John Robertson Edney

Summary information

Name John Robertson Edney
more commonly known as Robertson Edney
Date of birth 23 April 1804
Place of birth The Canongate, Edinburgh, Scotland
Died 21 July 1872
Place of death Wagga Wagga, New South Wales
Mother Janet Robertson II
Father David Edney I
Siblings Margaret Edney
Janet Edny
Mary Edney
Helen Edney
David Edney II
unnamed Edney
Spouse Elizabeth Webster
Date of marriage 8 October 1824
Place of marriage Dundee
Children Martha Webster Edney
Kenneth McDonald Edney
John Edney I
unnamed Edney
James Brown Edney
Occupation Sawyer, spirit dealer, builder

Life in Scotland

Although born in Edinburgh, Robertson's family moved around between Edinburgh, West Lothian (Kirknewton/East Calder) and Dundee.

In his birth entry in the Canongate parish records, John was named simply as Robeson, with family name given as Eding. This most likely reflects inconsistent spelling used at the time, perhaps influenced by regional norms.

Robertson had a number of occupations during his time in Dundee, including as a sawyer (a worker in a saw mill, sometimes spelt sawer) and a spirit dealer. He was short, only 5’4”, with brown hair, blue/grey eyes and a sallow and pock-pitted complexion.

It was while working as a sawyer in 1820 that Robertson met Elizabeth Webster, two years his senior. Robertson and Elizabeth married in Dundee in October 1824, and welcomed their first child, Martha Webster Edney. Martha was soon joined by her brother, Kenneth McDonald Edney, born the following year.

After the birth of Kenneth, the family moved from Dundee to Edinburgh around 1929-30. Following the move, Robertson changed occupations, ultimately becoming a spirit dealer. Elizabeth gave birth to another son, John. Elizabeth quickly became pregnant again, although this child, unnamed in all records, was to only live a few years. By 1831, Martha, Kenneth and John were all dead. Kenneth died in 1830, shortly after John’s birth, and John died within six months of Hooping Cough. James Brown Edney was born in 1832.

Criminal conviction

Nineteen thirty-three was the year that was to define the future of the Edney family. Robertson was now 29 and a spirit dealer, and Elizabeth had given birth to the couple’s fifth and only living child while they lived in Todrick Wynd, High Street, Edinburgh.

On the morning of the 14th of June that year (a Tuesday), Elizabeth sent for Isabella Gourlay to assist her with scouring the blankets. Isabella was the daughter of William Gourlay, a porter in Todrick's Wynd.1

Isabella dutifully came to the Edney house about noon to commence her work. When she arrived there were two or three people, including Robertson, Joseph Tunns Sterces (a figure maker) and his wife, sitting drinking in the room where she proceeded to scour the blankets. Robertson offered Isabella a glass of spirits, which she drank. Within a short time, Isabella was given further glasses by the others in the room and continued to drink until she became quite intoxicated—so much so that she fell off her chair when she sat down to her dinner at two o'clock.

Embarrassed, Isabella promptly rose and ran away into the house of James Davidson, a plasterer in Todrick's Wynd. After only a few minutes, the daughter of James Davidson, Nancy, came into the Edney’s house and asked Robertson to come and help her in put Isabella into bed as she was lying in a closet, quite drunk.

Robertson immediately followed Nancy to the Davidson house and found Isabella lying on the floor of the closet. He and Nancy together lifted Isabella into a bed. Robertson then left, with Nancy remaining in the room to watch Isabella. No sooner had Robertson left the house when Nancy caught him again, explaining that Isabella had tumbled out of the bed and requested that he come and assist in putting her in bed again. Robertson returned inside, only to find the bed covered with vomit, and the floor covered with Isabella. The task was difficult, with Isabella resisting attempts to be moved, and exclaiming “Leave me alone!”. After lifting Isabella and leaving, he returned a third time to repeat the task once more.

After this final attempt, Robertson entered the passageway adjoining the room where his wife had arrived. Elizabeth was, like the collection of people at their house, a little the worse of liquor and Robertson was somewhat aloof when she said to him: "You dammed whoremaster scoundrel button up your breeches".

Robertson began re-buttoning the side of his trousers where, during the lifting of Isabella, his brace had slipped from one of his buttons and in consequence his trousers hung a little to one side. While doing this, he stood by the fire smoking his pipe. It was at this time that one Christian Rofs (understood to be related to Isabella, possibly her sister) had come into the Davidson house, saw Robertson buttoning his trousers, and asked him for a piece of tobacco, which he gave her, then promptly left Christian and Nancy.

The following day, Robertson was detained and charged with rape or assault with intent to ravish. It was alleged that while alone with Isabella, he lifted her dress and petticoat, lay on top of her, and attempted to have sexual intercourse with her. Christian gave evidence that she saw Robertson buttoning his trousers after leaving Isabella’s room.

On 8th November 1833 the Edinburgh Court of Judiciary found Robertson guilty of "Assault with intent to Ravish" and sentenced him to transportation to New South Wales for 14 years. It was his first conviction.

Transportation to New South Wales

Robertson Edney arrived in Sydney on 26 October 1834 on board the Henry Tanner. He was now 30 years old, and unlike the majority of other convicts being transported, could read and write.

The Henry Tanner sailed on 1 July 1834 from London and took 117 day to get to Sydney. She was a Barque of 388 tonnes built in Sunderland in 1834 of A1 class. The master was Henry Ferguson and the surgeon was John Edwards. On this voyage it carried 220 male convicts, 2 of which died on the voyage.2

Of the 150,000 convicts transported to Australia, around 8,000 were sent from Scotland—a relatively low proportion. However many of these Scottish prisoners were highly literate and went on to play a useful role in developing the country.

In 1837 Robertson Edney was in Yass, New South Wales, assigned to work on a cattle property owned by A McLeay. On 3 December 1840, Robertson was issued a Ticket of Leave, which allowed him to remain in the District of Yass.

On 17 February 1846, he was issued a Ticket of Leave Passport, which allowed him to remain at the Murrumbidgee in the service of Mr William Guise. Mr Guise owned a lot of property in County Murray, near Gundaroo, New South Wales, and Robertson may have been driving cattle for him, hence the need for the passport.

Although Robertson served his sentence, which finished in 1848, no freedom certificate was found.

On 16 April 1855, Robertson purchased 35 acres of land at Wagga Wagga, New South Wales for the sum of 35 pounds. The original inhabitants of the Wagga Wagga region were the Wiradjuri people. In 1829, Charles Sturt became the first European explorer to visit the future site of the city. Squatters arrived soon after, leading to conflict with the indigenous inhabitants. The town, positioned on the site of a ford across the Murrumbidgee, was surveyed and gazetted as a village in 1849 and the town grew quickly after (Wagga Wagga reached a population of 627 in 1861). In 1870, the town was gazetted as a municipality.

After a period, Robertson paid a remittance of 15 pounds to bring his wife Elizabeth out from Scotland. His son James Brown Edney, paid 15 pounds for himself, his wife and son to accompany Elizabeth. Robertson took a cheque with him when he went to meet his family in Sydney. He sought out Mr William McLeay, a Member of Parliament, to cash the cheque, as if was dangerous to carry cash on such a long journey.

Around this time, Robertson ran a saw pit on the property in Wagga Wagga (later called Mount Edney Farm) and was a fair bush carpenter. He and his son James built many wooden buildings in the area.

Robertson was buried on 23 July 1872 in Presbyterian Cemetery, Wagga Wagga

Uncertainty on children

Robertson's convict record states that he had two male children alive at the time of transportation (1833). It is unclear if the second child was the unnamed son born in 1831, or another son born after James Brown. However, no such additional son is included on his death record. Interestingly, Elizabeth’s death certificate notes another daughter deceased. It is interesting to note that Robertson and Elizabeth's son, James Brown Edney, is the informant on both death certificates.

Robertson's death record also records his living son at the time of death as being 4 years old. As James Brown would have been 40 at this time, and unlikely to omit himself in reporting details, this is presumed to be an error.


Birth record Death record Marriage record Convict Indent
Robertsonedneybirthcert robertsonedneydeathcert johnrobertsonmarriagerecord convict-indent
Lands: Mt Edney farm Mt Edney (2) Mt Edney (3) Present day Mt Edney
Lands-REdney-1889-zoom-in Lands-REdney-1889 Lands-REdney-1889-zoom-out


Convict list including John Robertson Edney
Ticket of Leave details for Robertson Edney


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