Robert Thompson McMaster
Architect, Pastoralist, Public Official, War Hero
Robert Thompson McMaster was born in Melbourne, Victoria on 29 December 1865. He trained as an Architect however due to a crippling economic depression in Melbourne in the early 1890s, Robert was one of a number of young architects to move to Western Australia, knowing there would be work because of that states gold rush.
He joined the Public Works Department for a short while, before opening his own architectural firm around June/July 1892. Robert designed many residential and commercial properties in and around Perth. His most notable local works are:
- Broken Hill Hotel – 314 Albany Highway, Victoria Park, built between 1897-1898 (Commercial)
- 105 Berwick Street, Victoria Park – McMaster’s own residence, built in 1896 (residential)
- 86 Mackie Street, Victoria Park – Residence of Herbert Devenish, and sometimes known as the Forrest Farmhouse, built 1896 (residential)
Robert married Emily Frances Helmsley HOLMAN in 1894. Together Robert and Emily had six (6) children, one Emily Vernon McMaster was born in 1896 and died after only seven days. The surviving children were Ray Halliday, Alwyn Robert, Eric Frank, Jessie Lorn and Alice Frances Norma (often known as Norma or Nonna).
1st Mayor of the Municipality of Victoria Park
|Local government was established in the area we now know as the Town of Victoria Park in 1894 when the Victoria Park Roads Boards was established. Three years later when the area was deemed settled the first Council was formed with Robert McMaster as Mayor Robert also held the Mayoral office in 1906-1907.
McMaster fought in the Boer War as well as in World War I. The second mounted infantry contingent (McMaster included) left Fremantle on the 2 February 1900. During the war Robert was present at the engagements of Diamond Hill and Sand River. He received the King’s South African Medal and also the Queen’s South African Medal.
Although having been placed on the retired list from the military following his service in the Boer War, Robert applied on the 1 November 1914 for a commission in the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF). He was accepted first as a Lieutenant in the 10th Light Horse then later awarded the rank of Hon. Captain.
Robert was so keen to be accepted in the AIF that he adjusted his date of birth by five years so as to be under the age limit for joining. He stated on his enlistment papers that he was born on 29 December 1870 and was aged 43 years and 10 months. Robert embarked for the front from Fremantle on the 19 April 1915.
Robert wouldn’t have been long on the shores of Gallipoli when he was killed in action at Walkers Ridge on 7 August 1915. His body was never found. His name however is listed on the Lone Pine Memorial at Gallipoli. The battle in which Robert took part and was killed was the Battle of the Nek. In this battle Robert was amongst seven officers and 73 men from the 10th Light Horse to be killed.
Charles W. Bean, Australia’s official war historian writes of the manner in which the men at the Battle of the Nek died “in a hopeless situation after a failure in communications caused a supporting artillery bombardment to end seven minutes early, the men of the Victorian 8th Light Horse regiment had attacked first, only to be mown down by the massed Turkish rifles and machine guns which the communication breakdown had allowed to move back into defensive positions literally only a few metres from the Australian line.”
“The 10th went forward to meet death instantly, as the 8th had done, the men running as swiftly and as straight as they could at the Turkish rifles. With that regiment went the flower of the youth of Western Australia, sons of the old pioneering families, youngsters – in some cases two and three from the same home – who had flocked into Perth at the outbreak of war with their own horses and saddles in order to secure enlistment in a mounted regiment of the AIF. Men known and popular, the best loved leaders in sport and work in the West, then rushed straight to their death.”
In memoriam for 13 residents from the district, including Robert, a united church service was held at the Victoria Park Town Hall on 24 October 1915. The West Australian reported (p8, 25 October) that “The hall was crowded, and the audience joined with fervour in the singing of the hymns, “Alleluia!”, “O Paradise!”, “Thy Will be Done,” and “On the Resurrection Morn”, to the accompaniment of an orchestra, under Mr. J. Buzza. In an interval the Mayor unveiled a photograph in memory of Captain R. T. McMaster who was the first mayor of Victoria Park.”
| Robert Thompson McMaster was honoured in 1918 by the renaming of Hereford Street. McMaster Street, Victoria Park as it is now known, intersects with Albany Highway across from the Town’s Memorial Gardens which honours all local war heroes. A few short metres away from the gardens stands the stately Broken Hill Hotel, a testament to a bygone era, and a beloved local landmark, a visual reminder of the creative genius of the architect.
Lest We Forget Robert Thompson McMaster
 Bean, C.E.W., The Official History Of Australia In The War Of 1914-1918: Volume II, The Story Of Anzac: From 4 May, 1915 To The Evacuation, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1938, pp. 617-618, 616.
Dictionary of Biography