A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the portrait of William Dawson Grubb that hangs in the hallway at Strathroy in northern Tasmania is but an opening gambit on the life of an extraordinary man and his considerable contribution to the state’s history. The benign-looking bearded gent with the steady gaze must also have had a steely determination to make the most of the opportunities that came his way. Today William’s legacy permeates every corner of the grand old homestead where his great-great grandson, Beau Grubb, and his wife, Liz, are the current custodians.
Born in London in 1817, William was just 15 years old when he arrived in Van Dieman’s Land on the Sovereign with his sister, Maria, and her husband, Henry Reed. He worked briefly for his brother-in-law before returning to the UK to complete law studies. When he returned to Launceston in 1842 with his wife, Marianne Beaumont, he set up a legal practice, which was continued by his son, Frederick, until the 1880s. But the law was just one facet of his complex career, which included a timber sawmill at Pipers Brook, diverse mining and railway interests and a decade in the Legislative Council as the member for Tamar.
Although gold was first discovered at Brandy Creek, later renamed Beaconsfield, in 1847, it wasn’t until 1877 that the Dally brothers discovered payable gold and intensive mining began. In the October of that year the Dallys sold their claim for £15,000 to William and his business partner, William Hart. The mine subsequently paid more than £700,000 in dividends and the Grubb name lives on in the Grubb Shaft, which today houses the Beaconsfield Mine & Heritage Centre.
William died in 1879 but some of his good fortune doubtless contributed to the construction of Strathroy homestead, which another son, Charles, commissioned Melbourne architects Terry & Oakden to design in the late 1880s. Launceston-born Percy Oakden had been a student at the prestigious Wesleyan school, Horton College near Ross, where Charles, Frederick and William also boarded. “Strathroy was originally established as Kerry Lodge by Theodore Bartley,” Liz explains.
The complete story was originally published in Australian Country issue 19.8. Click here to subscribe to our magazine.
Click here for more farm life.
Words Kirsty McKenzie
Photography Ken Brass