5. Endings 1909 to 1923

by lindacairnes2

After Elizabeth died, William then aged 77, began to move around Victoria, staying with his adult children. His businesses were either sold or run by his sons. There is much evidence of his movements  around Victoria through the electoral rolls.

Below is an extract from a Letter in the local paper which includes a description of WBC, written by his agent in Yarrawonga.

Riverine Herald Monday 14 October 1918

“Some of the old pioneers of Echuca, materially assisted in founding the prosperity of Yarrawonga where I am at presently located. W. B. Cairnes. also well known both at Echuca and Moamma. in the timber trade, started a business here in the early eighties, and carried on as a timber and hardware merchant, until he thought he was getting too old for work. He is now an active spring chicken of over 86, spending his years of leisure in touring around among the settled members of his large family. Despite his years, Mr Cairnes is just as good a business man as ever. I am his local agent, and I know it. I have never been able to beat him for a shilling…..” H.S. TAYLOR.

In 1923, William died at “Burreel”, a nursing home, in the seaside suburb of  Elsternwick, in Melbourne, a city where several of his family were settled. It says senility was cause of death. At the age of 90, that is a great innings for what at times would have been a hard and difficult life.

He had embarked from Dublin in 1853, aged 21, with his older sister Theresa Sophia. They came from a privileged prosperous family, connected to many families regarded as minor aristocracy. Fine houses, great halls, and large estates were the rule in his extended family. He landed in Castlemaine when it was mainly a vast tent city of gold diggers, and very soon married a miners daughter from Leicestershire. He made the journey from a humble undertakers assistant, to Undertaker, Ironmonger, Timber Merchant, Builder,a crack shot in the Victorian Rifleman Association, a founder member both Masonic Lodges and the Rechabites. He also rose to be both a JP and a Magistrate in both Victoria and NSW. He continued to work until his late 70’s and had 15 children and raised 12 of those to mature adulthood. They were all educated well, and flourished.

It seems he remained in good health for the larger part of his later years.And was found staying with various of his children’s families. It is said he was still mowing lawns well into his 80’s.  Below is an obituary and funeral notice. Its imagined quite a few attended.


Tues 20 march 1923 The Argus

By the death of Mr. William Bellingham Cairnes, which occurred at Burreel private hospital, Elsternwick, on Sunday, Yarrawonga has lost one of its oldest pioneers and most interesting personalities. Mr Cairnes, who was born in Dublin in 1832,came to Victoria in 1854. Two years later he married Elizabeth, the only child of Robert and Mary Matthews, of Leicester, England. Mrs Cairnes died in 1909. Mr. Caírnes conducted a timber and iron-mongery business in Yarrawonga where he was one of the founders of the Masonic Lodge. As a young man he was regarded as one of the best marksmen in Victoria, and for many years was president of the Yarrawonga Rifle Club, which he founded. In 1878 he was appointed a justice of the peace in NewSouth Wales, and four years later he received a similar appointment in Victoria. For many years he held the position of official assignee at Yarrawonga, and was also Government commissioner on the shire of Yarrawonga Waterworks Trust. Mr. Cairnes was the father of eight daughters and seven sons. The funeral will take place at Yarrawonga today, Messrs Raybould, of Malvern, having charge of the burial arrangements.

From archival evidence only, as there is no known anecdotal stories handed down, it seems that William was good humoured, affectionate with his family, and an astute business man. He had a deep sense of honour, as evidenced by the trust accorded him in the obtained the offices of JP and magistrate.

Preparing the dead, and organising their send off, in such small close communities must have required great diplomacy.

However there is evidence, certainly in the local courts in WBC’s later years, of a certain cantankerousness. In one incident he was fined £1 or 24 hrs in gaol for using insulting words to a judge!  This from a Magistrate and JP!

Later, His own clerk of petty sessions was heard to call him a “nasty old man and a scoundrel”. An intervention  by a judge was made and the poor clerk had to make the entry himself.  A streak of temper,  and a man who  clearly didn’t suffer fools gladly, and man whose tolerance was stretched thin? Who knows.

Great tenderness is always shown in the moments of  loss  of family members.  He  returned to Ireland in 1877 when his father died ,and brought back his aged mother, which was an enormous commitment.

I know he must have provided all his children with a very good education, as they all seemed articulate and well written. Their photographs show they look prosperous.

He came from an extremely “well to do”  Irish family with good connections, but came to Australia with very little and made from very simple beginnings, a prosperous life for his  large family.

A great character.


WBC Age 66.


Henry Moore Cairnes aged 75


Keith Beresford Cairnes, my father, 1937 aged 28


Max Cairnes, my son, aged 27

I see my father and my son in his face. 150 plus years later.

Below is the list of all posts


1. William Bellingham Cairnes and Elizabeth Matthews

2. The Castlemaine Years 1854 to 1873

3. Echuca and Moama 1874 to 1883

4. The Yarrawonga Years 1884 to 1909

5. Endings 1909 to 1923

6. Past Belongings : a digital collection of historical belongings to share

7. W B Cairnes and Elizabeth Matthew’s Children in Chronological Order

8.The Western Australia Cairnes

9. Helen Dind – WBC’s Granddaughter – 100 years – a Celebration

10. Keith Beresford Cairnes : 26 Years in Muston St Mosman