Club Member Jill Dickson, nee Austin, can trace a Rolls-Royce connection to the 1912 Silver Ghost owned by her great grandparents, Albert and Catherine Austin.
Jill and John Dickson are members of the Victoria Branch, which they joined in 2002 with 1979 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow II, SRH36331. Others include a 1960 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II, a 1996 Rolls-Royce Silver Spur III, a 2015 Bentley Continental Flying Spur. Their home with its beautiful garden in Deniliquin has been the venue for enjoyable Club events on a number of occasions.
Jill was a Mothercraft Nurse and John managed his family’s property, ‘Coroonboon’, a Merino stud of 74,000 acres at Wanganella, north of Deniliquin in the NSW Riverina. One of the oldest Merino studs in Australia, it is listed as Flock No.18 founded in 1870, and was in the Dickson family from 1861 to 2014 when John and Jill retired.
Jill’s family tree reveals relatives with a number of Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars. Her great grandparents, grandparents, great uncle and a great aunt owned six Rolls-Royces, with models ranging from 1912 to 1926. During the 1950s an uncle bought a new Bentley and a more distant relative acquired a 1935 model Rolls-Royce.
Jill’s great grandparents, Albert and Catherine Austin, had the first RollsRoyce in the family. It was a 1912 model Silver Ghost, chassis number 1910E, a chauffeur driven town car with landaulette coachwork by Mulliners of Birmingham. It was first owned in England but came to Australia soon after.
Albert Austin (1834-1916) was born in Somersetshire, England. He came to Victoria in 1851, and married his cousin Catherine Mack (1836-1918) in 1862. He worked with his uncle for the first two years and then with the assistance of his uncles he purchased a substantial crown leasehold in the Western District. Albert amassed wealth as a pastoralist, an astute businessman and a leading sheep breeder. His ‘Wanganella’ Merino sheep won championship prizes throughout the country.
Albert and Catherine built a magnificent mansion, ‘Eilyer’, in Albany Road, Toorak, Melbourne. It was the family’s town house and the scene of glittering balls and social occasions. The Austins regularly made the grounds available for charitable events. One such was in 1898 when Lord Brassey, Governor of Victoria from 1895 to 1900, opened a huge garden fete for the Time and Talents Society in the grounds of ‘Eilyer’. Catherine Austin was at one time president of the Society. Catherine died in June 1918, two years after Albert, and her funeral left from ‘Eilyer’ on 17 June. Following her death, ‘Eilyer’, described in the auction notice as a Toorak “Mansion and Grounds 7 acres”, was put up for sale in July 1918. The contents were auctioned the following month when the “RollsRoyce Motor Car, Landaulette Body, Royal Blue, in Perfect Order” was offered in the sale. The grandeur that was ‘Eilyer’ can be imagined in the offering of a “Superb Patent Boudoir Grand Piano by Steinway & Sons, in Rosewood” and a “Magnificent Full Dining Room Suite in Mahogany, Comprising, Sideboard, 8ft, Dining Table, Extension to 20ft, 20 Standard Chairs and 2 Carvers and Massive Dinner Waggon”. The domesticity of ‘Eilyer’ was reflected with “Two Cows, in Full Milk” for sale!
Jill’s grandfather, Albert Sidney Austin (1863-1945) of ‘Eilyer’, Lake Bolac, Victoria, owned in 1916 the second Rolls-Royce in the family. It was a 1913 Silver Ghost, 2570E, with an English tourer body by Holmes. Albert Sidney was the first child of Albert and Catherine. He married Margaret Janet Robertson Mackenzie (1871-1958) in 1892. One of their children, Geoffrey (1903-1988), was Jill’s father.
Jill’s great uncle Frank Stanley Austin (1868-1941) of ‘Mt Widderin’, Skipton and Toorak married Fannie Gertrude Maidment (1871-1939) in 1894. Frank, who was Albert Sidney’s brother, owned three Rolls-Royces: a 1923 Silver Ghost, 65LK, with an Australian tourer body possibly by the Melbourne firm of Waring Bros; a 1926 Phantom I, 45NC, possibly a limousine by the Melbourne firm of Martin & King; and, a 1923 Rolls-Royce Twenty, 77A5, roadster later modified to a fixed head coupe. Frank left the Twenty to his nurse, Miss Cooper, who later married to become Mrs Herschell.
Jill’s great aunt Nancy Edith Austin (1882-1946) of ‘Mt Widderin’, Skipton and Malvern, was Albert Sidney and Frank’s sister. Nancy was an artist and lived in Yea for many years. She owned a 1926 Rolls-Royce Twenty, GUK11. This car was bodied in Australia as a tourer, however, by 1929 it was rebodied by the Melbourne firm of Martin & King as a roadster. It seems that the car remained with Miss Nancy Austin until her death.
Jill’s uncle, Ronald Albert Austin (1893-1965) of ‘Eilyer’, Mortlake bought a new 1951 Bentley Mk VI, B119MB. Ronald was the son of Albert Sidney and Margaret. Ronald Austin served with distinction in World War I with the 8th Light Horse in Palestine from which he transferred to No. 1 Squadron Australian Flying Corps. He was awarded the Military Cross.
Finally, Hugh Austin, in northern NSW and from another branch of the family, owned second-hand a 1935 Rolls-Royce Phantom II, chassis number 159TA, in the 1950s [see ‘THE WHOLE TRUTH – 1935 PHANTOM II, 159TA’ in this series].
News about prominent families and personalities can be found in newspapers and magazines of the time. A delightful photo of Jill’s parents appeared in the Melbourne ‘Argus’ on 5 March 1929 on the occasion of their marriage. The caption reads, “Mr. and Mrs. Geoffrey Austin after their wedding at the Church of England Grammar School chapel yesterday afternoon. The bride was Miss Joan McArthur, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. A. N. McArthur, of Kooyong road, Toorak.”
Jill and her mother, Joan (1902-1980), were mentioned in the 22 March 1934 edition of ‘Table Talk’, a society magazine published in Melbourne from 1885 to 1939, “Mrs Geoffrey Austin has returned to her home at Boggabri, New South Wales, with her baby daughter, after being in Melbourne for some months.” Jill’s parents were reported in the 7 February 1935 edition of ‘Table Talk’, “Mr and Mrs Geoffrey Austin, New South Wales, who have been spending the summer in Melbourne, left last week to stay with Mrs Austin’s sister, Mrs Conway Seymour, at Bool Lagoon, South Australia.”
Jill’s father served in World War II from 1940 to 1944. Major Geoffrey Austin was one of the renowned Rats of Tobruk and fought in the Battle of El Alamein, where he was badly wounded. He was at Tobruk when this item appeared in the Melbourne newspaper ‘The Age’ on 22 November 1941, “Mrs Geoffrey Austin, of Mortlake, with her children, Jill and Timothy, is staying at the Occidental Hotel.”
The pastoral and business enterprises of the Austin family were well established and prosperous by the early part of the twentieth century and with the wealth came the six Rolls-Royces owned by Albert and Catherine and three of their children. Buoyant economic times in the 1950s saw a third generation of the family with a new Bentley. Quite a Rolls-Royce and Bentley tradition, which Jill, as the fourth generation, and John have continued.
[Acknowledgement: My thanks to Tim Austin, Jill’s brother, for details of the family history. Tim established Elfinvale Stud Kelpies and bred thousands of sheep dogs, renowned here and in many countries overseas. Tim with family and his team of Kelpies famously herded 1,500 Merino sheep through the streets of Melbourne to celebrate 150 years of sheep in Melbourne in 1985 and the arrival of the Melbourne Show.]
Author: David Neely is an Honorary Life Member of the RROCA, George Sevenoaks Medal (NSW), SHRF Historical Consultant, co-author with Tom Clarke of ‘Rolls-Royce and Bentley in the Sunburnt Country’, author of ‘In the Rear-View Mirror – a History of the Rolls-Royce Owners’ Club, former editor of PRÆCLARVM and regular contributor of articles. He has owned a 1926 Phantom I, 1929 Phantom II, 1957 Bentley S1, 1963 Silver Cloud III and currently has a 1985 Silver Spirit .