John Peter – ‘The Prince of Squatters’

John Peter emigrated from Scotland in 1832, and by 1839 he had already acquired the runs that were to later become known as ‘Toganmain’, ‘Borambola’ and ‘Pulletop’. When he married the widow Mary Bourke in 1837, the ‘Gumly Gumly’ run was also attained under his name.

In 1853, Peter first acquired part of his ‘Tubbo’ run, which he transformed into one of the largest and most successful pastoral ventures in NSW. By 1872, it stood at an enormous 450,000 acres (700 square miles), and boasted 17 miles of frontage to the Murrumbidgee River. Incredibly, Peter left the colony in 1860, returned to Scotland and never again revisited ‘Tubbo’ or even set foot in Australia.

John Peter, 1812-1878
John Peter, 1812-1878 (from the Wagga Wagga and District Historical Society Collection, RW2893/252).

Stories abound about John Peter and it was reported that when the Government Surveyor, T.S. Townsend, was choosing the site for a new township (which was eventually to become Wagga Wagga), he was very interested in some high ground near the river which happened to be within the boundaries of Peter’s ‘Gumly Gumly’ Run. Peter apparently provided Townsend with a lavish dinner, and the site for Wagga Wagga was subsequently changed to the low-lying ground on Robert Best’s ‘Wagga Wagga’ Run.

John Peter’s success as a squatter was such that by 1866 he managed almost twenty runs in the Riverina area totalling some three quarters of a million acres, not to mention other holdings in the Lachlan area and further leases in Queensland. However, he obviously trod on a number of toes as he acquired his empire, being referred to as “…the greediest man in NSW”.  James Gormly said that Peter was found to be “grasping and aggressive” by adjoining station holders, and had had several long running disputes with Robert Best on his ‘Wagga Wagga’ run which bordered Peter’s ‘Gumly Gumly’. After several years of disagreements, a plough furrow was finally drawn to mark the division between the two holdings.

John Peter died in 1878, and in 1887 his ‘Tubbo’ empire sold for £360,000.

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