William Pitt Wilshire and Catherine Maria Robertson

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William Pitt Wilshire and Catherine Maria Robertson
The family of Catherine Maria Robertson and William Pitt Wilshire 
1. William James Wilshire 1832 -1911 m. Rosalie Ada Pettingell in 1865 and had 9 children
2. Maria Janet Wilshire 1839-1923 m. John Bibb in 1867 and had 7 children
3. Frederick Robertson Wilshire 1836-1929  married Lavalette Mary Maria Robertson in 1863 and had 12 children. Lavalette was his cousin, the daughter of Sir John Robertson.
This is a picture of William Pitt Wilshire at Picture Australia.





Goulburn Herald 21 March 1889

In our notices of death on the 15th instant was recorded the demise of one of our oldest and highly esteemed colonists in the person of Mr. William Pitt Wilshire, the father of Mr. F. R. Wilshire P.M., of Berrima. The deceased gentleman was a native of New South Wales, and was nearly 87 years of age. He had long been distinguished in literature, and held also a good position amongst artists in oil-painting, many of his works being valued for their vivid and critical excellence, and was otherwise esteemed an excellent judge in the arts. He was the eldest son of the late Mr. James Wilshire, who arrived in the colony in 1801 by the Royal Admiral, and was attached to the commissariat department of Sydney then under Governor King, in which capacity he remained thirteen years, when he attained to the position of principal officer in charge, which he held until the arrival of Governor Macquarie, when having embarked in private business he severed his connection with the imperial government. He continued his commercial pursuits with great success and became one of the leading merchants of Sydney. He married in 1801 at Parramattua, Miss Esther Pitt, youngest daughter of Mrs. Mary Pitt (widow), whose maiden name was Matcham, who was connected with Lord Nelson and by whose assistance and interest she emigrated to the colony in 1801, and obtained important grants of land from the crown. Mr. James Wilshire died in 1840, and now there are over 300 direct descendants living within the colony of New South Wales. His oldest son, William Pitt Wilshire, expired at his family residence, Surry Hills, Sydney, March 13th, 1889. Mr. F. R. Wilshire, our worthy police magistrate and son-in-law of Sir John Robertson, is the second son.—Scrutineer.

Design and Art Australia Online


William Pitt Wilshire, painter and merchant, was the second of 11 children and eldest son of James Wilshire, a successful tanner, and Esther, née Pitt. The place and year of his birth - Sydney 1807 - have given him legendary but dubious status as Australia's 'first native-born artist', i.e. white male oil painter. Sir William Dixson claimed that Wilshire had no formal art training apart from some early drawing lessons: 'his first attempts at colour painting were made about 1829-30, when he copied some of Skinner Prout's work'. Since Prout did not come to Sydney until December 1840, Wilshire must either have copied English engravings or have begun painting much later than Dixson suggests. Dixson also said that Wilshire was a photographer but may have confused him with J.W.F. Wilshire, a professional photographer working in the Sydney suburb of Waverley in the 1870s.

Nevertheless, William Pitt Wilshire undoubtedly used photography in his work. Some of his paintings appear to be little more than coloured photographs. Initially, he specialised in portraiture, but later he also painted landscapes perhaps because of the threat photography posed to the portrait painter. Most of his known paintings appear to be copies, e.g. The Coming Simoon, shown at the 1854 Australian Museum exhibition, which was a copy of a well-known English painting (possibly an art union winner though the artist is unknown) in Sydney. He showed seven paintings in the 1857 Fine Art Exhibition at the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts. Three were portraits - Sir Daniel Cooper, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, an Australian Aboriginal woman and an unidentified sitter - but the rest (at least) were copies: Beatrice Cenci, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Laughing Boy and Cottage Girl. He exhibited original oils and more copies with the NSW Academy of Art in 1872 as an 'amateur'.

Little more is known about Wilshire's art except that he never seems to have worked professionally. A pencil portrait of a deceased uncle, Robert Pitt (Mitchell Library [ML]), copied from an oil painting brought to NSW by Pitt's widow, was drawn on a visit to his aunt some time before October 1859, when the painting was lost in a shipwreck. In October 1853, Wilshire charged Thomas Lane with the theft of various articles, including a paintbrush, but the charge was dismissed. He spent most of his life as a merchant, including running a preserved meat business ('preserved by his entirely new process') in October 1874, but apparently painted as a hobby for most of his life. His oil painting, Aborigines of Queensland (ML), was done in 1886 when he was 78 and is inscribed on the back of the canvas as being after a photograph. A complementary painting, Camp of 'Blanket', Aboriginal Visitor (unlocated: photograph Archives Office of New South Wales), with figures formally posed in a row, also seems to have been copied from (or painted over?) a photograph.

Wilshire married Catherine Maria Robertson, a sister of John Robertson (later NSW Premier) at Sydney on 21 February 1829. They had a large family, although only two sons and a daughter survived him. Late in life he retired to Kurrajong in the Blue Mountains but died in Surry Hills on 12 March 1889 and was buried in the Church of England section of Rookwood Cemetery. His brother Joseph gave Wilshire's occupation as 'gentleman' on his death certificate. (Staff Writer.)

William Pitt Wilshire

James Wilshire, the father of William Pitt Wilshire,  arrived in Australia on ‘Rear Admiral’ in 1800. He was born in 1771 at Aylesbury, in Buckinghamshire, England. Until 1804 Wilshire held the position of Commissary Clerk and Storekeeper, and then Acting NSW Deputy Commissary at various times until 1812.


In 1805 James Wilshire married Esther Pitt, whose family had settled at Mulgrave Place on the Hawkesbury. They had 9 children.


Wilshire had established a tannery at Brickfield Hill in 1803, and also leased land for grazing at Lane Cove. In 1808 he received a grant of 570 acres at Strathfield. This land was granted with special recognition from the Governor, as Esther Pitt’s family  was connected by marriage to Lord Nelson. The deed of grant states:- “Granted to James Wilshire, his heirs and assigns in consequence of strong letters of recommendation from the illustrious and lamented Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson to Governor King”. At the same time grants were made to other Pitt family members, namely Esther’s sister Jemima, and William Faithfull, husband of her sister Susannah, at Burwood.


James Wilshire’s land was known as Wilshire’s Farm, and ran to the Cook’s River. It was sold to Samuel Terry in 1824, and renamed Redmire Estate. This estate when later subdivided formed the greater part of the suburb of Strathfield. Wilshire also held land at Botany and on the Hawkesbury.


Having retired from government employ, Wilshire established an abattoir near Darling Harbour in 1826. This business thrived, and produced leather for domestic use and for export, as well as soap and candles. After James Wilshire’s death on 9 September 1840, the business was taken over by his second son, James Robert Wilshire, who became one of the city’s first aldermen.


Children of James Wilshire and Esther Pitt


1.William Pitt Wilshire, married Catherine Maria Robertson in 1829. They had three children, William James (1832-1911), Maria Janet known as Mina, 1839-1923), and  Frederick Robertson (1836 – 1929). Frederick Robertson Wilshire married back into the Robertson family when he married the daughter of Sir John Robertson, son of James, Lavalette Mary Maria in 1863. They had 12 children.  Their son Frederick Harold Wilshire, married Edith Beryl Josephson, the grandson of Joshua Frey Josephson and Louisa Jane Davies.


2. James Robert Wilshire - James Wilshire had assisted a distant cousin by marriage, Joseph Thompson, to establish himself in Sydney, at his ‘London House’ importing and wholesale business. Thompson’s daughter Elizabeth married James Robert Wilshire. After Elizabeth died, he married her younger sister  Sarah. James Thompson Wilshire, the son of James Robert Wilshire and Elizabeth, became the Mayor of Burwood in 1886.



3. Austin Forrest Wilshire, the third son of James Wilshire married back into the Pitt family. Austin Forrest Wilshire married Eliza Pitt in 1839. She was the  daughter of Thomas Matcham Pitt, his mother’s brother, and therefore his cousin.


4. Elizabeth


5. Esther married Henry P Whittel


6. Matilda Pitt Wilshire, the sixth child of James Wilshire, married William Warren Jenkins, a cousin whose father was Robert Jenkins and whose mother was her aunt, Jemima Pitt.


7. Thomas Matcham Pitt Wilshire married Helen Eliza Faithfull. Her father was William Faithful, and her mother was his second wife, Margaret Thompson. William’s third wife was Maria Bell, whose father Archibald was George Douglas Bell’s grandfather. George Douglas Bell married Agnes Rodd Robertson, daughter of Sir John Robertson.


8. Joseph Wood Wilshire married Ann Osborne.


For information on the family of James Wilshire and Esther Pitt go to

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Ramsay and Robertson Family Home Page