Researched by Bill Ricalton LLHS
Captain Robert Towns born at Linden Hill Head, Longhorsley on 11th April 1794 and like William Nichol, he was taught to an elementary level by the village schoolmaster James Ramsey. He left at an early age to be apprenticed to the Master of a Collier operating out of North Shields. Robert studied navigation at night, with an old master mariner. By the age of 15, he was Chiefs Mate and at 17 he held a master's certificate. By 20 he had commanded several vessels including ocean-going brigs. By his early twenties, he had sufficient money to order his own vessel built for him by shipbuilders in his home town. The vessel was a clipper of 355 tons which he named "BROTHERS".
He took his ship the BROTHERS to Australia and eventually settled there, married and raised a family. Robert became one of the richest men in Australia, wealth acquired through his activities in shipping, banking, and agriculture. Involved in politics he was appointed a member of the Legislative Council of New South Wales. In partnership with John Milton Black founded a community on the Logan River in Queensland, where he raised cattle and grew cotton, Robert called his property Townsville. In partnership with J. M. Black he took up land on Cleveland Bay, Queensland, in 1865; by mid-year, they had a wool store, wharf and boiling-down works there and owned the adjoining land. Towns soon reported that the 'Government have paid me the compliment to call the town “Townsville”' in his honour.
Associated with the reorganization of the Bank of New South Wales, Towns was a director in 1850-55 and 1861-67 and its president in 1853-55 and 1866-67. By the 1850s he was a large landholder and his shipping business extended to Europe, the East, and India. Agreeing that he had 'too many irons in the fire', by early 1855 he had taken (Sir) Alexander Stuart as a partner under the style of R. Towns & Co. He was a committee-man of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce for many years and president in 1856-57, 1863 and 1865. He was also a director of the Sydney Gold Escort Co. in the 1850s. A magistrate and member of the Pilot Board, he gave evidence to several parliamentary select committees on marine matters and in the 1860s sat on the committee of the Sydney Bethel Union.
Towns suffered a stroke in 1870, but recovered and continued in active business. Soon after another stroke, he died at Cranbrook on 11 April 1873 and was buried in the Balmain cemetery with Anglican rites, survived by his wife, two sons and three daughters. Leaving an estate valued for probate at £74,000 he stipulated that his son Robert should be disinherited unless he conducted himself over the next five years 'in a sober reputable proper and becoming manner'. Daughter Sarah was also to lose her inheritance if either she or her children left the Church of England.
By many of his employees he was known as a cheese-parer, full of furious criticism for failure but few words of praise for success. 'A hard but a just master' was about the most flattering comment to come from an employee; a one that would have pleased him".
A 'Close Up' of the memorial text
The memorial to "Bobbie" Towns
Castle Hill Townsville
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