built Northbrook House, 1257 High Street, Malvern, Melbourne. The house was built for Donald Munro, son of James Munro, Scottish born businessman, temperance leader and politician, who established the Federal Bank and became Premier of Victoria in 1890.

Robert Sellar is described as a merchant, member of the firm McCulloch, Sellar, and Co, wool and commission merchants, agents for Lancashire Fire Insurance Co, and Merchants' Marine Insurance Co, with offices in the St James buildings.

The directories show Sellar in High Street, Malvern in 1890. Following the transfer of the ownership of Northbrook House to the Federal Bank of Australia in 1893, Sellar is listed in Alma Road, Caulfield.

Leishman Inglis and Company

So far, we have not been able to discover anything about Leishman Brothers, but Leishman, Inglis and Company was another mercantile business recorded at 122 Cannon Gate, London who became agents handling the London end of the business for McCulloch, Sellar and Company.

They were also agents for the Australasian Mortgage and Agency, who provided funds for sheep farming in Australia. In 1879, Leishman, Inglis and Company are recorded as importing 19,816 bales of wool, and three years later 24,093 bales.

One of the partners was John Inglis born Kirkintilloch, Scotland 1823, died London 1922, who in the 1881 census was recorded as a Scottish Merchant of Phillimore Gardens, London, whose sister married Robert's business partner James McCulloch.

The London Gazette 22nd January 1901 reported that Leishman, Inglis and Company ceased to trade on 31st Dec 1900. The partners at that time were, John Inglis, John Eadie and Charles Murray Puckle, with offices at 22 Cannon Gate, London, and 395 Collins Street, Melbourne.

(Charles Murray Puckle was the son Reverend Edward Puckle who was one of the Canterbury Pilgrims who landed in the 'Randolph' at Lyttleton Harbour, New Zealand in 1850. He remained in New Zealand only five years, and then came to Victoria where he became minister of St Thomas's Anglican Church in Melbourne. Sadly Charles's son, 2nd Lt Charles Edward Murray Puckle, 11th Battalion Australian Army was killed in action at Gallipoli in 1915 aged 28 years. He was a farmer of Mullewa, educated Melbourne Grammar School and Hawkesbury Agricultural College, ref 8; click to read more.)


Robert and Matilda had a daughter Ella Matilda Sellar born 1866 at St Kilda.

She married at Malvern, in 1887, Francis Joseph Fisher who was born 24 Aug 1859 in South Australia. Francis was the son of the Honourable Joseph Fisher, an accountant and Australian politician who became a Member of the Legislative Council. Joseph was born Yorkshire, England in 1834, married Anne Wood Farrar in 1857, and died Fullarton, South Australia in 1907.

The Argus, Melbourne Monday 12th December 1887 reported  the marriage of Robert Sellar's daughter. The transcript reads,

On the 7th Inst, at St George's Church, Malvern, by the Rev C J Godby, MA, Francis Joseph, eldest surviving son of Joseph Fisher, of Woodfield, Adelaide, to Ella Matilda, daughter of Robert Sellar.

The couple had three children,

Matilda Gertrude Mabel born 1888

Guy born 1890

Hilda Madeline born 1892


The Argus, Melbourne, Thursday 6th September 1900, reported the death of Robert Sellar (ref 6). The transcript reads:


One of the diminishing band of pioneers of Melbourne commerce, Mr Robert Sellar, was removed by death yesterday, after a long illness.

Mr Sellar, who for many years has been a partner in the firm of McCulloch, Sellar and Co, has been a well-known figure in Melbourne business circles since 1853.

He was born in 1828 and was one of a large family of sons, his father holding the position of factor to the Duke of Sutherland. One of the sons, Mr William Sellar, afterwards became professor of classics at the Edinburgh University; and another, Mr Alexander Craig Sellar, was a member of the House of Commons.

The deceased gentleman was educated at the Aberdeen University, and afterwards left for Rio de Janeiro, as a representative of an English firm. Thence he went to New York in the employ of Messrs Dennistoun, Wood and Company, one of the largest trading companies in the world.

Mr Sellar was sent out to Melbourne in 1853 to open a branch of the firm in this city, and arrived here with the late Sir James McCulloch in 1853 in the Harbinger. They managed for the firm till 1861, when the present partnership of McCulloch, Sellar, and Company was established.

Mr Sellar took an active share in business matters outside those of the firm, and was director of the Australasian Mortgage and Agency Company of Australasia. He was also adviser of the Scottish Provident Insurance Company, which has large sums invested in the colony, and was chairman of the directorate of Sands, McDougall, and Co.

In the early fifties Mr Sellar went through the exciting period following the opening of the gold-fields of Victoria.

During the past four months his health completely broke up, and he was under the care of Mr. Hamilton Russell, FRCS, and of Dr Stawell. He died yesterday morning at his residence, Malvern, in the midst of his family, and leaves a large circle of friends to deplore his loss.


PlaqueHistorian LR McCallum discovered a plaque in memory of Robert Sellar near the font in the beautiful cathedral of St Paul's in Melbourne (ref 10). The image opposite is a screenshot from the Cathedral website

The inscription reads:

To the Glory of God

In memory of Robert Sellar

I am the son of Patrick Sellar and Ann Craig his wife of Westfield Morayshire

This tablet and the Celestory window above representing Andronicus and Junia are placed in the Cathedral by his sons

Robert James Douglas & Walter Patrick

He was a member of the council of the first three Bishops of Melbourne and in that capacity took part in the ceremony of opening the Cathedral.

Born in Scotland July 30th 1828

Died at Caulfield, Victoria September 5th 1900.

The Cathedral had been consecrated nine years earlier on 22nd January 1891.

Australian newspapers record that Walter Patrick Sellar, a grazier of Bobundara sheep station near Cooma died on March 25 1922, leaving everything to his brother. His brother, bachelor, Robert James Douglas Sellar, a retired grazier, of Manly died on May 2nd 1934 aged 71 years; he left a significant sum to found a bird sanctuary.


Malvern in Australia

Robert Sellar died at Malvern in Australia, which is a suburb of the city of Melbourne in the state of Victoria.

Robert Sellar was a benefactor of St George's Church, Malvern where his daughter married; George McCulloch, the cousin of his business partner, was also a supporter (ref 7).

It is no coincidence that the suburb of Malvern in Australia bears the name of our town in Worcestershire. The name is said to have arisen through the business activities of a judge named Charles Bruce Graeme Skinner, about 1853, click to see on this other page.

Charles Bruce Graeme Skinner

Charles Bruce Graeme Skinner born in India became a circuit judge in the state of Victoria.

He was the son of Samuel Skinner (1744-1864) of Shirley Park, near Croydon, Surrey, who had made his fortune as a circuit judge in Madras, India, and his wife, the society hostess Mary Skinner (née Routledge), who entertained a wide range of literary figures at their home. The Skinners were friends of Nathaniel Thomas Haynes Bayly (1797–1839), poet and playwright.

This branch of the Skinner family is said to date back to a Norman knight named Sir Robert Skinner, and forebears owned land in Ledbury in Herefordshire on the western edge of the Malvern Hills, some of which was later bought by the Cocks and Somers families.

There is a memorial in Ledbury church to wealthy clothier Edward Skynner died 1631 and his wife Elizabeth Hill, click for Ledbury church guide.

Charles acquired land in Melbourne which he planned to sell for development and intended to name an area Ledbury after the small town near the Malvern Hills in England. To encourage clients he built a small hotel which he named the Malvern Hill Hotel, and the area became known as Malvern instead.

Descendants of David Mitchell Fergusson, elder brother of water doctor John Campbell Fergusson of the Hydro, Great Malvern UK, lived in the East Malvern suburb of Melbourne in Australia (ref 9).

John Walpole Willis

In Powick church, which lies between Malvern and the city of Worcester, there is a plaque in memory of another judge John Walpole Willis (1793-1877).

He is thought to have been invited to the colony by Australian governor George Gipps, but they did not get on and he returned to England.

Earl Beauchamp

The Lygon family of Madresfield Court, near Malvern in England, also had a connection with Australia.

William Lygon (1872-1938), later 7th Earl Beauchamp, was sent out to Australia in 1899 as Governor of New South Wales.



1. Transcript of the testament of Patrick Sellar, scotlandspeople.gov.uk

2. Patrick Sellar, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

3. E M Sellar, Recollections and Impressions, William Black and Sons 1907

4. Edinburgh Gazette 1st October 1861.

5. National Library of Australia, Trove, Digitized Newspapers

6. Death of Robert Sellar, The Argus, Melbourne, Thursday 6th September 1900.

7. Communication from Robert Corless (AOM),  Archivist, St Georges Church, Malvern, Australia

8. Game to the Last: The 11th Australian Infantry Battalion at Gallipoli

9. Communication from L Argaet, October 2016

10. Communication from LR McCallum, June 2017


Categories: Scottish emigrants to Australia, History of Victoria Australia, Places named Malvern

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