Judge Robert Pohlman a pivotal player in the early days

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Judge Robert Pohlman a pivotal player in the early days

May 1, 2019

Judge Robert Pohlman was a sober and somewhat reticent man who played a pivotal role in early Victoria. He was one of 20 prominent Melbourne leaders who formed the Association in 1869 and who then became its first President in 1870.

Pohlman took the leading part in a ‘simple ceremony’ on May 31, 1870 when, on an ‘extremely inclement day’ he put up a post that defined one of the angles of the land[1] set aside for the village.

The Age 1 June 1870 reported: ‘On the arrival of the president, his Honour Judget Pohlman, on the ground, the site was marked off with flags by Mr F Harding, of the Crown Lands department…

“A veritable old colonist, with hair white as snow, stripped to the work of digging the hole…the corner post (a red gum one) having been inserted and temporarily fixed in an upright position, the ceremony commenced amid a pouring rain, umbrellas and top coats being a premium”.

After affixing the post, Judge Pohlman, according to The Age, congratulated those present and invited them to celebrate the ‘most auspicious commencement of the noble charity they proposed to found.’

This simple ceremony in colonial Victoria was a long way from home for Pohlman. He was born in March 1811 in the German Embassy in London to John and Annie. John was an Attaché at the embassy, working as an Examining Auditor.  Annie came from a wealthy family who had made a fortune in Jamaica.

Pohlman married his first wife Eliza in London in 1835, while working in the Civil Service and studying law in Edinburgh, where he was admitted as advocate in Scotland in March 1839.

A year later, Pohlman together with Eliza and brother Frederick embarked on the Eagle for Port Phillip Bay. It was an important day for Pohlman who remarked in his diary: “I am quitting England, probably for ever.” On that voyage, Pohlman refused to take part in the traditional ‘Crossing the Line’ ceremony – and was fined 15/-! [2]

Upon arrival in Port Phillip in 1840, Pohlman reported to Charles J. La Trobe (superintendent of the Port Phillip District of New South Wales), who offered him the post of Chief Magistrate.  He refused, bound on pursuing a pioneering pastoral career.

As new settlers, with ideas and capital, the Pohlmans met with J.B.Were, who helped them find suitable property and introduced them to ‘Melbourne Society’.  A decade later, Pohlman was selected by La Trobe to fill one of the nominee positions in the Victorian Legislative Council, and in 1852 was appointed judge of the County Court of Bourke and chairman of general sessions and county court judge for Bourke, Grant, and the North-Eastern district.

Pohlman’s first wife Eliza, died in 1856. The marriage was childless. In 1872, he married Mercy Clifton Bachelor, his housekeeper, and in December they welcomed a baby daughter ‘Annie Eliza Mercy Pohlman’.   Sadly Mercy died four years later after suffering an embolism after the still birth of a son.

On 6 December 1877, after a period of indifferent health, Judge Pohlman died at his residence, Punt Road, Richmond, shortly before midnight, at the age of 66.

[1]ArgusWednesday 1 June 1870, p.7
[2]Unpublished Pohlman family story ‘Eagle and Stag’.

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