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Swanston: Merchant Statesman by Eleanor Robin


Swanston: Merchant Statesman by Eleanor Robin (Australian Scholarly Publishing)

About the book

In reviving Swanstons remarkable story from a dusty, almost forgotten treasure trove of bank archives, Eleanor Robin brings to light his considerable contribution to the economic, political and social life of Van Diemens Land and his leading role in the settlement of Melbourne.

As Eleanor Robin explains rather late in the text in this biography of Charles Swanston (Ch.15), Swanston has not been treated kindly by Tasmanian historians. In 1948 W.H. Hudspeth regaled an after-dinner audience with an entertaining sketch of Swanston’s rise and fall that became the accepted view for the next seventy years.  Other historians, like Kathleen Fitzpatrick relied on the evidence of contemporary detractors and the discomfort of colonial settlers over Swanston’s ignominious end to depict him in a negative light. This book, which conceptualizes Charles Swanston as a ‘merchant statesman’, places him within a wider imperial mindset, and assesses his intellectual and social capital against the financial business mores of the time.  Drawing on the archives of the Derwent Bank papers, which were only fully catalogued in 2017, Robin concludes that Charles Swanston was “a vital cog in the rapidly turning wheel of change. He was a man of the world who played out his life boldly in exotic and far-flung regions of the 19th century British Empire” (p.198).


About the author

Eleanor (Den) Robin OAM is an historian, journalist and writer. Following a cadetship with The Canberra Times she reported from the Federal Parliamentary Bureau of The Sun News-Pictorial and later free-lanced. In the Commonwealth public service she worked in Aboriginal Affairs and environment departments and managed the information program of the Australian Heritage Commission, enhancing her passion for Australian history and heritage conservation. During eight years in Tasmania, Eleanor became fascinated by stories of the wild optimism and naked ambition characterising Australia’s early capitalists and earned a doctorate from the University of Tasmania. She lives at Narooma, NSW.