Captain Robert Gardiner is one of the earliest European settlers in the Berwick area. Gardiner took up a pastoral lease, in 1837, south of Berwick where Edrington is located. By 1853, he is listed on the Parish Plan of Berwick as owning over 1350 hectares (3300 acres). Gardiner named his property Melville Park, after his father Melville William Gardiner. The Gardiner family had a connection to Berwick-upon-Tweed in the United Kingdom and this influenced the naming of town of Berwick.
Gardiner was born in Scotland in 1812. He first came to Tasmania, where he was involved in the whaling industry. Gardiner married his first wife Susan Folley (or Foley) in 1834 in Hobart and they had 5 children. In 1854 he leased Bolinda Vale and Redrock estates (in the Sunbury/ Romsey area) from William John Turner Clarke. 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'.
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.
Gardiner played a large role in the civic life of Mt Gambier and donated a very fine pipe organ to the St Andrews Presbyterian Church in 1884 and the same year donated the money for a fountain in the Cave Gardens. This fountain (pictured) is said to be the first large marble fountain made in 'the colonies' and was made in Melbourne.
A little known fact about Captain Robert Gardiner is that he is the great grandfather of the ballet dancer Sir Robert Helpmann. Sir Robert’s mother was Mary Gardiner, a granddaughter of Captain Robert.
It appears, 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 in Lancefield in 1882. It was designed by James Gall and has been described as the ‘other Government House’. It is pictured below. Gardiner died in South Yarra in 1889.