Portrait of William Robinson
|Member of the New Zealand Legislative Council|
4 May 1869 – 9 September 1889
|Born||4 May 1814|
Warrington, Lancashire, England
|Died||9 September 1889 (aged 75)|
Christchurch, New Zealand
|Resting place||Riccarton Cemetery, Christchurch|
|Spouse(s)||Eliza Jane Robinson (nee Wood)|
|Relations||Francis Bell (son-in-law)|
He emigrated to South Australia in September 1839 on the Lady Lilford, and promptly took up grazing pursuits, being a pioneer settler at Inman Valley. His next venture, in 1841, was droving 6,000 sheep and 500 cattle overland from New South Wales to South Australia. While droving, he and his party were attacked by Aborigines. That triggered the Rufus River massacre: he participated in killing at least 30 Aborigines, and was speared in his left arm.
In 1844, on the Hill River in the Clare Valley he established the prosperous Hill River Station, comprising over 100 square miles (260 km2). He there became a close associate of fellow pastoralist John Jackson Oakden who, like Robinson, was later to move to New Zealand.
He married Eliza Jane Wood on 4 July 1846 at Adelaide. They had five daughters; their son died as an infant. His third daughter, Caroline, was to marry Francis Bell, a later Prime Minister, in 1878.
He came to New Zealand in 1856 as a wealthy man and was known as Ready Money Robinson for his ability to make large purchases in cash. He resided in Nelson, and bought Cheviot Hills estate. William James Gardner, in his book A Pastoral Kingdom Divided, said that this "was probably the largest and most spectacular transaction of the kind ever undertaken in New Zealand". The land, which extended from the Hurunui River in the south, the Waiau River in the north, the Lowry Peaks range to the west and the Pacific Ocean coastline to the east, amounted to 84,243 acres (34,092 ha). Only the Glenmark station of George Henry Moore was more valuable.
Between 1859 and 1866, the Robinsons lived in England. He pursued his hobby of horse racing during that time. In Panama on his journey back to New Zealand, he met and employed Simon Cedeno and employed him as his butler. It was fashionable in Europe at the time to have a coloured staff member.
Back in New Zealand, Robinson lived part of the time in Christchurch, and part of the time on his Cheviot Hills estate. He became a dominant figure in horse racing circles. He had a slipway built in a locality that became known as Port Robinson, from which he shipped wool. He had a homestead built on his station in 1888, which burned down in 1936.
Robinson was appointed to the Legislative Council on 4 May 1869 and served until his death.
On 9 January 1871, Cedeno killed a housemaid at the Robinson household in Christchurch, and tried to kill another female employee, because they had been teasing him about his fiancée. At the trial, where he was represented by Thomas Joynt, Cedeno claimed that he would have killed Robinson as well, as he was subject to racial abuse; Robinson had left for Cheviot Hills on the morning of the murder. Cedeno was executed at Lyttelton Gaol in April of that year; the second of seven people executed at that jail. There are varying accounts where the Robinson household was at the time, with most putting the scene of the murder on Park Terrace. In her book Ready Money, Robinson's great-granddaughter states that for the summer of 1870/71, they had rented the house of Frederick Weld on the corner of Cambridge Terrace and Montreal Street. It was in the following year that Robinson bought his house at 52 Park Terrace (these days the site of The George Hotel), as they did not wish to stay in the house again where the murder happened.
After his death, his son-in-law Francis Bell sold the estate land to the government in order to prevent family disputes. This paved the way for land reform in New Zealand, and was the first of the large South Island stations to be subdivided. Cheviot Hills was subdivided into 54 farms and the township of Cheviot.