The Serendipitous Nature of Historical Research

One of the things I love about history is the connections between people and places that just pop up when you least expect them. In my ‘work life’, I am the Local History Librarian at Casey Cardinia Library Corporation. Amongst my duties I maintain the local history blog

I did a blog post on Captain Robert Gardiner, an early Berwick landowner, and found out that he had met Burke and Wills and was the great grandfather of Sir Robert Helpmann (1909-1986), the ballet dancer. It is these sorts of connections that make history so interesting. In fact, when I found out the Helpmann connection I rushed in and told my husband, ‘Guess what, Captain Robert Gardiner is the great grandfather of Sir Robert Helpmann’ and he was so totally unenthusiastic that had he been a teenager he would have said, ‘Yeah, whatever’.

But I had to share the news so I rang another librarian at home and told her all about it and she was impressed, as I knew she would have been. I know now that unless the historical information is about old trucks, I don’t bother sharing the news with my husband! I thought you might be interested in hearing about Captain Robert Gardiner and his connections. Gardiner was one of the earliest European settlers in the Berwick area. He took up a pastoral lease, in 1837, south of Berwick. By 1853, Gardiner is listed on the Parish Plan of Berwick as owning over 1350 hectares (3300 acres). His original run was called Berwick which gave the town of Berwick its name.

And here’s another interesting connection. Gardiner owned Crown Allotment 17 and built a brick cottage and stone barn on the site, which are both still standing. This property was called Melville Park. Melville Park later became known as Edrington. Edrington was the home of Lord and Lady Casey. Lord Casey was the Governor General of Australia between 1965 and 1969. Gardiner was responsible for the name Berwick and 150 years later, in a neat parallel, another resident
of Melville Park / Edrington was responsible for the name of the City of Casey, as Casey was named in honour of Lord Casey at its creation in 1994.

Gardiner was born in Scotland in 1812. He, and his first wife Susan Foley (1818-1865), had five children. In 1854 he leased Bolinda Vale and Redrock estates (in the Sunbury/Romsey area) from William John Turner Clarke. Clarke had been a neighbour of Gardiner’s at Berwick. It was whilst he was at Bolinda Vale that Gardiner encountered the Burke and Wills expedition. Burke and Wills had left Royal Park on the 20th of August, 1860. The entourage consisted of 18 people, 24
camels, 23 horses and seven wagons and it was anticipated that they would cover 32 kms (20 miles) a day. Their third camp was at Bolinda Vale on August 22nd and according to the diary of Ludwig Becker,  the Naturalist on the Expedition,
Gardiner ‘provided hospitality for the party and fodder for the animals without charge’. I was amazed when I found this connection between Gardiner and Burke and Wills. The Burke and Wills story is familiar to most of us and I felt a bit chuffed to have a local connection. I found this connection just by ‘googling’ Gardiner’s name. The diary entries can be found by following this link

In January, 1868 Gardiner took up the lease of the Mount Schank Station in Mount Gambier at the cost of 10,000 pounds per annum. Mount Schank, as with Bolinda Vale, was owned W.J.T. Clarke. Lynne from the Narre Warren Family History Group had supplied the genealogical details on Gardiner and the Mount Gambier connection. When I read that, I rushed to my Mt Gambier history book (luckily for me I am an avid collector of local histories) and it mentions that Gardiner was ‘keenly interested in Mount Gambier and district affairs’. He donated a very fine pipe organ to the St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in 1884 and the same year donated the money for a fountain in the Cave Gardens. This fountain is said to be the first large marble fountain made in ‘the colonies’ and was made in Melbourne. The Helpmann connection comes from Captain Gardiner’s granddaughter Mary who married James Helpman in 1907 in Mount Gambier. Apparently, Sir Robert added another ‘n’ to his surname for appearances sake.

It seems, from the date of the donations of the organ and fountain, that Captain Gardiner maintained his interest in Mount Gambier after he left the area as he built a very grand house, Mintaro, for himself near Lancefield in 1882. It was designed by James Gall and has been described as the ‘other Government House’. The National Trust says it is an ‘outstanding example of nineteenth century domestic architecture in the grand Italianate manner’. This house is still standing and can be found on the Melbourne-Lancefield Road at Monegeeta. Gardiner died in South Yarra in 1889.

When I started looking into Captain Gardiner, a local pioneer, I had no idea that I would discover that he had as diverse connections as Burke and Wills the explorers and Robert Helpmann, a ballet dancer, but the unexpected and serendipitous connections and information that you might discover along the way are one of the joys of research.


  • Mount Gambier : the city around the cave – a regional history by Les R. Hill. Published by the author in 1972.
  • The information from theLudwig Becker diary camefrom the La Trobe Journal, No.22 1978 published by the StateLibrary of Victoria.
  • The Information on Gardiner’sconnection to Bolinda Vale andRedrock comes from the Cityof Hume Heritage Study,available on their website

*Originally published in South Eastern Heritage Issue 8 May 2008 and written by Heather Arnold.

15 thoughts on “The Serendipitous Nature of Historical Research”

  1. Ms Jenny Gardiner,

    I too am a Gardiner blood relative. I would like to make contact to establish that connection & share the content of my research that I have been doing since 1995.

    Much discrepancy and other clarity about the “Melville Park” that two of Robert’ half brothers were living & working on, and that he sued them in 1862 for unpaid rents on a lease over the land of the said “Melville Park”.

    I also beleive that the original Edrington is not the original “Melville Park” estate.

    How do we link up?

    Will try to contact the convener of the blog space and see if we agree to exchange email addresses.

  2. Hi Jenny and Ian,
    We are delighted to be of service, if either of you care to request us to forward your email address to the other, we will happily oblige. You may find it easier to use the contact form on the site.

    As for sharing research, the Narre Warren & District Family History Group and the Local History Archive (contact details on member society page) would certainly be interested in your findings, I think there is also an Edrington Research Group as well. Contact details can be gotten for you if required.

    The Seha thanks you for your time and interest in and wishes you both a very Happy New Year.

  3. Interested to hear of the life and times of Robert Gardiner.
    My family have owned Mintaro since 1936. The front room of the property is painted with his initials on the ceiling and the walls are painted with friezes of whaling, pastoral and gold mining that I am led to believe indicated how he made his money. When the railway was opened to Kilmore the train was stopped and the entire entourage came into the gardens for tea! I would be interested in contacting the family to share historical notes

    1. Hi Peter,

      Is it possible to gain entrance to the Mintaro property? I study Victorian interiors specialising in accurate reproductions for restoration work. Even from small framents of decoration, we can produce the glorious work of yesteryear. If you can assist me, please contact me on Cheers Jenny

  4. I am also a direct descendant of Captain Gardiner and would be interested to make contact with other descendants

  5. Hi Fellow descendants, i to am a direct descendant of Robert Gardiner and would love to hear about your connections to him, as would my brother and sisters. look forward to connecting.

    @Peter Rea – Hi Peter would love to make contact and suprise my father with some more info re your post. love to hear from you.

  6. Hi Robert Gardiner descendants. I think I am also but trying to piece this together! My Grandmother, Janet Alice Cox (nee Murray) was a cousin of Robert Helpmann or his mother. Janet’s mother was Alice Jane Bateman and married John Murray of Warrnambool.
    Can anyone tell me how this part of the family fits?

    Mintaro has been advertised for sale recently!

  7. I was looking for information about the Five Mile Estate between Sunbury and Lancefield and although I didn’t find it on your page, I thoroughly enjoyed the read. I certainly share your excitement. Tell your hubby that itellya said he should be ashamed of himself for not supporting your wonderful work!!

  8. I had a quick look at Edrington last year. Very attractive restoration. Also found the cairn atop Mount Misery marking the site where Captain Gardiner’s shepherds, apparently, kept watch for straying ships or shipwrecks from up there. (Now occupied by a curious goat and very old trees). Incidentally, is there a photo of the sculpture that was supposed to be created from “Captain Gardiner’s tree” that was chopped down for new roadworks? The sculpture was to be located at the Uni campus just near the roadworks.


  9. Thankyou for the blog, I find this most interesting. I have been interested in Mintaro for many years and have tried to find out as much as I can about this fascinating property. With it going on the market twice in recent years some interesting information and pictures have come to light. However I have also been very interested in Captain Robert Gardener and have found it very difficult to find any information about this man. Some tid bits of information have come to light and I was amazed to read the plaque on the fountain at Mt Gambier to find that he had donated this. About ten years ago I visited a local historian in Romsey in search of information about Mintaro and he told me that he believed that Capt Gardener died of poisoning caused by copy pipe plumbing in Mintaro. It was also thought that Mr Rae senior may have died because of the same thing during the war. I do not know if this is true but that is what I was told. I would be very interested to read anymore I could find about Captain Robert Gardener and to see a photograph of him.
    I was fortunate to borrow a very rare book which was published in the 1880s about the whos who of land owners and business people in Victoria and was disappointed to find that Captain Gardener did not get a mention.
    Darren Johnston

  10. Would the Casey Local History Librarian please make contact with me. I have recently commenced researching the details of the leases and the lessees of what were known as Gardiner’s Run (Gardiner and Fletcher) and then, to its east, Allans Run (Robert Innes Allan?)and would welcome some input.

    Neville Lee

  11. Dear Heather Arnold,

    I am the son of Ian Xavier Gardiner and grandson of Stan Gardiner, former owner of Nangwarry Station.

    Unfortunately, I know very little of my family heritage. I would just like to thank you for publishing this information.


    Alistair Ian Gardiner

  12. My Dear friend was Dorothy Pearl Searcombe She had a sister Sarah their mother was Maud Gardiner, Dorothy talked of Abe Gardiner how was he related to Captain Gardiner I have a photo of the sisters standing beside the fountain in Mount Gambier also 2 paintings by sarah frasier would that have been her sisters middle name I have given a photo to the stoning ton council of Mount Melville a grand home that belonged to the Curries Dorothy talked of a Wick Curry I wrote this all down But a fire destroyed my home And dorothy had died many years before the fireIalso have tapestries that her mother worked I intend giving them to the Historical society Mt Gambier I would appreciate any information you could pass on Thankyou

  13. Hi everyone, and very fascinating how family history provides such amazing linkages. I hope you all managed to connect.

    I am an historian working on the history of Mintaro, the house built by Gardiner. It would be great to be in touch with any descendants who might have come into possession of records of the construction of the house or of Gardiner’s brief time living there – about 12 months before his retirement to South Yarra. I know it’s a long shot, but you never know!

    There is an interesting profile of Robert Gardiner, in case you all have not already seen it, Rodney Cockburn, ‘Pastoral Pioneers of South Australia’, The Adelaide Stock and Station Journal 1925, p. 135


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