Anzac pastor like no other

This is one of the most Anzac of Anzac stories from the First World War that you’ll hear. What makes the story unique is the family behind it. I told a version of this story in an Anzac Day special on West Bremer Radio.

The first battalion ashore at Gallipoli in Turkey on the 25th of April 1915 was Queensland’s own 9th Battalion. Second-in-command was 28-year-old Major S. Beresford Robertson. He was a big man for his day, six feet tall and almost thirteen stone. He lived in Quarry Street in Ipswich, Queensland.

Major Beresford Robertson

Beresford was an officer in the intelligence reserve and was studying for his law degree when war was declared. He sent photos home from Lemnos Island in the Aegean Sea shortly before the landing, and the last photos taken by him were actually published in Ipswich’s Queensland Times newspaper.

Beresford was among the first ashore at dawn on the 25th of April. He led his men up the cliffs and arrived at a pivotal location the campaign that the Anzacs called The Nek. As he ordered an advance, he raised himself to look ahead and was shot. “Carry on, Rigby,” he said to a lieutenant beside him before he died. This was near a place called Steel’s Post. It had been captured on that first day and held through to the evacuation. Beresford was buried at Beach Cemetery (photograph top of page) on the southern point of Anzac Cove.

Just ten days later, residents of Ipswich were informed of this awful consequence of the war when a telegram from the Defence Department shared the news.

Beresford’s In Memoriam service was the first one held in Ipswich – and quite possibly the first in the whole of Australia. It was held at Ipswich’s Central Congregational Church on the 9th of May, just fourteen days after the Gallipoli landing itself. His father was The Reverend Joseph Robertson who was the pastor there. A photograph of Beresford is displayed in the church to this day.

Rev. Joseph Robertson

What makes Reverend Robertson remarkable is that he’s probably the only person in history to serve as president of Congregational Unions in three different colonies or states, that being New Zealand, South Australia, and Queensland.

He was a cousin of the author Robert Louis Stevenson whose classic books include Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde.

Robert Louis Stevenson

In fact, Reverend Robertson’s family was so highly regarded, that when his son was killed, a letter from the commanding officer was even given to the governor of South Australia.

And then there were his three sons who all served at Gallipoli. One of course was Beresford.

Another was also Private H. Ross Robertson who served in the Army Medical Corps until he was invalided home to Australia with with chronic gastritis.

There then was The Reverend Captain T. Gordon Robertson who was the first Congregational army chaplain from Australia. He served with the 6th Light Horse near the very spot where his brother was killed. With a shortage of chaplains and the growing death toll, Gordon was put under severe strain performing the last offices of religion over an enormous number of dead. Gordon himself was invalided home and in 1916 preached at his father’s Ipswich Central Congregational Church.

Rev. Gordon Robertson

What makes the Robertson family so representative of the Anzac story isn’t that there were three brothers who all went to Gallipoli, because there were other families with more. But it’s because of the three brothers who served Australia at least one was in fact born in New Zealand, and all three of them volunteered from different states across Australia – Queensland, New South Wales, and South Australia. There was a fourth son who would have volunteered from Western Australia, except that he broke his ribs in a car accident.

No other family that I’ve found represents the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps more than that of Ipswich’s Congregational pastor. It’s a remarkable story worth knowing about.


Photo credits:
Beach Cemetery Gallipoli – Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Sydney Beresford Robertson – Whitehead Studios. Community Collection, Ipswich City Council.
Rev. Joseph Robertson – Chronicle Adelaide, 25th April 1903, page 43.
Robert Louis Stevenson, 1885 – Project Gutenberg via Wikipedia.
Rev. T.G. Robertson – Sydney Morning Herald, 24th October 1924, page 8.


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