Rediscovering Ginninderra: A database:
Born: 1839; Died: 1915; Married: Jane Webster
Robert Kilby was born in England in 1840, the only son of William and Sarah Kilby of Ramsay, Huntingdonshire. After both his mother and his sister died of tuberculosis, at the age of sixteen Robert accompanied his father on a migrant ship to Australia, the 'Lloyds', arriving in Sydney on 4th September 1856. Ship's records say of Robert: "Can read and write; good reports; paid ₤10 for passage". As newly arrived migrants, they had the distinct advantage that Robert's aunt Mary and her family had arrived in Australia on the 'Irene' four years previously. She and her husband Edward Smith has established themselves in the Ginninderra district, Edward working at Duntroon, then the Palmerville estate. Accordingly, William and Robert made directly for Weetangera where they were all reunited.
Three years later Robert set off with three companions from the Ginninderra district for the Kiandra goldfields. His companions were Edwin Palmer, James Hatch, and William Bowyer. Returning after twelve months Robert had not made a fortune, but had earned good wages, and decided to take up farming. He duly acquired a 40 acre block at Weetangera - Portion 73, Parish of Weetangera. His father Bill took up three adjacent Portions amounting to a further 120 acres - a total of 160 acres between them. They cut timber and built a slab home close to the point where the four blocks met. 'Lands End' was to be the Kilby family home until 1915 when the Weetangera district land was resumed by the federal government.
On 19th May 1864 Robert married Jane, the daughter of Arthur and Christian Webster (nee Kinloch - a name that was incorporated into the Kilby lineage) - who lived at 'Bloomfield' near Murrumbateman. Robert and Jane had five children - Ann (1856) , Christian Jane (1865), Sidney William (1867), James Kinloch (1870) and Edith Lavinia (1875). By chance three of his children were to become associated with Yarralumla Homestead. Christian married Richard Vest, who was overseer / caretaker for over thirty years (1881-1913); Sidney was employed as gardener, firstly by Frederick Campbell and then for a succession of Governor-Generals. The brothers-in-law both had cottages in the Yarralumla grounds. James was apprentice from 1891 for a short while to Fred Young, Queanbeyan builder / architect, and worked on the construction.
As a farmer Robert was highly skilled and very versatile. Although freed from his indentures as an apprentice blacksmith when he left England, he set up a blacksmith workshop at home where he shod horses and repaired farm equipment - his own and his neighbours. He was a very capable builder, a good shearer and a ploughman, and always had a fine vegetable garden and orchard. He tanned and made rugs from wallaby skins, and was a fine musician - playing many instruments and leading the singing at St Ninian's Presbyterian church. He was especially good on the flute, and was in great demand at bush dances.
His community involvements of many kinds are catalogued over the years in the Queanbeyan Age and Goulburn Evening Post. In 1875 he was amongst the parents listed in an application for a school at Weetangera and was subsequently a member of the school board (Clough, 10); Christian (9) and Sidney (7) were named as prospective pupils. Clough reports that Robert whitewashed trees to mark the route through the dense scrub and built stiles for the children to get over fences, or small ladders where there were no corner pasts to build a stile. Although his children had long since completed their schooling Robert Kilby was one of the petitioners for a new school in 1906.
Along with Charles Cameron, William James Cook, James Gillespie and James Kinlyside he was a Trustee of St Ninian's Church; elected to the committee of the Ginninderra Protection Union (1888); a regular participant in district hare drives, pigeon and wallaby shoots; elected to the committee of the newly formed Canberra and Ginninderra Ploughing Association (1879). In 1894 he chaired a meeting at the Cricketers Hotel when free trade candidate Mr A H Conroy addressed the electors.
In 1881 he won prizes for 'best truss of hay, best bag of potatoes and best ham' at the Ploughing Matches held at Gungahleen in association with the Canberra Pastoral and Agricultural Association. A misfortune in mid summer of 1872 was wryly reported in the Age: 'A shed containing three saddles and harness and other effects together with some money concealed at Ginninderra the property of Robert Kilby has been destroyed by fire. The origin of the fire is attributed to a pet cockatoo setting fire to matches by nibbling the points of them. The bird perished in the flames'.
Samuel Shumack says of Robert: "When threshing had to be done in the locality we helped each other and no money passed between us for labour done - the spirit and amity never dies and this showed that the true Christian spirit existed. My friend Robert Kilby was a model neighbour - a half day was usually sufficient to complete his threshing, yet he often spent five days assisting me with mine and he would never accept anything for his labour, nor was he ever absent". [Shumack, 13]
Jane died in 1913. Less than two years later Robert and his neighbours were informed that the Federal Government would be resuming their land and converting it to leasehold. They could apply to lease back the farms their labours had won from the bush over fifty years or so. Robert was one of the many who opted to leave. He passed away only three months later and is buried in the Hall cemetery alongside his wife Jane.
Obituary - Robert Kilby:
A very old and well known resident of this district and for many years a resident on his own estate at Lands End, Weetangera. He had reached the advanced age of nearly 76 years when his end came on Friday last at the local hospital. He had not been in good health for a long time past suffering from kidney trouble. For many years past deceased was a prominent member and senior elder of the Presbyterian Church. His surviving children are two sons and two daughters, viz J K Kilby of Hall, Sidney Kilby of Weetangera, Mrs R Vest of Yarralumla and Mrs Evan Cameron of Weetangera. The funeral obsequies took place on Sunday, Mr John Jordan having the directorship of the burial. The remains were conveyed to Hall cemetery and were there placed alongside those of his wife. Rev A G McIntosh-Carter Minister of the Queanbeyan Parish assisted by Rev D C Hughes Methodists, conducted the service. [Queanbeyan Age 23.11.1915]
- Campbell, W.J.M. Four pioneers of the Limestone Plains, Canberra 1955
- Clough, M.Spilt milk. A history of Weetangera school 1875-2004, Weetangera School, Canberra, 2004.
- Gillespie, L.L., Ginninderra, Forerunner to Canberra, Canberra, 1992.
- Kilby, E. The Kilby Family. 'Lands End' 1852-2013, author published. Canberra [available from the author (02)6230 2234]
- Shumack, S., An autobiography or Tales and Legends of Canberra pioneers, ANU Press, Canberra, 1967
- Queanbeyan Age. 23 November 1915