Robert Zealley (1810 – 1870), a bachelor, was born in Devonshire, England to John and Susan (nee Thomas) Zealley. He arrived in Australia around 1838 and died 32 years later at Mt. Duneed on 22 January 1870 from heart disease.1 He was joined in Australia by George, his nephew who was the informant on his death certificate. George Zealley initially went to work in Queensland with a mate who travelled with George on the journey to Brisbane aboard the ‘Hastings’ in 1857. After his mate died of a tick in the ear, George left Brisbane in a bullock cart and travelled overland to Port Phillip, then to Geelong where he joined Robert.3

George’s sister, Sarah Zealley, joined them later.2  Sarah was born in Somerset, and came out from England aboard the ship ‘Queen of the South’ in 1864. She migrated south to Geelong when George’s first wife died to look after the house and children for him. During this time, she met William Ham, a painter and Methodist lay preacher. She married William after George remarried.3

Cyril Ham, Sarah’s grandson, and great grandnephew of Robert, reported to James Baines that Robert was a bachelor from Somerset, England (a free-living man, fond of wine and women).3

web Zealley-1
web Zealley-2

Around the same time that Robert arrived in Port Phillip, Captain Foster Fyans left Sydney (1837) sailing for Port Phillip to become the first police magistrate of Geelong. After tramping from Melbourne, he established himself on the Moorabool River, at Fyansford, and at once, tackled the problem of establishing a town. According to Pescott (1985) Robert was one of the first settlers to be issued a land licence by Captain Foster Fyans in July 1838.4

Robert purchased the licence to Pullemere or Bullen Merri (3 miles S.W. of Camperdown) from

Robert Zealley holdings

John Stephen in July 1848 holding it until February 1850. Later purchasing the South Beach Run (Spring Creek/Torquay) or Burt-buc-guar-yup from William Neil in December 1851. He held the South Beach run until the licence was cancelled in 18695 so that the large parcel of land could be subdivided into Sections. Most of his land was in the area east of Torquay in the Shire of South Barwon, its eastern boundary along Bass Strait went from what we know today as Darien Road, along Whites Beach to the southern end of the nudist beach. He also purchased 2000 acres in the Crown Land Sales between 1856 and 1861 across Torquay.

Shortly after his purchase of the South Beach Run, also called Mount Pleasant Station, two men lit a fire near the station. After Robert and George cautioned them about the fire the men scattered the burning embers, soon setting alight the dry grass and brushwood which rapidly spread across the station. Hurdles, huts, and the house were all destroyed. It was only the change in wind direction that turned the fire toward the sea sparing Mrs. Tate’s property but destroying everything in its path. The Zealley’s lost everything from the burning of their newly built house.6

Robert, the free-living man his descendants described, was charged with assault in the City Court in 1855. It was recorded that Robert and his ‘wife’ (Robert was never married) who was slightly intoxicated, passed a group of men, one of which made a comment to her. Robert turned around and attacked the lot. He struck two of them and after three attempts causing one man, Sexton, to fall to the ground. Robert and the woman were arrested. In the early hours of the morning in the witness box the woman caused amusement in the court by her flippant answers to the questions put by the Bench. She made a premature exit from the witness box when she fell out of the box to the floor, before being fined 20s.7

Crossing the law occurred again in 1865 when Robert and George Pickering were charged with stealing from a person.8 The circumstances were never revealed; it doesn’t appear that Robert was in need of any money. Two years later he donated £1 to the treasurer of the Melbourne Orphan Asylum. 9

During 1868 Robert, with other locals, were actively seeking the creation of a Constitutional Organization (a branch of a political party existing at the time) for Mt. Duneed. A meeting was held at the Mount Duneed Common School on 4th July.10 It is not clear whether the group ever came into existence.

Pescott (1985) reports that Robert frittered away his holdings when a deal to purchase land from Andrew White went bad because the proceeds of the sale of 800 acres was taken by Robert’s solicitor.

Robert had been ill for 10 days before he died. Realizing he was dying he wrote his will on 18 January 1870 with Charles Anderson, a Connewarre farmer, as his witness. He appointed Charles Oxborough, a Geelong publican as trustee and executor of his will. His instructions were to sell his property, call in the money owing and invest the proceeds into a government security. From the income of the investment Hannah Dorothy (known as Anna Dora) Grossman was to be paid £100 pa in quarterly instalments during her lifetime. Her husband Frederick a farmer at Mt Duneed would have his debt to Robert squashed. Upon Anna’s death the residual monies were to be divided equally between George Zealley, his nephew, and Sarah Zealley (later to become Mrs Willam Ham) his niece, children of his brother John. His property at Mt Duneed (70a), two Geelong properties, Connewarre (64a) and 100 acres in the parish of Duneed were sold a few months after his death. In his will it states that Andrew White owed him £500 which could be for the Mount Moriac sale referred to by Pescott (1985) where the solicitor supposedly ran off with the funds. Or could the German considered to have absconded with his money have been Hannah Dorothy Grossman known as Anna Dora Grossman, her husband Frederick or their German solicitor who won the case to recover £390 for the services rendered. The case had been undertaken for the Grossmans by a German lawyer named Sabelberg, on the “no cure no pay” principle.

Anna’s legacy of the Estate, if true as she claimed, was revoked in this codicil he wrote shortly before his death. Robert believed that she had been stealing from him, he also banned her from the house during his illness.

Anna, no longer a beneficiary in the will as she expected challenged the Estate through her husband Frederick for her services rendered to Robert Zealley. From the court hearing in October 1970 Frederick Grossman claimed £390 for the nursing services of his wife Anna Dora Grossman since Robert had a fall from a wool dray in 1867 where he supposedly broke his back. However, initially Grossman only put in a small claim for some milk. His wife claimed that Robert had promised her his estate for her services. She had travelled to Adelaide with him but there were different versions given in evidence on the purpose of the trip. Witnesses claimed the husband told them that she had run off with Robert, Anna claimed it was to support him during medical treatment for his broken back.

Robert believed he had given Anna enough money over time and that £2 per week was enough compensation for what she had done for him. Just days before his death, Robert had banned Anna from being at his house after he had claimed she had taken money from the house, which she said that Robert had given her. Andrew White testified that Robert had lived with him for four months after leaving his employment in July 1866 and White only noticed a cough, never Anna Grossman attending to him. Robert’s niece and nephew gave similar testimony. One witness stated that the only time he saw Anna Grossman at the house she was leaving by the bedroom window!

The jury awarded in favour of Fredrick Grossman for damages of £261 but the defence said that it would move for a new trial on the ground the verdict was against the evidence.

zealley map

After Robert’s death Zeally Bay at Torquay was named after him (though the spelling is different).


[1] Victorian Death Certificate for Robert Zealley

[2] Robert Zealley Will

[3] Baines, J (1938) History of Torquay

[4] Pescott, John (1985) South Barwon 1857 – 1985

[5] Billis R.V. and Kenyon A.S. (1932) Pastoral pioneers of Port Phillip

[6] Geelong Advertiser 8 February 1851

[7] The Argus 3 May 1855

[8] The Argus 6 February 1865

[9] The Argus 9 February 1867

[10] Geelong Advertiser 3 July 1868