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Elizabeth Jane (Bessie) Robinson

Community and education advocate (1844–1922)

About Elizabeth Jane (Bessie) Robinson

Elizabeth Jane (‘Bessie’) Robinson was a businesswoman who drove the development of the central west town of Canowindra and advocated for quality public education.

Bessie’s land stretched from present-day Gaskill Street to Clyburn Street. The Old Vic Inn now stands on the site of The Victoria Hotel built on Bessie’s land, which she ran from 1868 until the early 1900s. In the early 1870s Bessie began campaigning for better education in Canowindra. In 1875, the government agreed to set up a state school. Bessie was also instrumental in building modern-day Canowindra, developing her land for residential and commercial purposes.

Location

  • Street address:The Old Vic Inn 56 Gaskill St, Canowindra 2804

Accessibility

  • Wheelchair accessible

Category

  • Commerce
  • Education

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Detailed information

A formal portrait of Bessie Robinson wearing a dark dress, standing next to a table with a vase of flowers.
Elizabeth Jane Robinson. Image courtesy of the Rygate Family Collection

Born in 1844 at Carcoar/Mount Macquarie, New South Wales, Bessie Robinson moved with her family to Canowindra aged eight, where her father became an innkeeper.

Bessie owned and developed the land on which the present town of Canowindra largely stands.  She inherited 160 acres (and a half share in another 80 acres) when her father died in 1860 and this included a (‘first’) subdivision which had been surveyed in 1858.

In 1861 she married John Flanagan. Shortly afterwards, they moved to Sheet-of-Bark, near Woodstock, where they also became hoteliers. In 1868 Bessie moved back to Canowindra with John and their four children where John took over the licence of the Victoria Hotel.  Following John’s death in 1872, she took up the licence of the hotel, now the site of the Old Vic Inn.

Bessie’s mother had built the original weatherboard structure in 1865 on Bessie’s land. An 1867 reference to the hotel described it as having: “ten rooms, detached kitchen, and six stalled stables … Large stockyard, together with 160 acres of land securely fenced and subdivided into two paddocks.”

A formal portrait of Bessie Robinson wearing a light-coloured dress, standing next to a window. 
Elizabeth Jane Robinson . Image courtesy of the Rygate Family Collection

Bessie soon turned the hotel into a friendly place where local residents gathered for town meetings. She always maintained her own medicine chest, being described as having 'played the role of doctor and nurse' in the district for over 20 years. She became an enthusiastic advocate for establishing a new district school. By 1872 Bessie had already set up a small, privately run school in Canowindra, open to all, but it had limited resources. Bessie proposed that the community apply for government aid to set up a state school. The initial application was not successful.

In 1873, Bessie remarried. Her new husband, civil engineer Thomas Clyburn, had arrived in Canowindra during a brief gold mining rush in the late 1860s. After their marriage, Thomas became the licensee of Bessie’s hotel and they had six children.

Throughout this time, Bessie continued to campaign for a new school in Canowindra. Thomas supported her efforts, and in 1875 her application for a ‘provisional school’ was approved. The school grew quickly and was upgraded to public school status by 1877.

In 1878 the couple developed a second (‘Clyburn’) subdivision. They also built several shops opposite the hotel on the village’s main street, now Gaskill Street.

In 1891 Thomas passed away. Eight years later, Bessie married James Marshall. In 1904, the large orchard near the hotel’s rear into a residential area was developed – the third (‘Marshall’) subdivision – running north from what is now Ferguson Street.

Bessie and James continued to live at the hotel until Bessie sold it in the early 1900s. A fourth subdivision followed in 1922.

Bessie died in Canowindra in 1922 and is remembered to this day as the ‘mother’ of Canowindra.

A photograph of the Victoria Hotel, now known as the Old Vic. A group of seven people are standing under the front verandah looking to the camera
The Victoria Hotel. Image courtesy of the Rygate Family Collection

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