Webb, Robert Saunders (Administrative Official) 1811-1855

“Robert Webb was born in England on 25 November 1811 and journeyed to Sydney, NSW in 1827 as a 16 year old. He obtained a post as a Controller Clerk in the Customs Department, Sydney in 1829. He married Ann Fisher in 1834 and purchased land west of Sydney.

In September 1836 he was appointed Principal Customs Officer and the Sub Treasurer for the Port Phillip District. He came by ship to the Port Phillip district with wife Ann, one child and two female servants and initially lived in a ‘shabby, comfortless, weather-boarded cabin’ belonging to John Fawkner behind where Customs House now stands and on the alignment of Flinders Lane. The population of the town at that time was about 1,500.

In early 1837 he agreed to act as the district’s first Postmaster, a task carried out from his residence. In 1838 he purchased three blocks of land north and west of the Flinders St Queen St intersection.” (FHS Newsletter, August 2021, Peter Woods)

Fitzroy connection

“Webb purchased Crown Portion 70 of about 28 acres (11 hectares) from Thomas Walker of Sydney in 1839. This Lot extends from south of Hanover Street to north of Moor Street and from Nicholson Street to Young Street. He sub-divided it into 160 blocks which were sold over a period of years. A large area at the western side of Lot 70
was not sub-divided and was known at the time as “Webb’s Paddock”. He retained a large block at the south-west corner on Nicholson Street on the south side of Hanover Street where he built a house for his family. At a later date his house was replaced by ‘Uxbridge’ by the Architect William Bates. This house was later demolished and units built and given the name ‘Cairo’.

Webb quickly became a central figure in early Melbourne society and served on several
committees. Webb’s Sub Treasurers responsibilities included the payment of all salaries to public officers for Port Phillip, the granting of pasture licenses, granting of auctioneers and publicans licenses and receiving and accounting for all revenue derivable from any source. An extended period of correspondence in 1839 between himself and the Treasurer in Sydney resulted in his refusal to sign a bond or security for the handling of the Sub Treasurers responsibilities, and his Sub Treasurer role was taken out of his hands in December 1839.” (FHS Newsletter, August 2021, Peter Woods)

Robert Saunders Webb – potentially this is one of the
sketches produced by Ann Webb

“Webb served as the Collector of Customs with a small staff meeting all ships as they arrived at both the Yarra River and at Williamstown until January 1845 when he was investigated over the possible use of public monies in making land purchases, and after some months of a serious serious illness and taking leave including a recuperative journey by sea to Sydney, “he was removed from office as a consequence of some mismanagement of accounts which reflected more on his mode of book-keeping than his integrity.” (Edmund Finn ‘Chronicles of early Melbourne’).

Webb’s daughter Annie is thought to be the first white girl born in Melbourne in December 1836. The 1841 Census for the District of Port Phillip list 10 persons living in the Webb stone and brick house; 4 children under 14, 1 under 21, and 5 adults. Domestic servants numbered 4. Melbourne City Council Land Valuation records show that in 1847 he was living in a 6-room house with kitchen, stables, outhouses and garden with a land value of £70. “(FHS Newsletter, August 2021, Peter Woods)

“By 1847 while Webb retained ownership of the house, it was rented to a Mr Stewart, and had a value of £60. R S Webb is recorded on the Electoral List in Gipps Ward from 9 September 1845 until 13 April 1847.

Robert Webb died at his London address on 19 July 1855. One son, Thomas Prout Webb studied Law in England and returned to Melbourne becoming an eminent Victorian lawyer. Robert Webb’s wife and son were sketchers and water colourists. Ann Webb (wife) returned to Australia some years after Roberts death but died at sea on board ‘True Briton’ en route London to Melbourne in September 1862 age 47. A descendant retains one of her sketch books.” (FHS Newsletter, August 2021, Peter Woods)

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