Andrew Wotherspoons family


The family of Andrew Wotherspoon have been prominent figures in Lismore from the time of Andrew's appointment as school teacher in 1864 until the present day.  There was a Wotherspoon family reunion in Lismore on 2nd October 1988 and the information I have obtained on this family is as a result of this event. 


Andrew Wotherspoons fifth son William Watson married Archibald Curries eldest daughter Susan Robertson in 1877.  They went on to have 9 children but William Watson unfortunately died at the age of 42 of influenza and pneumonia in 1894, leaving a wife and a horde of children behind.  There is no doubt that Archibald Currie would have known Andrew Wotherspoon and his family.  I noticed in the inquest into the fire in Archibalds shop in 1898 that Kenneth Wotherspoon gave evidence as the fire chief. 

Here is a link to a family tree put together by another relative of Andrew Wotherspoon:

Andrew and Elizabeth Wotherspoon with their six sons.  It would be fair to assume the sons are arranged by age, in which case William (born 1851) would be the second from the left in the back row. 
I would guess this photograph was taken around 1880. 
Photograph courtesy of Richmond River Historical Society. 

The following is taken from the 1988 Wotherspoon Family Reunion notes, compiled by the late Noel Wotherspoon (and it is not the easiest copy to read so I apologise for any errors). I have typed out the complete notes rather than try to abbreviate them and lose any of the data. Noel Wotherspoon obviously did a lot of research into Andrew Wotherspoons life. Reading his notes you certainly get a feel for the kind of man Andrew Wotherspoon was:


Andrew Wotherspoon was born on 31st July 1811 and married Elizabeth Watson at Greenock, Scotland on 10th July 1836. He attended Glasgow University in 1829 but after taking courses in Latin and Greek he did not finish his degree. However, he took a theological course and matriculated in 1831. In those days of high illiteracy, his education would have been well above the average and would have assisted him in becoming a teacher.  There is a gap in his written history here. Also why he came to Australia - possibly because of the depressed conditions in his own country then or he may have been influenced by the Rev. John Dunmore Lang who was responsible for bringing many new settlers to Australia. Andrew, his wife and first child left Plymouth aboard the "James Pattison" on 1st August 1838. His life in Australia was to prove a stormy one with frequent clashed with authority. Because of his stern moral standards he wsa to be scorned and verbally attacked on occassions.  Even though they lost their first born there were ultimately nine other children:

Janet Bell born Sydney 24.1.1839 died 3 .3 .1859 (drowned)

James Sydney 29.4.1841-16.7.1923

Walter Goulburn 13.12.1843 - 20.3.1909

Robert Scott Goulburn 6. 5.1846 - 9.8.1893

Eliza Jane Canberra 23.10.1848 - 1924

William Watson Yass 23.10.1851 - 30.3.1894 (influeza and pneumonia)

Violet Ginninderra 17. 2.1854 - 1934

Andrew Morton Ginninderra 22.12.1857 - 1928

Kenneth McDonald Canberra 13.3.1860 - 5. 5.1943

They had the trauma of losing their first child as an infant and then their first daughter, "Janet Bell" died tragically on the 3rd March 1859 aged 20 years. She was drowned at Goat Station, Ginninderra when she went to the river for a bucket of water and slipped in. Her mother was 400 yards away (about 366 metres) and witnessed the tragedy but was unable to help.  Research has thrown little light on Andrew's immediate doings after arrival in Australia. In Sydney he did have three month's training as a teacher. Prior to his Canberra days, the Church Baptsimal records of the first four Australian born children show his occupations as :-

10. 2. 1839 Sydney  - Trunk Maker

22.5.1841 Parramatta St   Sydney  - Ironmonger

2. 1. 1844 Goulburn  - Clerk

21.8. 1846 Long Swamp  near Bungandore - Teacher

Nowadays people think of Canberra as an ultra modern city - 20th Century place. However nothing could be further from the truth. Canberra has a past, long before the present hordes of politicians and public servants inhabited the city. Originially the site of Canberra was sheep country known as Limestone Plains where the first land grants were taken up in the 1820's. Robert Campbell took up "Duntroon" in 1825. One of the survivors of the early days is the first school building (of which more later) at Canberra. The little blue-stone building near St. John's Church is now being used as a museum. Following hundreds of suggestions, the Capital city was formally named "Canberrra" on the 12th March 1913, even though the area had been known by that name for the previous 70 years.


St. John's Church was established on land owned by the Campbells of Duntroon in 1841 and St. John's school 4 years later. (E. Lea-Scarlett - Queanbeyan District and People" page 56) "Andrew is shown as "teacher" in the Church register of 1848 though he probably began earlier when the school was first opened". (Old Canberra - L F Fitzhardings, page 18). Although a Church of England School, pupils of all demonimations were allowed to attend. Andrew was dismissed by Charles Campbell after a disagreement between them in 1850 but the reason for their falling out has been lost.  It has long been a proud and treasured belief within the family that Andrew was the first recorded schoolteacher in Canberra. The word "recorded" does indeed imply some qualification and various publications do tend to confuse the matter:-

* Samuel Schumack's "Tales and Legends of Canberra Pioneers" page 22 states "The first master was Hugh McPhee in the early forties; Andrew Wotherspoon was the second" (This from the memory of a former pupil)

* L P Fitzharding's "Old Canberra" page 18 states "Two at least of the teachers of the school seem to have in their own ways characters of considerable note, the first of these, Andrew Wotherspoon" etc etc (this quote could be considered ambiguous).

* The writer has been informed that Hope Hewitt's recent publication "St John's School" states that the first Master was one James Haille, 1845 - 1846, followed by Andrew in 1847. ( correct title is "Canberra's First Schoolhouse")

If the dates shown in the various publications were believed to be 100% correct, Andrew could have not been the first teacher, but it appears that the various researchers have relied on previous publications. Which dates are correct? A request of the N.S.W. State Archives did not help the writer, so readers can teke up the challenge if they so desire. In any case, our man would still be the hero of this mini biography.  After his dismissal, he undertook shepherding at Yarralumla, being in charge of "Goat Station" and for a short time keeping a school at Ginninderra. He was then re-appointed to the Canberra School in 1850.  He was said to be an excellent teacher but one pupil described him as "a bit of a poet and terribly cranky". In 1859 he did in fact publish a small book of poems entitled "The Maid of Erin and other poems". Another report was that he was well remembered for "his tall hat and frock coat, and the strap which he would roll up and throw at any one of us, and lash us with it when we brought it back to him if we weren't smart enough to get away, which we usually did". After his re-appointment, an Inspector reported that, as a teacher, he was very firm but although he had had three month's training at St. James Model School in Sydney he was "too conceited to adopt any methods not his own".  Andrew, an eccentric Scot and a strict Presbyterian had long been at odds with George Campbell (brother of Charles) known as the "Squire" of Duntroon on whose land the Church and School were located, both having been built by the Campbells. There does not appear to be any definite record why this feud commenced. Campbell tried to starve the teacher out by refusing the normal rations which had been supplied to his predecessor and then badger him off with quarrels about fowls and a calf. Further, permission for the Presbyterians to use the schoolroom for services was withdrawn mainly by the efforts of the two most influential members of the School Board, Campbell and the Rector, the Rev. Galliard Smith. As a Presbyterian master of a Church of England School, Andrew was in a delicate position but fought fiercely against that decision.


In 1860 there were moves for a Post Office in Canberra. On 14th October 1861, following an earlier request, a petition signed by 54 area residents (of which Andrew was one) finally resulted in the establishment of the first Post Office. Our man applied for the position of Postmaster on the 31st October 1861 and on 27th October 1862, George Campbell nominated one Francis Williams for the position (obviously plenty of time in those days). Andrew obtained the appointmentand on 1st January 1863 took up duty as the first Postmaster on a salary of 12 pounds ($24.00) p.a. plus a small commission on the sale of postage stamps. No doubt this success against the opposition nominee added more friction to the long running feud with George Campbell.


Andrew had a very fluent pen and wrote many letters to the local Newspaper protesting Campbell's treatment of him. Various family members have made mention of Andrew being a "Dux of letters", implying greater academic achievements than recorded. This could have originated from a remark to him by the Rev. John Dunmore Lang in Lismore - " I have always said you were a man of letters". Andrew was then teacher and Postmaster at Lismore. The remark was possibly a facetious one referring to his previous position as Postmaster at Canberra and his many lettes to the newspaper rather than his educational standard. Nevertheless, he deserves great credit for his lifetime achievments.


George Campbell had sent the Rector, Rev. Smith, to dismiss Wotherspoon but Andrew would not accept that and opened the school as usual. The "Golden Age" Newspaper of 7th May 1863 devoted a full page to reporting a public meeting held at the Queanbeyan Court House to protest the teacher's dismissal. It tellls that Mr Campbell was annoyed by Andrew's fowls roosting in the horse stalls at the Church as it was considered that his (Campbell's) horses would be "tortured by vermin". Also a calf had been tied up in the stalls and this had been impounded by Campbell. Our man had strong public support as a quote from the newspaper shows. A motion was proposed that "There are no valid grounds for his (Andrew's) dismissal; his conduct, proficiency and zeal as a teacher never having been called into question". An amendment was then moved that "This meeting absolve Mr Campbell and the Rev. Mr Smith from all blame in the matter" (cries of "No, No" and great uproar). Mr Palmer seconded the amendment amid cries of "No, No, hooting and great noise". The amendment was defeated - "six hands were held up in favour, a "forest" of hands "against".  Our teacher continued to operate the school and Campbell stormed into the schoolroom one morning and told the children to go home as the school was closed (Another report is that he drove the children out with a whip handle). Andrew knew that he had public support and determined not to be beaten by Campbell, re-opened the school next morning and the children attended. However, not to be outdone, that afternoon Campbell sent the Duntroon blacksmith to change the lock on the door so the teacher could not get in. He had also arranged to have Andrew's salary stopped and stated that if Wotherspoon were not removed, he would withdraw use fo the school building which was situated on his land. Our beleagured ancestor was completely out-gunned but held out for some weeks, supported by local subscriptions and his income as Postmaster.  However, still protesting, he had no option but to depart the scene after resigning the position of Postmaster on 15th June 1863. It seems sad that fate decreed that these two strong characters should come into conflict and it appears that there was pride and arrogance on both sides. Particularly in those days of landed gentry, Andrew would have stood little chance against probably the largest land owners and most prominent family in the district, but he obviously feared no man.  After Canberra he obtained the position of teacher of a schoool at Dobroyd (Haberfield) near Sydney. He was admitted to the training department of the Fort Street Model School and at the end of his one month's course, he was appointed to Lismore in April 1864.



Although there were previous "private schools" which had no Government recognition or financial assistance, the first National School in Lismore was opened in 1862 in a building erected about 1850. The first schoolmaster was a 32 year old Londoner, William Henry Rankin.  About this time a ship's Captain described Lismore as being the "most wild, wierd, watery wilderness on the coast". The school building is recorded as being "so old that it had to be propped up with bits of wood and when it rained, it all came through". The school ground is described as wet sticky clay and that the teacher often had to scrape the floor to remove the sticky mud.  Rankin had community acceptance and was well regarded as a teacher. However, being a sensitive person, he was most unhappy in what was then a primitive and rough environment. He blamed an examination failure on his "extreme nervous debility" resulting from having to carry wood and water which over-taxed his strength. In March 1863 he applied for a transfer on the grounds of failing health which eventually led to the appointment of Andrew Wotherspoon on the 29th April 1864 on a salary of 7 pounds ($14.00) per month.  Rankin was transferred to the National School at Berkeley in the Wollongong district but did not have much of a break from the unhappy Lismore days. Tragically he and his wife were drowned on their way to Sydney when the ship "Rainbow" was cast ashore off Seal Rocks.  Our illustrious ancestor was apparently made of sterner stuff than his predecessor and had no fears of the primitive Lismore or his new employer, the Board of National Education. Before leaving Sydney he had the audacity to apply to the Board for an extra 15 pounds ($36.00) per annum to cover the additional cost of living in Lismore which he had estimated to be 50% higher than Sydney. His request was refused.  On 1st January, 1867, following Government legislation, the National Schools were re-designed "Public Schools" under the administration of a Council of Education and a local School Board but this had no effect on Andrew's situation. The first schoolroom had been leased, but in 1868 a new Public School with teacher's residence attached, on the corner of Molesworth and Magellan Sts, was handed over to the teacher.


The first Postmaster in Lismore was one William Percy who was the teacher at a private school. He resigned as from 1st January 1862. The Department decided to continue the Teacher/Postmaster situation and William Rankin (the first National Schoolteacher) was appointed to the position. When Rankin (as Schoolteacher) was transferred, Andrew inherited the position of postmaster and was appointed on the 24th May 1864. He arrived in Lismore on the 27th May 1864. Apparently his time as Postmaster was free of ocntroversy as the next mention is that he resigned on the 2nd June 1871 as his salary had only increased from 12 pounds ($24) to 18 pounds ($36) per annum during those 7 years.


In December 1867, six parents petitioned the Council of Education to investigate the incompetency of Mr Wotherspoon, alleging that their children's education was being "neglected and retarded". The Council decided to take action and informed our teacher that because of the complaintes he was to be transferred.  Being of a fiery nature and never one to submissively accept what he considered to be unjust critisism, our man produced five foolscap pages claiming that the reports could not be substantiated. He said that after his arrival in Lismore, he and a few others had raised the moral tone of the community from a place known for its drunkeness and accompanying evil surroundings to a model of sobriety. He also named a few "incorrigible evil-doers" who were opposed to him. Toward the end of the following February, Andrew produced a petition bearing 68 signatures requesting that a full investigation be made. The Council decided to let the matter stand over until a District School Inspector was able to report.


In September 1870 the School Inspector called after the pupils had been dismissed and commented adversely about the untidiness of the room and the incompleteness of the Roll. Apparently Andrew exploded at this critisism and the Inspector (Jones) hot footed it to report him to the Secretary of the Local Board.  The three met at the school the next day and our teacher said that he knew what should have been done but did not appreciate Jones' attitude which he considered was more like that of a Policeman than a School Inspector - and promptly left the room, closing the door behind him. Jones considered this further rebuff to be sufficient grounds to report to the Council. The Council called up on the teacher to "explain why he should not be dismissed for being guilty of the most discourteous and offensive conduct toward the Inspector and the ngeligent manner in which the School records have been kept". To this, Andrew replied that "I saw from his eye what I had to expect.. My courteous, respectful and cordial advances were instantly repelled by the cold and imperious hauteur of his manner which sank like lead upon my spirit, chilling and withering all sympathy between us".  The Council considered that there was blame on both sides - Jones for his lack of tact and Wotherspoon for his undue sensitivity - and deferred notice pending further inquiries. In April 1872 another Inspector investigated and concluded that the teacher was at fault but that dismissal was not warranted. The Council decided that Andrew was to be "severely reprimanded and cautioned".


In May 1874 the Council of Education received a petition signed by 26 persons calling for Wotherspoon's removal on the grounds of lack of progress by the pupils. Sixteen of the 26 signatories attended an official meeting to discuss the situation. The Local Board concluded that there was a danger of parents withdrawing their children from the school possibly resulting in its closure.

Andrew was again called upon to justify himself and contended:-

"The whole is the work of a few individuals who are activated by malice toward me, for no reason that I can conceive of except that my life is a standing rebuke to them. For I do not countenance gambling, promiscuous public dancing, drunkeness nor horse racing".  Our ancestor has emerged as a man of strict moral standards with a stern unbending nature. Too strict for his local community attitude. The first Europeans in the area were the timber-getters. From all reports they were a pretty tough lot - hard-working, hard drinking and hard fighting. One local historian in describing the pioneer cedar cutter said "the softer emotions had no place in him and that he worshipped the one god - rum". No doubt Andrews's moral standards had many critics and probably some people may have been unkind enough to condemn him as a wowser.  However, the Council of Education supported the teacher and considered his explanation to be satisfactory and "adduced no good reasons for his removal". It also decided that the Council would "encourage him to proceed and promise him their protection so long as he discharges his duties to the best of his ability".


The matter was not allowed to end there for when the petitioners heard of the decision, a group of half a dozen citizens opened a rival school on the 20th June 1874. The local board found that 20 children had transferred to the opposition school and recommended to the Council of Education that "a first class teacher, middle aged" be appointed to the Public School to induce the children to return.  Under the circumstances, the Council had no option but to re-open the issue of Andrew's unpopularity and referred the matter to the Inspector for investigation. His findings were that "owing to the unpopularity of the teacher, and other causes, not more than half the children of school age in the locality are enrolled:, and that the rival school was receiving "as large a share of the patronage as the Public School". In view of this, he recommended Wotherspoon's removal.   This was the final straw and Andrew was transferred to Kelly's Plains in the New England district but he resigned rather than accept that.


He remained in the school residence until 1875 and then established a mixed business in Woodlark Street the following year. Once again he showed his versatility in now becoming a storekeeper. In the "Northern Star" newspaper of 16th June 1877 his advertisement "Begs to thank his friends for the kind support hitherto afforded him and respectfully solicits further favours - so that the crust he is now getting may be more and more sweetened by their smiles". The mention of the "crust" could be a hint of latent humor in a severe man or perhaps a cry of anguish seeking sympathy and support. In any case, it is an interesting example of the now (extinct?) speech of those days. In the same advertisement he advises that he had "Ladies Leather Bags" for sale at three shillings and six pence (35c) each.


In the 1870's, the family was well involved in the community life of Lismore. For instance, the "Northern Star" of 5th May 1877 reports the result of a cricket match between the Lismore Alberts and Alstonville clubs showing six Wotherspoons in the Albert's side -

First Innings

Wlt Wotherspoon            runout                        1

R. Wotherspoon              b. C. Brown              9

A. Wotherspoon              b. E. Mavin               0

K. Wotherspoon              b. C. Brown              5

J. Wotherspoon               b. E. Mavin             10

W. Wotherspoon             Not out                      0



The other 4 batsmen                                          9

Wides and byes                                                 5


                                                                    total 39

Alstonville made 29 (Wotherspoons took 6 wickets) for their first innings but no final result was attained - "The Alstonville Club having to return home before nightfall" - the match was closed before they could play their second innings. Lismore had made 57 on its second attempt, the Wotherspoons made 55 between them.

Although no longer in the limelight as a Schoolteacher, Andrew continued to be in the fore of civic affairs. The "Northern Star" of 28th July 1877 carried Notice that :-

"A Public meeting of the inhabitants will be held in the COURT HOUSE, LISMORE on Saturday 4th August, 2 O'Clock p.m. for the purpose of accepting a petition to the Government for the ERECTION of a BRIDGE at the junction of Lycester and Wilson's creeks. - ANDREW WOTHERSPOON

History has shown that it was a successful petition and the bridge did come to pass.  The records show our Andrew to have been a successful businessman. He conducted the store until about 6 weeks before he departed this life. In the "Northern Star" Newspaper of 5th March 1887 there was notice of a "Clearing Out Sale" of Andrew Wotherspoon's store. Being well versed in human nature, he assured the public that this was a "Bona-Fide sale and no sham". A further comment was that "All goods would be sold for cost only".

The full life of Andrew Wotherspoon ended on the 18th April 1887. Possibly some of Andrew's (now) distant descendants may consider him to have been narrow minded - by today's standards. However, no one could deny that he had the public courage of his convictions and does deserve great credit for a meritorious life.


Whilst there has been considerable research for these writings, no doubt some statements or dates will be disputed by some readers. I have found conflicting dates and other information but have accepted the record of the author who seemed to be the best known as a researcher.  There will probably be further anecdotes known to others which would have merited inclusion. There are two points which will probably bring forth some discussion: 1) Was Andrew the first schoolteacher in Canberra? and 2) Was it indeed our Andrew who matriculated from Glasgow University? If some reader does indeed have further documented anecdotes of our venearble ancestor's life I would appreciate details for my own archives.

Noel D. Wotherspoon

12 Tarukun Street

Alexandra Headland QLD 4572


Lea-Scarlett E Queanbeyan District and People

Schumack S. Tales and Legends of Canberra Pioneers

Fitzhardings L F Old Canberra

Fitzgerald A. Historic Canberra 1825 - 1945

Solth P.A. Canberra Collection

Canberra and the New Parliament House Published by Landsdowne Press 1983

The Golden Age Newspaper May/June 1863

The Richmond River Historical Society, Lismore

Bass R. Education in Lismore

Noel Wotherspoon died on 13. 7. 1992, only four years after the much planned Wotherspoon family reunion.  

Although Noel is no longer around to thank for this wonderful biography I suspect he would have liked to know that his work is still being read and preserved and will be for many more years.    

Here are some more Wotherspoon family photos courtesy of the Richmond River Historical Society:

James Wotherspoon

Esther Wotherspoon

 Walter and Emma Wotherspoon

Violet Wotherspoon

Lismore Fire Brigade, with Kenneth Wotherspoon probably somewhere in this photo. 

The ladies in this photo have been identified as: 

Back left: Lillie Wotherspoon b 1877 (daughter of Walter, married Garner), Hannah Wotherspoon b 1875 (daughter of James, married Murray), Violet Wotherspoon b 1876 (daughter of James, married Atkins)

Centre left: Alice Wotherspoon b 1874 (married Parkes), Elizabeth Wotherspoon b 1872 (married Houlden) - both daughters of Robert Scott Wotherspoon

Front left:  Elizabeth Wotherspoon b 1880 (daughter of William Wotherspoon, married Fredericks), Agnes Taylor b 1876 (daughter of Eliza Jane Wotherspoon, married Withers), Susan Wotherspoon, b 1878 (daughter of William Wotherspoon, married Seller). 

Thanks to the relative who emailed me to let me know who was who in this photo, which had been entitled 'Wotherspoon sisters'.  As for a date, if we look at Elizabeth Wotherspoon, the youngest in the photo and guess her age as 18, this would date the photo as being taken in 1898. 

Wotherspoon Triplets.

This picture was labelled as being of David, son of Andrew Wotherspoon.  Perhaps it meant to say 'grandson'. 

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