Photos courtesy State Library of New South Wales (paid for copies and publication rights)
Born and raised in Sydney, William Pitt Wilshire was the eldest son of pioneers James Wilshire and Esther Pitt and a grandson of Robert and Mary Pitt (Matcham). His father, who was Acting Deputy-Commissary for several years, received a number of land grants in the Sydney area and established a large tannery at Brickfield Hill which operated for nearly 60 years. James also owned land at Kurrajong on Wheeny Creek, adjoining John Howe, Thomas Matcham Pitt, Samuel Leverton and Matthew Everingham.
Although William Pitt Wilshire entered into a number of business ventures, his main interest was art and he ‘achieved some success as an artist’. In 1829, he married Catherine Maria Robertson, daughter of Sir John Robertson, and they had three children (William, Frederick and Maria). Catherine Wilshire died in 1848 aged 36 and was buried in the St Laurence Chapel in Sydney. Parish maps indicate that ‘Miss C M Robertson (Mrs Wiltshire)’ owned 640 acres in Kurrajong, adjoining M McMahon, James Davidson (senior and junior), John Davidson, Peter Hornery, Peter Gilligan and William John.
As an artist, William Pitt Wilshire would have appreciated the beauty of the Kurrajong area and several newspaper articles indicate that he spent a great deal of time in Kurrajong after his wife died.
Now this is where it gets interesting. Every family has its stories and our family is no exception. My mother and grandfather were adamant that William Pitt Wilshire was the father of my grandfather, William Matcham Hornery. Although Wilshire never remarried after his wife died, it seems that sometime after 1860 he formed a relationship with Margaret Hornery of Kurrajong and they definitely had one (if not more) children. He was considerably older than Margaret who was 26 when her eldest son (my grandfather) was born in 1870. William Matcham Hornery recorded ‘William Pitt Wilshire, grazier’ as his father when he married my grandmother Charlotte Clarke in 1898 at St Matthew’s Anglican Church in Windsor. Thanks to the results of my recent DNA testing, the indications are that William Pitt Wilshire is my great-grandfather and I am in contact with several members of the Wilshire clan whose DNA results were a high match with mine through William Pitt Wilshire’s brother.
It is not surprising given the connection, that Wilshire called Elvina, Margaret’s eldest daughter (born in 1863), as his witness in a court case in 1877 when he was accused of serious assault against Albert Packer at Kurrajong. Margaret Hornery had married Albert Packer a short time before the assault occurred, so presumably the fight was either about the marriage or the children. I have yet to find out if Wilshire served out his sentence for this assault, but from all accounts he had a fiery temper and it was probably not the first time he had ‘lost it’.
It appears Wilshire took an active interest in the Kurrajong community. From the 1860s he was involved in the push for the establishment of a railway to Kurrajong and on 27 August 1869, he attended a meeting at Benson’s Hotel in Kurrajong and proposed that a committee be formed for the purpose of establishing a public school in Kurrajong, ‘with as little delay as possible and in a central position’. John Lamrock donated an acre of land and the school was eventually built ‘at the junction of the north and south Kurrajong Roads’.
An avid reader, as well as a regular contributor to the Sydney Morning Herald, Wilshire was a colourful character who was considered slightly eccentric ‘because he sat around the Kurrajong hills sketching’. According to Sam Boughton in the 1860s, W P Wilshire was ‘of superior talent, being a no mean artist’. His life-long hobby was art and he preferred portrait painting, showing several paintings in the 1857 Fine Art Exhibition and the 1872 New South Wales Academy of Art Exhibition.
Wilshire’s artistic talents were passed on to his granddaughters Ada, Rosie and Hero and descendants who have chosen to follow artistic and musical careers, including his grandson, Harley Wilshire, who in 1892 composed The Hawkesbury Waltz. The artistic gene also passed to his grand-daughters in Kurrajong down to a gggranddaughter, a classical singer. William Pitt Wilshire died aged 82 on 12 March 1889 in Surry Hills and was buried in Rookwood Cemetery.
Copyright Carol Roberts 2016
This is an updated edition of my article about William Pitt Wilshire that appeared in Hawkesbury Gazette, Wednesday, 8 June 2011.
Parish Map Preservation Project, Kurrajong Parish Map, 140965, dated 1893, http://parishmaps.lands.nsw.gov.au, accessed 2 May 2011.
Parish Map Preservation Project, Merroo Parish Map, 140270, undated, http://parishmaps.lands.nsw.gov.au, accessed 2 May 2011.
Lake Macquarie Family History Group, St Matthew’s Church of England Windsor NSW Parish Registers 1857 to 1900: a complete transcription, 2004.
The Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday, 1 September 1869, p. 5.
The Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday, 13 March 1889, p. 14.
Kerr, J. ‘Dictionary of Australian Artists Online: Rosalie Wilshire’, http://www.daao.org.au, accessed 2 May 2011.
McHardy, C. (Ed.), Reminiscences of Richmond: From the Forties Down by ‘Cooramill’, Kurrajong, NSW, 2010.
Moore, W. The Story of Australian Art, Sydney, 1934.
Rees E. (Ted) Baker, Dictionary of Australian Art, 1992.
Roberts, C. ‘William Pitt Wilshire 1807-1889’, Spanning the Centuries of Hawkesbury History – Hawkesbury Personalities, Journal of the Hawkesbury Historical Society, No 3, 2014.