Thursday, November 30, 2023

The Great Yannathan Fires of 1898

I came across this obituary of Robert Gardiner, of Yannathan, who died on January 11, 1939 at the age of 83. It's an interesting obituary and I was taken by this  comment -  In the great Yannathan fires of 1897, which raged for months, he at first thought he was ruined, but wonderful grass grew in the denuded country that he was able to farm successfully. The report notes the fire were in 1897, but all the reports I could find were from  February 1898. Below are some reports of  1898 bushfires at Yannathan and from the broader Shire of Cranbourne. 

Obituary of Robert Gardiner

There were also bad fires in other parts of Victoria during this time, caused by days of hot weather and a dry January. The Government Astronomer, Pietro Baracchi (1851-1926) was interviewed by The Argus on February 1, 1898  (see here) and he has this to say about the weather situation - "Hot and smoky weather is not unusual in February. An unbroken succession of so many hot days is unusual. Coming after such a fearfully hot and excessively dry January, it makes the conditions very much worse than they usually are. As showing what an exceptional month this January has been, it may be mentioned that only 30 points of rain fell in Melbourne, against an average of about 1½in. for all past years." An inch of rain is 100 points, thus the average rain for January is 150 points, and only 30 points had fallen.

The Gippsland Fires. Great damage around Cranbourne. A fire 20 miles long by 20 miles broad.
Cranbourne, Monday - On Friday, Saturday and Sunday a dreadful bush fire raged in this district, and did considerable damage to stock, grass, fencing, orchards and crops. The fire started this side of Somerville township, and, with a strong southerly wind, travelled into Cranbourne a distance of about 20 miles.  The blaze was also 12 miles in width. 

The following is a list, of the heaviest sufferers by this fire, which is the largest that has ever been heard of or seen here since Black Thursday:- Mr. Taylor, Sherwood Park - Loss: 15 miles of fencing, 2000 acres of grass and a large number of sheep.- Mr. Sam Staughton, M.L.A., Coolebah - Loss: - About 1400 acres of grass and a lot of fencing. Mr. J. Staughton - Loss: 1000 acres of grass, fencing and a large number of sheep. Mr. R. Ker - Loss: Grass, fencing and lot of 2 feet firewood. Several smaller farmers were also large losers in having all their fencing and grass totally burnt out, including Mr. David Craig, Mr. T. Meade, Mr. Waller, Mr. Barton, Mr. D. Robinson, Mr. Ted. Gray, Mr. Abrahams, Mr. J. G. Hudson, storekeeper, Cranbourne; Mr. P. Peterson, Mr. Thos. Peterson, Mrs. Poole, Mr. Perridge, Mr. Moscript, Mr. Ridley, manager of the English, Scottish and Australian Bank, North Melbourne; Mr. F. Hardy and others too numerous to mention.

The fire, after passing through the racecourse reserve, swept with lightning-like rapidity towards the township, crossing the Frankston-road, 2 chains wide, in a leap, and but for the timely assistance of Messrs. Duff, Downs, M'Leod, Meade, Rev. Colin Robertson, Constable Dwyer and a lot of other willing helpers, the residences of Messrs. Reid and Wilson would have been destroyed. The fire got into short grass here, and after about four hours' hard fighting was got under. The only sufferers in the township were:- Messrs. Thos. Downs - Loss: 2-roomed house full of hay. Mr. P. Peterson - Loss: A
slaughterhouse and fencing. Messrs. J. Taylor and Reid and Mrs. Tucker: Grass and fencing.

A watch was kept over the township all Saturday night, but nothing further happened. A lot of the farmers, thoroughly overcome by smoke und heat and over exertion, have had to take to their beds. Large fires are still burning round the township, and the damage done totals some thousands of pounds, Mr. Taylor, of Sherwood Park, being the largest sufferer. (The Age, Tuesday, February 1, 1898, see here)

Fires near Cranbourne.
Cranbourne, Tuesday - A large bush fire broke out on Saturday at Lang Lang East and did considerable damage, travelling for about 5 miles to Yannathan. Mr. Bell, of Lang Lang East, lost a lot of fencing and a large area of grass, so did Mr. John and Mr. James Smethurst, of Yannathan. After several hours fighting the fire was got under. On Sunday, at St. Germains Station, near Cranbourne, a large quantity of fencing and about 300 acres of grass were burnt. Mr. William Griffiths, manager for Mr. S. Staughton, M.L.A., of Coolbah Estate, has been a heavy loser by the fire here, having lost a flock of turkeys valued at £20. The birds were all roasted. Mr. Griffiths also had a very narrow escape of his life, being caught in the flames on horseback whilst trying to rescue some sheep, which he successfully accomplished. His horse was singed of all its hair and badly burnt. There is a water famine in Cranbourne. Nearly all the tanks are dry, and the residents are only depending on a few wells, the water of which is brackish. (The Age, Wednesday,  February 2, 1898, see here)

Church burnt at Heifer Creek. Damage at Lang Lang and Yannathan
Cranbourne, Wednesday - Amongst other parts of the district the township of Lang Lang was the scene of a conflagration which nearly destroyed the butter factory and stores there. The fire broke out in a heavy belt of timber and scrub just west of the factory, and the flames rose to a dreadful height, coming within a few feet of the building, which was only saved by the united efforts of the employes and townsfolk. Had the factory gone the entire township must have been consumed. The station master's residence narrowly escaped destruction, the fire running right up to it.

At Heath Hill on Tuesday night the farm of Mr. Patrick M'Grath was the scene of a dreadful fire, which destroyed his stack sheds, large quantities of grass and fencing. Flames are still to be seen in that direction. At Red Bluff, near Lang Lang, Mr. Le Rostu's
[Le Roux] farm was attacked, and some grass and fencing were destroyed. Last night Mr. J. S. Stewart, of Woodleigh, lost everything. Mr. R. Scott, of Rockwah, saved his homestead, but lost its surroundings. Fires are still burning around Yannathan. The destruction there covers thousands of acres of grass and miles of fencing. It is
stated that all the country between Yannathan and Longwarry is ablaze. The church at Heifer Creek was destroyed by the fires.
(The Age, Thursday, February 3, 1898, see here)

In the Cranbourne District. General Destruction. 
Cranbourne, Wednesday - Some large strips of country have been burnt out on the Yallambie Estate, north of the Great Southern line, and Mr W. T. Duff has sustained a big loss in having fencing and grass destroyed. All that portion between the Gippsland and Great Southern lines, known as South Pakenham and Cardinia, which is on the western fringe of the Koo-wee-rup Swamp, has been in imminent danger from the fires burning in the swamp, and the closely settled dairying district of Clyde, between the swamp and Cranbourne, would be swept right out, should the wind bring the fires on from the swamp, and already there have been a number of out-breaks, which fortunately have been promptly checked. The swamp scrub consists mostly of ti tree but beneath this is a layer of peat varying from 18in. to several feet deep, and once ignited it burns for weeks. From a burning mass of this terrible stifling smoke is now being emitted. The village settlers are having a most trying time. Both from the direction of Narre Warren and Berwick, Cranbourne is threatened with fires, and Mr Beaver Hall, of Glady's-park, has already lost a valuable extent of glass and fencing. 

The fires from Koo-wee-rup Drouin, and Longwarry have extended right on to the closely settled dairy farms of Yannathan and on Saturday and Sunday they raged furiously, destroying pastures and fencing on farm after farm. Mr Ritchie lost everything, except his home, and some valuable horses were most terribly burned, and had to be destroyed. At Mr. William Bell's, a magnificent farm of 640 acres has been completely burnt out, and every stick of fencing is gone. Councillor John Smethurst, president of the Cranbourne Shire, lost 400 acres of grass, and fencing. Mr. James Smethurst, his brother, likewise lost 400 acres, and fencing at Blackwood At his home there was the greatest possible difficulty in fighting off the fire, the pine trees and picket fence around the garden being consumed, and the house was only just saved. Mr Samuel Smethurst likewise had to fight to save his homestead, the fire burning right up to the doors. Messrs Joseph and William Burnside had 640 acres of grass and fencing burned, the last-named farmer being reduced to a very critical state from the exhaustion of two days' battling with the flames. A huge portion of Mr. James Greaves's farm was similarly burnt, also fencing. 

Mr. A. Woodman, whose property is situated on the Yallock Creek, between Koo-wee-rup and Yannathan, is also a heavy loser by the fire, and Mr. Carson, of Yannathan also experienced a big loss. At Heath Hill last night, a furious outbreak occurred, jeopardising the whole of the farms in that portion of the district. Prompt assistance alone saved the places, but Mr. P.W. McGrath lost his haystacks, outhouses, grass fencing, and stock-yards. Mr George Gray, in the same locality, suffered heavily, and Mr. A. E. Glover's house had to be watched all night to save it from the burning trees, which were falling in every direction, Protector's Plains were one big blaze, and the fires are still burning with fierceness in this locality. The loss all through Yannathan and Heath Hill must be very large. 

A terrible fire broke out in the ti tree and scrub adjacent to Lang Lang township, and for a few hours the inhabitants experienced a sultry and most uncomfortable time of it. Between Lang Lang, and all the way to Grantville, the country has been burnt for miles and miles. Councillor Le Roux, of the Cranbourne shire, lost a very large quantity of grass, and some miles of fencing. Mr R.C. Scott, of Woodleigh, a well-known grazier, is another of the burnt-out victims. (The Argus, Friday, February 4, 1898, see here)

Damage at Lang Lang and Yannathan.
Cranbourne, Wednesday - Amongst other parts of the district the township of Lang Lang was the scene of a conflagration which nearly destroyed the butter factory and stores there. The fire broke out in a heavy belt of timber and scrub just west of the factory, and the flames rose to a dreadful height, coming within a few feet of the building, which was only saved by the united efforts of the employes and townsfolk. Had the factory gone the entire township must have been consumed. The station master's residence narrowly escaped destruction, the fire running right up to it. (The Leader, Saturday, February 5, 1898, see here)

Yallock Village Settlement Burnt.
Cranbourne, Saturday - Further extensive damages from the fires have occurred at Lang Lang Messrs Addison, Foster, Ridgway, and many of the selectors in that locality have lost everything, saving their homes with the greatest difficult. Another fire broke out near the Lang Lang township, and the Church of England, Mechanics' Institute, market buildings &c., were all in danger of complete destruction. The townsfolk had a terrible fight for their property. Last night an outbreak occurred at the Yallock Village Settlement, and before any resistance could be offered the residences of Messrs Orford, Izard, Titherly, T. Pretty, and several others were completely destroyed, and the whole settlement swept clean of grass, fencing and gardens. The fire spread on to on Messrs. Glasscock Bros. Forest paddock, near Yannathan, and here the whole of the South Yannathan country was seriously menaced, and but for the united exertions of a large body of the local farmers, who turned out with water tanks and combated the flames, the homesteads of Messrs. Rinding, Cousen and Ridgway would have been swept clear. Mr John Smethurst, of Yannathan, who goes in extensively for bee farming lost a colony of bees and hives, valued at over £100, during the fires. At the Cranbourne Council to day, the engineer reported that a large number of culverts and bridges had been destroyed in the shire by the fires. It will entail a very large outlay to replace them. (The Argus, Monday February 7, 1898, see here)

Yallock Village Settlement Destroyed.
Cranbourne, Saturday - On Friday night another big fire was discovered raging at the Yallock village settlement, on the cast side of the Yallock Creek, near Monomeith. In an incredibly short space of time the whole place was one great blaze, and four houses and their contents were completely demolished, whilst the settlement was burnt out in the most disastrous manner. Fully 20 families have lost their fencing and improvements and their gardens. Extending from thence the fires crossed on to Mr. Glasscock's property, at Monomeith, where a very large acreage was destroyed before the fire was got under control. Had it not been for assistance from Yannathan this fire would have proved one of the most severe in the district, but the farmers now being better organised were able to offer a more capable resistance, and their united efforts undoubtedly saved many more Yannathan farms from being ravaged by the flumes. Fires still continue to do great damage around Lang Lang. 

At Cranbourne shire council meeting it was stated to-day that a large number of culverts and bridges were destroyed by fires at Langwarrin, Sherwood and various other portions of the Yallock riding, and these will entail considerable expense to repair. (The Age, Monday, February 7, 1898, see here)

How fires originate.
Cranbourne. Monday - At Cranbourne court to-day, John and Alexander Ritchie, two young farmers, of Yannathan, were charged with lighting fires which endangered adjoining property on the 15th January. Both pleaded guilty to having committal a technical offence, and explained in defence that they lighted the fires to protect their own property from a fire which was burning close at hand in the Kooweerup Swamp. They were each fined £3, with 15s. costs. George Ritchie their father, was then charged with igniting a fire on the. 29th ult. The evidence proved that Ritchie was seen lighting the scrub at the back of his house, and that this fire spread, burning out among others Messrs. Bell, John H. Smethurst and James Smethurst, and inflicting very considerable damage in the neighborhood. The defendant pleaded not guilty, but was fined £3, and 12s. costs. (The Age, Tuesday, February 22, 1898, see here)

Monday, November 20, 2023

Koo Wee Rup North State School flooded

The Koo Wee Rup North State School, No. 3198, opened on July 7, 1894. It was located on the corner of  Five Mile Road and Main Drain Road.  This School was originally called Koo Wee Rup South and changed its name to Koo Wee Rup North and unofficially called Five Mile School. The school parents voted for the school to close in November 1959 and the children were sent to Pakenham Consolidated School. Five Mile was the last school to join or ‘consolidate’ with the Consolidated School which had officially opened in May 1951. (1)

Koo Wee Rup North, showing school, Mechanics' Institute (Hall) and 
recreation reserve location.
Detail from Koo-Wee-Rup, County of Mornington Department of Crown Lands and Survey, 1939.

Here are some accounts of the school being flooded and the ineffectual action of the Education Department to solve this problem.

June 1911 - The water is running through the windows of the Koo-Wee-Rup North State school. The same article also notes - The Keast-hall, a new building at Cora Lynn, which was to have been officially opened last night, has about 3ft. of water in it. (The Argus,  June 14, 1911, see here

June 1911 - The settlers at Kooweerup have ample cause for righteous indignation at the incapacity which the Public Works department has shown in dealing with the drainage of the swamp. Although large sums of money have been spent in making a clear run to the sea for the Bunyip River and Tarago Creek, which cause the periodic floods to which the flats are subject, the outlet provided yet falls far short of requirements. The consequence is severe financial loss, if not ruin, to a deserving body of small holders, many of whom were induced to buy Kooweerup land on the understanding that it was reclaimed.  (The Leader, June 24, 1911, see here)  

Koo Wee Rup North in flood in 1911 - the school in the centre and the Methodist Church, erected 1909 (2), is on the right.

November 1913 -  The 5 Mile school and teacher's residence was flooded on the 14th inst. Although the Government promised a couple of years ago to take steps to prevent a flood, nothing has been done except to take levels and to import a sand-dredge, which I understand is hopelessly bogged in the mud of the Lang Lang river. (South Bourke and Mornington Journal, November 20, 1913, see here

June 1914 - Good progress is being made with the renovating and remodelling of the State School by the contractors, Messrs Parsons and Weller, whose contract price is £530. The school, which is being temporarily conducted in the hall, has an average attendance of 50 scholars, the teacher, Mr Wilson, having two assistants. The school has been removed about three chains from its old site, with the ostensible purpose of raising the elevation on account of floods, but the floor is not an inch above the level of the old school. Mr Keast, M.L.A., referred to this matter when at Five Mile on Friday, and said that if representations were made to to him it was not too late to alter the location of the building. The proposed school will have ample accommodation, which is in painful contrast to the Kooweerup school, where 73 children are housed in a building 34ft x 23ft, with less air space than the regulations of the department provide for.  (Lang Lang Guardian, June 24, 1914, see here

June 1914 - A School below flood level - Good progress is being made with the erection of a new school at Five Mile, the contract price being £530. During the flood in 1911, caused by the overflow of the Kooweerup Canal, there was two feet of water in the school, and a request was made that the floor should be raised above flood level. The new school, however, is being erected on the same site, and the floor elevation is the same as that of the old school. Mr. Keast, M.L.A., is inquiring into the matter.
(The Age, June 27, 1914, see here

July 1914 - The five-mile school and teacher's residence, which was recently removed by the Education department about a couple of chains, has, as was generally expected been flooded by the recent rains and unless the school is raised to the level of the road it will always be liable to be flooded after heavy rain. There are large quantities of sand, brought down by the flood about 3 years ago, lying on both banks of the canal, partly covered with grass and ti-tree, which might be used for filling up the site. (South Bourke and Mornington Journal, July 23, 1914, see here

Koo Wee Rup North School, 1927
Image: Koo Wee Rup Swamp Historical Society

September 1918 - The head teacher of the Five Mile School, Mr Donald, had to get out on Wednesday and wade waist deep, carrying his family to safety. All their furniture, etc., had to be hung up out of the flood fiend's grip. The water was a foot deep in the school, which was closed for the remainder of the week. This building is situated in a position particularly liable to flood, for every freshet in the Five Mile drain causes inconvenience. During the two years of the present teacher's regime he has suffered no less than 23 floodings, a record that must surely reach the limit of exasperation. The structure was removed about 100 yards some time ago, to evade or try to minimise the risk, but without any relief. The Five Mile Hall also suffered a visitation, as usual. A ball was to have been held on Wednesday night, but by that time there was a foot of water inside, and the waters danced the "flood glide" at their own pleasure. The ball was postponed to Tuesday of this week. (Koo Wee Rup Sun, September 11, 1918, see here)

Koo Wee Rup North School Residence, 1927
Image: Koo Wee Rup Swamp Historical Society

The teacher, Mr Donald who suffered the 23 floods, was John Robert Donald, who was born in August 1874 and began his teaching career with the Education Department in 1892. He was appointed to Koo Wee Rup North on January 1, 1916, having previously been at Brookside, near Bright. He was transferred from  Koo Wee Rup North  in April 1919 and in the 1921 Electoral Roll was living at 146 Gatehouse Street, Parkville. John had married Clara Cecilia Powell in 1903, they had three children Robert Stewart (born 1905-1992), Nancy Mavis (1908-1992 Mrs Raymond Kitson) and Charles Douglas (1910-1979). Robert and Charles both served in the Army in World War Two. Clara has a short term of employment at the Education Department as the sewing mistress at Brookside and Koo Wee Rup North, and her appointment ended when John left the Koo Wee Rup North School.  John died in 1962, aged 87 and Clara in 1949, aged 67. They were both cremated at Springvale Botanical Cemetery. (3).

Koo Wee Rup North Hall, 1927
Image: Koo Wee Rup Swamp Historical Society

The Koo Wee Rup North Hall was built in 1910 or 1911. In November 1910 the Shire of Cranbourne received correspondence from Public Health department, submitting plans and specifications regarding proposed public hall at the Five-mile, Kooweerup. The first mention I could find of the use of the hall was in June 1911, but it was most likely opened earlier than that. (4) It has been demolished, maybe in the 1980s. 

(2) The Age May 10, 1909, see here, notes A new Methodist Church is to be erected at Five Mile.
(3) John Robert Donald - Public Records Office of Victoria Teacher records (1863-1959) Series 13579;  Indexes to the Victorian Births, Deaths and Marriages; Electoral Rolls on Ancestry; Springvale Botanical Cemetery ; WW2 Nominal Rolls
(4) The Argus, June 15, 1910, see here - A new public hall is to be erected at Five mile.  
South Bourke & Mornington Journal, November 10, 1910, see here - Shire of Cranbourne received correspondence from Public Health department, submitting plans and specifications regarding proposed public hall at the Five-mile, Kooweerup. 
The Argus, June 29, 1911, see here, - A public meeting will be held at the Five-mile Hall to consider the best means of preventing a recurrence of the recent floods on the swamp. Messrs W.S. Keast and A. Downward, M.L.A.'s, will address the gathering. 
A report of the meeting can be read  in The Age, June 30, 1911, here.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Batty's Island and Thomas Batty (c. 1802 -1885)

Batty's Island is an area of land on the northern edge of the Koo Wee Rup Swamp, south-east of Tynong and south-west of Garfield. It was actually an island surrounded by water before the Koo Wee Rup Swamp was drained, the main work of which took place between 1889 and 1893 (1). It is named after Thomas Batty, the original selector. Thomas was born Yorkshire in c.1802, married Nancy Buchanan in 1837; they had one daughter, Julia, who married Horace Nelson in 1869. I have more details about the life of Thomas and his family towards the end of this post.

*click on image to enlarge* Batty Island, Lot 18, clearly shown on this 1887 Parish of Bunyip map.  Both Tynong Railway Station and Garfield Railway Station (then called Hope Town) are marked on the map. The land to the right of  Batty Island was that belonging to Cyrus Mason, whom I have written about here. It was previously owned by William McKeone, whom I have written about here
Detail of Bunyip, County of Mornington, photo-lithographed at the Department of Crown Lands and Survey, Melbourne, by J. Noone 10. 5. 87. [1887] State Library of Victoria Image

The first we find of Thomas Batty in the newspapers was in The Age, December 20, 1872 when the following notice appeared -  Land Act 1869 - Schedule of Applications to be considered by the Local Land Board, at  Cranbourne, on Monday, 23rd December, 1872, at ten a.m. and amongst the 22 applications was this one - Thomas Batty, parish of Nar Nar Goon, area 300a. Description: South of M'Keon's, the island.  (2). Despite the discrepancy in the size of the land, it was only 173 acres, the fact that it was described as 'the island' confirms which land it was. 

Thomas Batty's land application for 'the island'

I presume that Thomas was successful in 1872, however there was another report in February 1877 for applications under the Land Act - and under Applications for leases under Section 20 approved was this Thomas Batty, Nar-nar-Goon, 173a 3r 4p. (3) Whether Thomas was successful in 1872 or 1877, I cannot confirm, but he certainly occupied the land and had purchased it by October 1883 (4)

*click on image to enlarge* After the Parish of Koo Wee Rup East was established, Batty Island became lot 40a of this new parish.  I have annotated this 1907 map and Batty Island is marked with an asterisk, located north of Lone Pine Road and east of Eleven Mile Road and surrounded by the Koo Wee Rup Swamp sub-divisions.
Detail of Koo-Wee-Rup, County of Mornington, photo-lithographed at the Department of Lands and Survey, Melbourne, by T. F. McGauran, 1907. State Library of Victoria  

Thomas died suddenly on the property on July 28, 1885 at the age of 83. An inquest was held the next day, conducted by John Startup, J.P. Evidence was given by his wife, called in the document Nancy Batty; Charlotte William, who may have been a house-keeper or carer and William Joseph Thompson, the police constable who examined the body. The inquest determined that Thomas had died of natural causes. (5) He was buried at Boroondara Cemetery, in the same grave as three of his grandchildren, who died as infants (more of whom later). He left an estate of  £911. (6)

There is an amusing anecdote about Thomas and Nancy Batty. His neighbour from late 1876 was Cyrus Mason, an artist and the founder of the Buonarotti Club in 1883, a professional artists' organisation. (7) Mason hosted many artists and musicians on his property, Woodyats, and one of them Louis Lavater, shared his memories of one visit - 
 I remember that there was a dear old couple who lived on an island in the swamp, who received a letter from a Melbourne solicitor stating that they had been left a small sum of money. The old woman, who was aged 84 years - four years older than her husband - was keenly conscious of her husband's youthfulness, and it was with the greatest reluctance that she allowed him to go to Melbourne to arrange a settlement with the solicitor. She used to tell us that every time she thought of her husband among 'those Melbourne hussies' she had a 'paroxum.' Her stern disapproval of our bathing in the swamp apparently caused her a few more 'paroxums,' for she used to come down and seize our clothes and stalk away with them in righteous indignation. (8)

After the death of Thomas Batty the property was sold, however the name Batty Island stuck and we can find references to it up the 1940s.  Here are three examples - 

Shire of Berwick Council meeting report
South Bourke & Mornington Journal, October 23, 1901

Shire of Berwick Council meeting report
South Bourke & Mornington Journal, June 11 1914

Account of  a journey to Gippsland by the Rev. G. Cox. 
Bairnsdale Advertiser, January 7 1941

We will now look at the subsequent owners of Batty Island. The information is from the Shire of Berwick rate books which  lists the names of the owners and their occupations; the years are the first appearance in the Rate Books, but the sale transaction may have taken place some months previously. 

1886/1887 - Henry Nelson, Publican. I can't find a connection to Horace Nelson, Thomas' son-in-law, but I feel there must be one. Interestingly, the next owner, John Geraghty also a Publican, paid the rates of the property for the last two years of Nelson's ownership, so there must also be some connection between the two, but I have no information about that and no other information about Henry Nelson.

The description of Henry Nelson's entry in the 1886/1887 Shire of Berwick rate books - 173 acres, Battys Island, Tynong.

1890/1891 - John Geraghty, publican. At one time he held the licence of the Inkerman Hotel, East St Kilda, then the Malvern Vale Hotel in Malvern, then the Commercial Hotel, Prahran and finally the  Sir Robert Peel Hotel in Peel Street, Windsor. That was where he died in September 1897, aged 50 years of age. (9)
1896/1897 - Mary Bennett, Hotel keeper. Yet another publican, but I have no other details about her.
1898/1899 - Hugh Bullen, Gentleman. Hugh died in August 1905 at his home in Mary Street, Hawthorn, at the age of 68. He  was a bachelor and left his estate to his seven siblings. Hugh had previously lived at Wooleen, in Northcote, off High Street, between Harold and Hutton Streets, where he operated a stone quarry. (10)
1902/1903 - William Pitt, Architect. When William Pitt (1855-1918) purchased this land he also acquired other parcels of land and was listed as owning 634 acres in total. Pitt was responsible for a number of high profile Melbourne buildings - the Princess Theatre, Federal Hotel (now known as the Windsor Hotel), the Rialto and the Olderfleet buildings and the St Kilda Town Hall. He was also a member of the Victorian Parliament from 1891 to 1910. (11)
1920/1921- Peter Gleeson, a land owner from Tynong. He purchased the entire 634 acres from William Pitt's estate in March 1921. By June 1922 the Gleeson family land holdings in the Iona Riding were itemised as - Mary, Peter and Joseph owning 190 acres; John, James and Florence the 634 acres including Batty Island and Thomas, Francis and Anne owning 160 acres. The Gleesons had land in the area from 1899/1900 with  Thomas and Mrs W. Gleeson being the first ones  listed in the rate books. Early on, their address was listed as Melbourne - the 1903 Electoral Roll has Thomas at Ingles Street, Port Melbourne and his occupation as a contractor. Not sure of the Gleeson family tree, but Thomas, who died in 1937, was the husband of Anne. (12)

There is an interesting account which connects the Gleeson to the Pitts.  Mr C.P. Pitt mention in the article is Charles Pavey Pitt, William's brother, who possibly managed the farm for him  - this was in the South Bourke and Mornington Journal in July 1902 -
The saying there is nothing new under the sun has been daily exemplified during the past century. The wildest imaginations of Jules Verne have become accomplished facts. Hitherto the difficulties confronting the would-be selector of swamp lands, in the way of clearing and subsidence, has to a great extent prevented a wish for these fertile spots. During the first days of settlement at Kooweerup the possibility of rolling down the "impenetrable" titree was advocated as feasable by the " Age " special reporter. The honor of practical demonstration belongs to Mr. T. Gleeson, and his invention is now working at Batty's Island under the direction of Mr. C.P. Pitt. The machine consists of an old donkey engine boiler provided with a centre axle, which supports a frame work and top roller, the latter fitted with broad flanges forming a steering apparatus or guide for the wire rope by which it is hauled to and fro. The total weight of the roller is three tons. The motive power being provided by an 8-horse power engine. In 7 weeks Mr. Pitt has rolled 130 acres. The machine does excellent work, lowering the soft peaty land some 18 inches by the first operation, and a large portion of the land has been rolled a second time and further consolidated to the extent of 6 inches. The land as rolled is being sown down down in grass, and will form an ideal dairy farm, splendid shelter being available on both sides of the flat. (13)

Who was Thomas Batty? His death certificate says he was born in Yorkshire and lists his occupation as a miner. This is confirmed by the 1851 Census, which gives his town of birth as Holmfirth, Yorkshire. He married on December 10, 1837 at Oldham in Manchester; he was listed as a widower. On the wedding certificate his wife was named as Nancy Buchanan. In 1843, their daughter Julia Ann was born in Stalybridge, Lancashire. This is the town the family were living in on Census night in 1851 - Thomas, 45 years old; Nancy 47 years old and Julia 8 years old.  (14)

In the 1861 Census, Thomas was not listed, he had already migrated to Australia, I believe around 1852, most likely to join the thousands of other hopefuls on the gold fields. However eighteen year Julia, was listed in Stalybridge with her 57 year old mother - whose name was listed as Agnes. I believe they arrived in Melbourne in July 1864. On September 25, 1869, Julia married Horace Nelson, with the service conducted by a Congregational Minister at Neptune Street, St Kilda. Horace was 34 years old, born in London to Robert and Mary (nee Crighton) Nelson, he was a 'Reader for the press' which I believe is a proof reader. On the marriage certificate, Julia was listed as 26 and her father Thomas as a gold miner. Her mother was listed as Agnes Buchanan. (15)

Julia and Horace had seven children - 
Florence Eleanor Lawton Nelson (born 1871, and died aged 10 months the same year)
Aubrey Joscelin Nelson (b. 1872, married Isabel Baudinet in 1900 and died in 1953)
Robert Nelson (a twin, b. 1874, and died at 2 days old)
James Nelson (a twin, b. 1874, and died at 2 days old)
Horace Julian Nelson (b. 1875, married Rose Whittey in 1916, and died in 1958)
Constance Gertude Nelson (b. 1877 and died in 1966, did not marry)
Beatrice Arabella Juliet Crighton Nelson (b.1880, married Spicer Carlton in 1909 and died in 1937)  (16)

Nancy/Agnes died on August 20, 1890. Her death certificate lists her name as Agnes, her place of death at 317 Punt Road, Richmond, which was the address of her daughter and son-in-law and she was buried in the family grave at Boroondara Cemetery with Thomas and their little grandchildren - Florence, Robert and James. Horace died July 26, 1893, aged 60 years of age and he is also buried in the family grave with his children and in-laws. Julia died April 2, 1929 at her daughter Beatrice's house in Renown Street, Coburg and she is buried at Fawkner Cemetery. (17)

Trove list - I have created a list of articles connected to Batty Island, Thomas Batty and family and the other owners, access it here.

(2) The Age, December 20 1872, see here.
(3) South Bourke and Mornington Journal, February 28, 1877, see here.
(4) On the diagram below, which is the Batty property  - it tells you that it is Lot 40a; 173 acres, 2 roods and 29 perches and the numbers  4.10.83 show the date that the land became freehold i.e Batty was no longer leasing the property from the Crown, he had paid for it - October 4, 1883

Detail of Koo-Wee-Rup, County of Mornington, photo-lithographed at the Department of Lands and Survey, Melbourne, by T. F. McGauran, 1907. State Library of Victoria  

(5) Inquest at the Public Records Office of Victoria, access it here
(6) The Herald, October 29, 1885, see here.
(8) The Argus, August 10, 1929, see here.
(9) See my Trove list, here,  for the hotel ownership and his death notice
(10) See my Trove list, here, for his death notice and other articles. The location of the property is from Sands & McDougall's Melbourne and suburban directory.
(11) William Pitt, entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography written by Dian Langmore -
(12) See my Trove list, here.
(13) The Argus, August 10, 1929, see here.
(14) Victorian Death certificate; the marriage certificate is on  - Manchester, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1930; the Census records from England list birthplace, age  are are available on
(15) Thomas' arrival in Victoria - his 1885 death certificate notes he had been in Australia 33 years, which makes it 1852. Arrival of  Agnes and Julia in Victoria - Agnes 1890 death certificate notes she had been in Victoria for 26 years which makes it 1864. This is (almost) confirmed by an entry in a shipping record available on  - Victoria, Australia, Assisted and Unassisted Passenger Lists, 1839-1923 - the Southern Empire arrived in July 1864 and amongst the passengers were 22 year old Julia Batty and a Nancy Batty, listed as a 33 year old widow. Despite this age and marital status discrepancy, I am sure this is our Julia and Nancy.
(16) Julia's children - Indexes to the Births, Deaths and Marriages and personal notices in the newspapers.
(17) Victorian death certificate of Agnes; Boroondara Cemetery website ; personal notices in the newspapers.

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Cyrus Mason - the Buonarotti Club and 'Woodyats', Tynong

 I was going through Trove combining various words with Koo Wee Rup as a search term to see what I could discover and came up with an article in The Argus of August 10, 1929 on the Buonarotti Club - it was titled Buonarotti Club: Bohemians of the 'Eighties - Memories of noted artists by L.T. Luxton (1)

Stephen F. Mead, wrote a  history of the club, The Search for Artistic Professionalism in Melbourne: the activities of the Buonarotti Club, 1883 -1887 which was published in the State Library of Victoria's La Trobe Journal in December 2011, read it here. I have extracted a few paragraphs from his article.

Stephen Mead writes - The Buonarotti Club was instigated by the engraver, draughtsman and artist, Cyrus Mason in May 1883 at the Prince's Bridge Hotel (Young and Jackson's), on the corner of Swanston and Flinders Streets, in Melbourne.  It flourished for the next four years, eventually concluding its activities during September 1887. Mason was well acquainted with colonial literary, artistic and bohemian circles long before forming the Buonarotti Club, especially through his membership of Melbourne's Yorick Club. In the 1860s, he was one of the first illustrators of the Colonial Monthly edited by his friend Marcus Clarke, then the source of early Melbourne's Bohemian attitudes.

The Club was a professional artists' organisation that utilised literature and music to build the group into a more comprehensive artistic institution, distinct from other art and cultural societies of the period. Although it was divided into three 'sections' – 'Artistic', 'Literary' and 'Musical'- its membership consisted mainly of men and women who aspired to be professional painters. These included Frederick McCubbin, Louis Abrahams, Tom Roberts and Jane Sutherland. Admittedly literary clubs and societies were very popular in Melbourne during the 1880s, as demonstrated by the existence of the Shakespeare Society, the Shelley Society, the Burns Society and the Lamb Society. It must be stressed, however, that these groups were purely and proudly made up of amateurs, not professional writers. The Buonarotti Club differed from them in that it was artist-dominated, with members who possessed professional goals. These included painters who desired instruction, a cross fertilization of ideas and the opportunity to exhibit and receive critique from their peers to assist them in their participation in the commercial Melbourne art world.

The name of the Club 'Buonarotti' had been proposed by the founder, Cyrus Mason, to honour Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475-1564), the great Italian sculptor, painter, draughtsman and architect.

Stephen Mead concludes his article with Despite its early demise, it must be recognised that significant achievements were made of the Buonarotti Club in building up a strong code of artistic professionalism to meet the needs and challenges faced by artists of the period in Melbourne, even fostering a strong sense of artistic bohemianism in the city, and played a pivotal role with that group of artists who formed the now-designated Heidelberg School of painters. (2)

Richmond Road in 1883 by Cyrus Mason
State Library of Victoria Image H2012.271

Cyrus Mason, the founder of the Club, had a property at Tynong where he hosted artists who had painting expeditions to the shores of the Koo Wee Rup Swamp. The Koo Wee Rup Swamp, of 40,000 hectares, was drained between 1889 and 1893, you can read about it here. This means that when the members of the Buonarotti Club saw the swamp it was in its natural state and undrained. How wonderful it would be to see paintings and drawings of that.

The 1929 article in The Argus that I referred to at the start of this post had an interview with a Club member, Louis Lavater, a musician. Louis shared his memories which were of the out-of-doors excursions rather than the social activities of the Buonarotti; of finding a tiger snake as a bed companion on an excursion to Eaglemont and of killing it with a walking stick and nonchalantly turning over and going to sleep again; of happy-go-lucky painting camps on the shores of the Koo-wee-rup Swamp.

"Often we used to set out from Mr. Cyrus Mason's estate at Tynong for the old Koo-wee-rup swamp, with a loaf of bread, a bag of tomatoes, a bag of oysters, bottles of beer and plenty of cigarettes," said Mr. Lavater. "Painting was the first object of the expeditions, but the rough life had a zest all its own which appealed strongly to all of us and the humour! I wonder whether humour is gone from the bush roads when I think of the incidents of those excursions. I remember that there was a dear old couple who lived on an island in the swamp, who received a letter from a Melbourne solicitor stating that they had been left a small sum of money. The old woman, who was aged 84 years - four years older than her husband-was keenly conscious of her husband's youthfulness, and it was with the greatest reluctance that she allowed him to go to Melbourne to arrange a settlement with the solicitor. She used to tell us that every time she thought of her husband among 'those Melbourne hussies' she had a 'paroxum.' Her stern disapproval of our bathing in the swamp apparently caused her a few more 'paroxums,' for she used to come down and seize our clothes and stalk away with them in righteous indignation." (3)

Map of the Colony of Victoria designed, lithographed and printed by Cyrus Mason, 1854.
State Library of Victoria click here to see a high resolution version

Cyrus Mason was born in London in 1829. He undertook an apprenticeship as a lithographer and in the May of 1853 arrived in Melbourne. In September 1856 he joined the Victorian Railways as a lithographic draughtsman and set up its lithographic printing branch. He left the Railways in 1864  had various jobs, was a member of different Artist's Societies, undertook freelance work, lectured and as we saw established the Buonarotti Club in 1883. (4) You can read a  more extensive account of Cyrus Mason's life in an article by Thomas Darragh in Design and Art Australia Online here.

Camping on the road. Artist W.H.O., lithographed and published by Cyrus Mason, 1855
State Library of Victoria Image H83.236/2

Cyrus Mason purchased 282 acres of land around December 1876 from William McKeone (5) and he called the property Woodyats. He was listed in the Shire of Berwick Rate books up until the 1898/1899 book; during this time his occupation was initially listed as a Draughtsman, but later changed to Grazier and towards the end it changed to the more refined Gentleman. Thomas Darragh says he returned to Melbourne about 1900, so this tallies with the entries in the Rate books. At Tynong, Cyrus bred Romney Marsh sheep and was a breeder of some note and participated in Stud Sheep sales, as we see from the advertisement, below.

Annual stud sales including Cyrus Mason's Woodyats stud at Tynong

I wanted to find the exact location of Woodyats and the Rate books list the property as Lots 16 & 17, Parish of Bunyip, and it is shown on the 1887 map immediately below. A later map from 1907, created after the Parish of Koo Wee Rup East was established, shows the allotments renumbered as 55C and 55B and part of the new Parish. The property is south-west of Garfield, facing onto what would now be Mont Albert Road. The property was on high ground on  the edge of the Swamp or the on the shores of the Koo-wee-rup Swamp as Louis Lavatar noted (6)

*click on image to enlarge*  An 1887 map showing Cyrus Mason's property, next to what was called Batty Island, the property owned by Thomas Batty. This was before the Koo Wee Rup Swamp was drained, so it would have been surrounded by water. See the 1907 map below, which shows the property in relation to later roads.
Bunyip, County of Mornington,  photo-lithographed at the Department of Crown Lands and Survey, Melbourne,
 by J. Noone 10. 5. 87. [1887] State Library of Victoria Image

*click on image to enlarge*  Cyrus Mason's property, south-west of Garfield, marked with blue stars. I have annotated the map and you can see it is surrounded by the Koo Wee Rup Swamp sub-divisions.
Koo-Wee-Rup, County of Mornington, photo-lithographed at the Department of Lands and Survey, Melbourne, by T. F. McGauran, 1907. State Library of Victoria  

In June 1893, Mason wrote a letter to the editor of the Leader newspaper about the Public Works Department, their Swamp drainage works, the hardship the new settlers faced and at the same time displaying  a practical knowledge of the area -
Two years back this May The Age published a letter (7) of mine giving the history of the Kooweerup country from 1847, including the various attempts at drainage, and stating that the volume of water always flowing past my property did not reach Western Port Bay. The Public Works department now admits that my statement made then is correct and explains the disappearance of the water by the process of evaporation. As most of the land included in the evaporating area for the calculation made in my presence by a public works engineer is on the south side of the main drain, and has as much to do with the water on the north side as the Fitzroy Gardens, the evaporation theory is valueless. For many years I have endeavored to deter the Public Works officers from blundering into the Kooweerup country without providing a way out. The winter's rains, unhappily, will compel many of the 20 acre section occupiers to find a way out, as they will be surrounded by water— a result not conducive to settling the unemployed upon the land. Last January I wrote to Mr. Webb, hoping through him to save the reputation of the Public Works department by allowing its officers the credit of the discovery I am now compelled to make known, for the Minister of Public Works in four months has not even favored me with an acknowledgment of my letter. Unfortunately it may take another two years and the useless expenditure of many thousands of pounds to force the truth into the official mind, so the sooner stated the better. 

I have discovered a river in Victoria, hitherto not shown on any map, and quite ignored by the Public Works engineers in their drainage scheme. Altogether apart from the Bunyip River, there is another and far larger body of water, which enters below Garfield the Kooweerup country, spreads out in width for half a mile, having four deep channels flowing westward rapidly, gathers into a volume of faster running water 9 feet deep at the south west, corner of my property, and in a mile disappears in an immense reed bed about a mile and a half south of the 42 mile post on the Gippsland railway. This fast running river forms a chord to the curve of what is termed the main drain, out at the east end through high ground, growing timber which required dynamite for its removal. Not 1 gallon of the Kooweerup River water flows into the Government cut except after excessive rains, but passes underground on its way to Port Phillip Bay, as stated in my letter of May, 1891.

It would be laughable, if not too painful and expensive in results, to see the unemployed trying to make what is called a "subsidiary drain " across this large river! A remarkable work to give the unemployed for the privilege of settling on 20 acres when drained, and affords to us an official illustration of Mrs. Partington with her mop operating against the Atlantic. My statement that the Kooweerup River exists is definite, and can be easily tested— (1) By walking from the Bunyip railway station south one mile to the public works main drain, by the track crossing the whole of the Bunyip River water, women and children have used it for months without wetting the soles of their boots by walking over the river on laid saplings. (2) A 9 foot pole will prove the depth of running water forming my south boundary. (3) It is within the knowledge of everyone who has seen the main drain below Nar Nar Goon during April that only a mere dribble of water from the Ararat Creek flowed in it towards Western Port. Had the Public Works officers examined these three points— included in about eight miles— they must have discovered the existence of the Kooweerup River, and refrained from starting the unscientific theory of evaporation. The Kooweerup River will have to be dealt with apart from the present made drain, which is not made large enough to carry the water could it be taken from low to higher ground. As all my efforts with Ministers and officers at the Public Works department have failed in obtaining any recognition of what might be made an additional and valuable river to Victoria, I bring its existence publicly under notice, and conclude my letter with the invitation I gave Mr. Webb last January, feeling sure of courtesy at your hands. I beg most respectfully to invite your attention to what must be considered the key to successfully open the Kooweerup country, and herewith enclose a tracing showing what I actually know as facts, with that hope that you will order an investigation of the correctness of my tracing before commencing subsidiary channels. I shall be happy to lend my boat, or render assistance to yourself or any officer sent to investigate, and if advised, will meet train at Tynong station with my buggy,— Yours, &c, CYRUS MASON. 

Cyrus Mason also created a water lifting scheme - a method to transfer water from a creek into a tank and thus to be used for irrigation and stock water, so he was not only a talented artist but inventive as well. The Australasian newspaper, of December 24, 1892 published an article on this invention -
a simple and economical mode of lifting water, the system brought into use by Mr. Cyrus Mason, J.P., on his property, Woodyats, Tynong, is well worth the attention of anyone having the command of a running stream, and desirous of using it for irrigating green crops, small fruits, vegetables, or for watering stock. As Mr. Mason, when building his wheel, was only desirous of proving its capabilities for irrigating an orchard and perfume garden, also obtaining a head of water to work a hydraulic ram, he authorises us to say that he will have pleasure in communicating information to anyone desirous of constructing a similar wheel. (9)

Cyrus Mason's simple and economical mode of lifting water
The Australasian December 24, 1892.

There were two aspects of Cyrus Mason's life - the engraver and artist who sought the company of like minded people in the Buonarotti Club and the farmer of Woodyats at Tynong. It was his interest in his farm that was, in the end, one of the reasons for the demise of the Buonarotti Club.

L.T Luxton, the writer of the newspaper article I have referred to at the top of this post, quotes an un-named female member of the club and she attributes the decline of the Club to -
Cyrus Mason's move to Tynong. He was elected president. From that point to the time when Cyrus Mason retired to live in the country and the club 'petered out,' three years elapsed-one year as a men's club and two years as a mixed club. A short life if you like, but a very merry one(10)

Louis Lavater, in the same article, also attributes the demise of the club to the resignation of key members -
"The end of all clubs," replied Mr Lavater, extending his hands, "Chance carried away a few of the dominant personalities, such as Longstaff, Julian Gibb and Cyrus Mason, and soon there were not enough strong personalities left to carry the dead weight of that section which has to be carried in every club. A slow 'petering-out,' and in a year, or two years - gone!" (11)

Family information
Cyrus married Jessy Montagu (nee Campbell) in 1853. They had, I believe, 10 children - I have listed them here with any details I can confirm (12) - 
Cyrus - born 1854, married Louise Scroggie in 1882 and died in 1931 in New South Wales.
Jessy Harriet - born 1855 and died January 27, 1857.
Arthur John - born 1857, married Hattie Adelaide Devol in Kansas City, Missouri. 
Walter and Willie - born and died in April 1859 - Walter on April 15 at 4 days old and Willie on April 22 at 11 days old.
Laura - born in 1860, married Richard MacDonnell in 1883 and died in 1935.
Herbert Reuben - born in 1861, died in 1885 in Queensland.
Valentine Frank - born 1864, died in 1944.
Constance - born 1866, married Frederick Kneebone in 1890 and died in 1952.
Theodore - born in 1867, died in 1947 in New South Wales.

After Cyrus and Jessy left Tynong they moved to Florence Street, Mentone; then to Gordon Street in Sandringham, and from there to Fitzroy and East Melbourne. (13)

Cyrus Mason died August 8, 1915 at the age of 86 and his wife Jessy died November 21, 1909 aged 84. They are buried at St Kilda Cemetery with little Jessy and the babies, Walter and Willie. Also on the headstone, which is shown below, is their grandson, Arthur Robert Mason, Killed in Action in France on August 28, 1918.  There is also the quite unusual smaller headstone on the same grave for Jessy's daughters from her first marriage to George Conway Montagu - Edith who died at the age of 63 in May 1911 and Jane who died in August 1938, aged 93. (14)

The Mason family grave at the St Kilda Cemetery, with the rather unusual second headstone for the Montagu sisters, the step-daughters of Cyrus Mason.
Photo: Isaac Hermann.

We will finish off this post with this beautiful poem, Noon at Woodyats, Tynong, by Grace Elizabeth Jennings Carmichael (1867-1904) , a member of the Buonarotti Club, published in The Australasian on January 21, 1888, under the name of  Jennings Carmichael (15). Grace died in London just before her 37th birthday. You can read more about her short life in her Australian Dictionary of Biography entry, written by Lyndsay Gardiner, here.

Noon at Woodyats, Tynong
It is a day to dream one dream,
And then in full content to die,
Bearing away in memory
The colours of that cloudless sky;
The odour of the fragrant green
As 'mid its seeded spears we lie,
The motion of those throbbing wings
That up the bluey distance fly.

It is a day to dream one dream
Of earthly peace, forgetting all
The bygone gleam of darker days -
The keen cold blast and sullen fall
Of slant grey rain, the leafless range
Of solemn poplars straight and tall.
The burial thoughts mid-year June,
That wrap the earth with sable pall.

A day to dream one dream of trust,
Untortured by foreboding fears,
To drink in joy the breezy gust
That round this spreading lightwood cheers.
To clasp dear Hope with eager arms.
And look with eyes undimmed by tears,
While memory blots away for once
The sorrow of the yesteryears.

In the broad march the colours glow,
Nut browns and blues and shading gold,
Deep purples fill the dimpling clefts
Between the wooded mountain folds.
On yonder gradual slope the clear
Transparent summer-sunlight holds
No wraith of shadow standing bright
Against the circle of the wolds.

A day to dream one dream of rest -
Oh friends, your happy voices ring
So freshly from the glowing lawn
That glistens through the sombre wing
Of yon old fir; sweet is the sound
The echoes to my senses bring.
Fainting soft pictures of content
That ever to the brain will cling.

I ween 'twere happy so to die.
To see this perfect world alight,
Just as the shadow of th' eclipse
Falls in irrevocable might;
To close loth eyes, their vision rich
With earth sweet largesse, full and bright;
Then in that view to sink away
Into the silence of the night.

Darragh, Thomas Cyrus Mason in Design and Art Australia Online, see here.

Mead, Stephen The Search for Artistic Professionalism in Melbourne: the activities of the Buonarotti Club, 1883 -1887 in the State Library of Victoria La Trobe Journal No. 88 December 2011, see here.

Trove list: I have created a list of newspaper articles referenced in this post, access it here.

(1) The Argus, August 10, 1929, see here.
(2) Mead, Stephen The Search for Artistic Professionalism in Melbourne: the activities of the Buonarotti Club, 1883 -1887 in the State Library of Victoria La Trobe Journal No. 88 December 2011, see here.
(3) The Argus, August 10, 1929, see here. The 'dear old couple who lived on an island in the swamp' were Thomas and Agnes Batty, I have written about them here 
(4) Darragh, Thomas Cyrus Mason in Design and Art Australia Online, see here.
(5) William McKeone also spelt as M'Keone advertised his property for sale in December 1876 - it was described as adjoining the Koo Wee Rup Swamp and as one of the nicest little farms within many miles around. I have written about William McKeone in my history of Tynong, here.
(6) The Argus, August 10, 1929, see here.
(7) The Age, May 23, 1891, see here.
(8) The Leader, June 10, 1893, see here.
(9) The Australasian, December 24 1892, see here.
(10)  The Argus, August 10, 1929, see here.
(11) Ibid
(12) Indexes to the Victorian, New South Wales and Queensland Births, Death and Marriages; Personal notices in the newspapers.
(13) Electoral Rolls on
(14) St Kilda Cemetery headstone transcriptions on
(15) The Australasian, January 21, 1888,  see here.

Monday, September 25, 2023

The establishment of the Koo Wee Rup Country Women's Association in 1929

The Country Women’s Association (CWA) of Victoria was formed on March 12, 1928. The aims of the organisation were 
to speak and act for the country women and children.....the organisation will set itself the task of improving the conditions under which women and their families live in the country, promoting social contact, encouraging the study of affairs of local government which touch intimately the home life of the people, maintaining and improving educational facilities, and securing for the country districts adequate medical and hospital facilities. (1)

Mrs Kerr-Paterson of Koo Wee Rup was one of the inaugural members of the CWA executive committee and the inaugural President of the Koo Wee Rup branch. This post looks at the life of Margaret Kerr-Paterson (also known as  Margaret Paterson) and the Koo Wee Rup Branch of the CWA. 

CWA Inaugural Conference, Margaret Kerr-Paterson on left.
Some of the women who attended the conference which resulted in the formation of the Victorian Country Women's Association. Left to right: Mrs Patterson [sic] (Koo-wee-rup), Lady Masson, Lady Mitchell, and Mrs. O. Hicken
(Shepparton). Inset: Miss Fitzpatrick, organising secretary of the Country 
Women's Association of New South Wales.

Margaret was the eldest child of Samuel Pope Davis and his wife Margaret Calder Thompson; they had  married in 1869.  Samuel was a publican, but had previously been a jockey and won the 1864 Melbourne Cup on Lantern, owned by Hurtle Fisher. The Melbourne Cup started in 1861 and the first two races were won by Archer, ridden both times by Johnny Cutts; the 1863 race was won by Banker, ridden by Harry Chifney, whose real name was Henry Dawes, which makes Samuel only the third jockey to win the Cup. (2). 

Lantern, the winner of the 1864 Melbourne Cup, ridden by Margaret's father. 
Engraver: Robertson. Image first appeared in The Australian News for Home Reader on 
November 25, 1864. State Library of Victoria Image  IAN25/11/64/8

In December 1879 at a licensing hearing, Samuel applied a certificate authorising the issue of a Publican's Licence for a house at Rankin's-road, to be known as Station Hotel, containing eight rooms, exclusive of those required for the use of the family. He was was unsuccessful  as the building was a wooden affair, which was by no means suitable to the place, or the wants of intending customers. He was eventually successful as his Palace Hotel was erected, on the corner of Rankins and Racecourse Road, by 1882.  In 1892, Samuel was elected as a Councillor to the Borough of Kensington and Flemington. (3). He and Matilda had nine children - Margaret McAlpin (1871), Grace Matilda (1874), Beatrice Sherman (1875), Samuel Ernest (1878-1878), Samuel Albert (1880), Victor Newton (1882), Unnamed boy (died at one day old in 1883), George William (1885) and Oscar Calder (1887). (4)

Their marriage was not all smooth sailing as in July 1893 Matilda charged Samuel with assault and asked for maintenance. The Age reported on the hearing held at the Flemington Magistrate's Court  -
Matilda Davis stated that on Wednesday last her husband asked her to go to a ball with him, but the notice was too short, and she declined. This greatly annoyed him and he went by himself. On Thursday morning, after some words, the defendant rushed at her and caught her by the throat, threatening to choke her. The barman interfered and enabled her to get away. The defendant had often previously ill treated her, and she now desired separate maintenance, as she was afraid any longer to live with him. In answer to defendant, she denied being an habitual drunkard, and said that she never drank at all until driven to it by his ill treatment and neglect. She had not thrown things at him or tried to stab him. She informed the bench that her husband had an income of £1000 a year, and she asked for £2 weekly for maintenance. (5)

The barman, Alfred Hambridge, supported Matilda's evidence and the result of the hearing was the bench, after consideration, fined Davis £5, with £3 3s. costs, for the assault, and made an order against him for £2 weekly maintenance. (6)   Matilda died suddenly that same year, at the age of 43, on December 29, 1893 at the Palace Hotel, where she was sitting in the dining room, talking to her daughter Grace, when she suddenly fell back in her chair and expired before medical assistance could be procured.  Her obituary said she was very much liked by those who knew her good qualities. (7). Samuel died May 13, 1897 at the age of 50.  His estate was left to his children and the Executors advertised the Hotel for lease for a five year term in February 1898, with the income being held in Trust, as he still had young children. (8)

The Hotel Victoria, Albert Park, in 1906, Margaret's home after her
 marriage to John Smerdon.
The Australasian, September 8, 1906

At the time of the death of her father, Margaret was 26; her sister Grace was already married, so I presume that she and her 22 year old sister, Beatrice, looked after the younger children. On September 25, 1901 Margaret married John Smerdon, in Sydney. John Smerdon was also a publican and the time of their marriage he had the licence of the Hotel Victoria in Albert Park, which he held until September 1905; he then moved to the Greensborough Hotel, then the Duke of Wellington Hotel in Flinders Street and in April 1912 took the licence of the Cricket Club Hotel on the corner of Fitzroy and Princes Street in St Kilda. They were living there when he died November 12, 1914. (9)

The Cricket Club Hotel, St Kilda, c. 1870, as it would have looked when John and Margaret Smerdon lived there. 
It was built in the 1850s and replaced in the 1920s with a three storey building. (10)
Smerdons Hotel Fitzroy Street St. Kilda.
Harold Paynting Collection, State Library of Victoria. Image  H91.40/382

The next year in 1915,  Margaret married William Kerr Paterson. His address at the time was 48 Dalgety Street in St Kilda, barely a five minute stroll from the Cricket Club Hotel.  William was born in Ballarat in 1876 and it appears that the couple adopted the surname of Kerr-Paterson, from his middle name and surname, and that is how Margaret was frequently referred to in the newspapers.  By 1917, they had moved to Talbot, where he was the manager of the London Bank (later called the E.S & A. Bank) and in January 1920 he was transferred to the Koo Wee Rup branch. (11)

In March 1928, as we know Margaret was elected to the CWA Victoria Executive and in March 1929 the Koo Wee Rup Branch was formed and she was elected President. (12). There are very few reports of the activities of the branch in the Koo Wee Rup Sun. The paper frequently announced that it welcomed reports of activities of various groups, so it appears that the CWA may not have supplied  reports. As  a matter of interest, in May 1931, Koo Wee Rup was reported to have 32 different organisations, which as the Sun reported, seems incredulous, given the size of the population. (13).

The very first newspaper report I can find of the branch was in the Weekly Times of  May 11, 1929 -
[CWA] Centres had been formed at Beaufort, Upper Beaconsfield, Bendigo, Broadford, Cranbourne, Crib Point, Corowa, Euroa, Flinders, Kallista, Koo-wee-rup, Macedon, Monbulk, Mortlake, Myrtleford, Rushworth, Sale, Terang, and Yarra. (14)

On August 23, 1929, Mrs Kerr-Paterson convened a meeting at Tooradin to establish a branch there. (15).  The next month the Weekly Times could report on a meeting of the Koo Wee Rup CWA - 
At the monthly meeting, on August 28, a discussion took place regarding the rest room. Mrs Patterson [sic] and Mrs Hewitt waited on the hall committee and obtained the use of the hall kitchen on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, from 2 till 5 o'clock. Members will take charge in turn. A stove, towels and other conveniences will be in the room for the use of visitors. The 500 tournament being very successful, it was decided to hold two more during September. A fancy dress ball is to be held on October 8 to raise funds. Members will do the catering in order to save expense. Mrs Benston is secretary and Mrs Hewitt assistant secretary. (16).

One of the major projects of the CWA was establishing rest rooms for women, when they visited town. Women came in off the farms, perhaps on a market day or their shopping day and they had  no toilet facilities and nowhere to feed their babies, so these rest rooms were a necessity. Of the women mentioned in the report, above, Mrs Hewitt was Vera Hewitt, the wife of Koo Wee Rup Doctor, Alan Hewitt and the mother of Dr Ian Hewitt, who between then served Koo Wee Rup from 1925 until 1995. Mrs Benston is Elizabeth Gray Benston, the wife of Peter, a farmer of Koo Wee Rup. (17)

In September some members of the Koo Wee Rup branch participated in the CWA Handicrafts Exhibition at the Melbourne Town Hall and in November 1929 the Weekly Times reported again on the branch - 
the CWA ball which was organised by members of the branch was a great success, and the proceeds will add considerably to the funds. On October 30 there were 22 members present at the meeting and all greatly appreciated the demonstrations on rug making and soft toys given by Mrs Colles and Miss McLean, of Upper Beaconsfield. Several new members were enrolled and more are expected shortly. The annual meeting was arranged for Thursday, November 14. Mrs C. Benston is the secretary. (18)

The first report of the CWA in the Koo Wee Rup Sun which I could find was in February 1930 when they noted that the branch had donated  a sack of potatoes and a case of groceries to the associations' holiday home at Black Rock. The next month, Mrs Kerr-Paterson chaired the meeting to establish a new branch at Clyde and in July, the CWA decided give prizes for the best garden and look at securing land for a 9-hole golf course and croquet lawn. (19)

Koo Wee Rup CWA
Koo Wee Rup Sun, July 10, 1930. p. 4

The most informative report of the activities of the  CWA was in the Koo Wee Rup Sun in August 1930 -
There was a large attendance of the Kooweerup branch of the Country Women's Association on Wednesday afternoon, the 30th ult.,held in the local Memorial Hall. Many members of other branches were present. Mrs W.K. Paterson presided. The hall was beautifully decorated with gum tips, heath and blue irises. Various games and competitions were held and created great merriment. Community singing was also indulged in, Mrs F. Potts rendering invaluable service by presiding at the piano. Miss Isobel Mills excellently gave two pianoforte solos.

Mrs Murray Waller, organising secretary, delivered a very educational lecture on the aims and objects of the association.  She emphasised that the organisation was non-political and 'non-sectarian'; that the chief purpose in view was to teach various handicraft which would be of service in their daily life. From the teaching imparted, many members have been able to take up various occupations, and she quoted many instances where success had been achieved. The association had done a lot of good samaritan work, but they must not look upon the organisation as a benevolent society.

Mrs Hardy  of "Glen Leith," Dalmore, presented Mrs Waller with  a magnificent bunch of violets. A dainty afternoon tea was provided by members.

Mrs Paterson in moving  a vote of thanks to Mrs Waller, referred to the happiness which suffused members at seeing so many present from other branches. The principal idea of the association was to learn something with the view of imparting it to others. Mrs G. Stevens, in seconding the motion, referred to the pleasure she felt at hearing Mrs Waller. She had on other occasions heard her lecture, and had derived much help and profit from same. Mrs J. Mickle, a former resident of Kooweerup, congratulated the local branch on the good work which it was carrying out.

Mrs Paterson responded, and alluded to the pleasure at seeing Mrs Mickle and others from distant parts present.  The success of the gathering, she said, was due to the secretary and all members, who worked unitedly together.  This afternoon (Thursday) an address on horticulture will be delivered at the meeting of the branch in the Memorial Hall, and a welcome is extended to everybody to attend. (20)

Other Koo Wee Rup CWA activities in 1930 and early 1931 included an upholstery demonstration and a raffia work demonstration; they also held a stall to assist the Deaf and Dumb Institution and there was this well-attended meeting in August 1930 when -
 A very enjoyable social afternoon was held by the Kooweerup branch of the Country Women's Association last Wednesday, in the Memorial Hall, Kooweerup. The hall was decorated in charming fashion with wattle, gum, violets and iris. The president, Mrs K. Paterson, and members of the committee welcomed 150 guests, including visitors from other country branches. The afternoon opened with community singing, and later the secretary of the C.W.A., Mrs. M. Waller, gave an address on the work of the association in all parts of the world. A delightful programme of games and competitions had been arranged. (21). 

On February 14, 1931, the ever busy, Mrs Kerr-Paterson attended the inaugural meeting of the Garfield Branch of the CWA. (22)

Prominent CWA members, Margaret Kerr-Paterson is standing second from left.
Prominent members of the Country Women's Association of Victoria, who attended
the exhibition and annual meeting recently. (Back row left to right)— Mesdames Black (Tarwin), Kerr-Paterson (Koo-wee-rup), Murray Black ( Tarwin), R. Balmer (Bendigo), K. Amos (Manangatang), and Webb (Wangaratta)
(Front row)— Mrs O Hicken (Shepparton). and Mrs R. G. Beggs (Beaufort)

Then in the September 1931, the Kerr-Patersons left Koo Wee Rup for Dandenong, where William became an Estate Agent. (23). There were three farewell presentations. The first one, on September 9,  was hosted by the Ladies Guild at the Anglican Church. The Vicar, Reverend  Dodd, referred in excellent terms of the work Mrs Paterson had performed for the church. Mrs Dodd then presented Margaret with a suede motor car cushion, with initials worked thereon. (24).

On September 28, there was a community function at the Memorial Hall where the Kerr-Patersons were the special guests. The first presentation was from  Mr A. Eason, who on behalf  of the Bank employees presented William with an attache case and Margaret with a set of useful ornaments. Then Dr A. Hewitt, on behalf of the townspeople, euologised the guests for the manner in which they had interested themselves in practically every public movement. Cr G. Bowden, on behalf of the district farmers, paid a tribute to the sympathy and help which they had always received  from the guests....Mr. M. Bennett, M.L.A., said they were extremely sorry to lose such public-spirited citizens....they had been to the fore in all public functions and had endeavoured to advance the interests of the town and district. Mr Bennett presented William with a handsome writing desk, also a wallet of notes and Margaret was given a beautiful wristlet watch. (25)

A month later, on October 28, another function was held, this time by the Koo Wee Rup CWA. The new President, Mrs D. McCulloch, in eulogistical terms referred to the work performed by Mrs Paterson, and on behalf of the members presented her with an electric kettle. The  Cardinia CWA branch gave her an oak butter dish. (26)Mrs McCulloch, was Marion Minnie McCulloch, wife of David of Harewood Mains, Dalmore.  

The only reference in the newspapers to the Koo Wee Rup CWA after the reports of the departure of Margaret Kerr-Paterson was from September 1932, when members attended the third birthday party of the Tooradin CWA (27)  The branch may have continued, but I suspect that Margaret was the driving force the branch and it closed down not long after she left.  As we know, there were 32 organisations in Koo Wee Rup at the time, so the women had many other options for serving the community. However, on November 9, 1944, the Koo Wee Rup CWA was reformed and I have written about the first  meeting of this newly established group, here.

Margaret Kerr-Paterson continued her community service  in Dandenong - she was the inaugural President of the Dandenong CWA, which was formed in May 1933 and Convenor of the Women’s Voluntary National Register, who provided help for soldiers in camp or those enlisting at Dandenong,as well as aid to refugees in Europe (28). She was also involved with the Dandenong Red Cross Auxiliary, the Dandenong Hospital Appeal committee and was the Inaugural President of the Dandenong Public Hospital Auxiliary. The Dandenong Hospital opened in April 1942. (29)  

In recognition of the long connection with the Country Women's Association, Margaret was awarded Life membership in 1946. This is part of the Dandenong Journal report of the occasion- 
On Tuesday afternoon, December 10th, a very enjoyable time was spent in the Assembly Room when Mrs. Kerr-Paterson was the guest of members of different branches of the Country Women’s Association. Mrs. W Rogers, Group president of West Gippsland, received Mrs. Paterson, and as she entered the room members sang "For She’s A Jolly Good Fellow.” In welcoming the guest of honor Mrs. Rogers made her a presentation of a very lovely basket of pink roses, carnations and blue delphinium, and in a most sincere speech, spoke of the high esteem in which she is held,  and the great love all have for her. She then presented Mrs. Paterson with a life membership badge of the Association and in pinning it to her coat expressed the hope that she would wear it for many years to come. With it went the love and good wishes of members.

On recovering from her surprise, Mrs. Paterson thanked those members who had made the presentation possible and said that it was one of the proudest and happiest moments of her life. Continuing in reminiscent vein she referred to the beginning of the C.W.A. in Victoria, when she became the first Group president in Gippsland and travelled as far afield as Sale. She spoke of the high ideals of the C.W.A. and urged members to continue to work for the advancement of those ideals which aim to help and better the conditions of the country women. (30)

Margaret died on August 26, 1954, aged 83 and William died on April 7, 1961, aged 85. Margaret's obituary described her as a woman of fine character and  a sterling citizen and we can truly say that her efforts with the Country Women's Association made a positive and practical effect on the lives of many rural women. (31) [I need to add that even though this post was really about Margaret and the CWA, I was just amazed and excited to find that her father had won the Melbourne Cup; it was such a surprise discovery]

Trove list - I have created a list of articles connected to the Koo Wee Rup CWA and the life of Margaret Kerr-Paterson (nee Davis), access it here.

(1) Report of formation - The Argus, March 14, 1928, see here and hereThe Age, March 15, 1928, see here.
(2) ; The Herald, September 9, 1909, see here.
(3) Application for Hotel licence - The Age, November 17, 1879, see here; Application refused  - The Herald, December 15, 1879, see here;  First mention of Palace Hotel I can find - Essendon and Flemington Chronicle, September 22, 1882, see here; Election to Council - Essendon Gazette, September 1, 1892, see here.
(4) Indexes to the Victorian Births, Deaths and marriages.
(5) The Age, July 26, 1893, see here.
(6) Ibid
(7) Obituary - Essendon and Flemington Chronicle, January 5, 1894, see here;
(8) Short obituary - The Argus, May 15, 1897, see here. Will and Probate papers at Public Records Office of Victoria;  Hotel advertised for lease - The Argus, February 12, 1898, see here.
(9) Marriage notice - The Leader, October 5, 1901, see here; Hotel licences - see various  newspaper notices  in my Trove list, here ; Death notice - The Argus, November 14, 1914, see here.
(10) A history of the Hotel can be found here
(11) William's parents were John Paterson and Jane McConnochie. Addresses in St Kilda and Talbot - Electoral Rolls on Ancestry;  The Argus, January 27, 1920 see here.
(12) Date of the establishment of the Koo Wee Rup branch - Twenty-one years : a brief history of the  Association since it was formed in 1928, published by the Country Women's Association of Victoria in 1949. Available on-line at the State Library of Victoria
(13) Koo Wee Rup Sun,  May 7 1931 p. 4
(14) Weekly Times, May 11, 1929, see here.
(15) Weekly Times, August 31, 1929, see here.
(16) Weekly Times, September 14, 1929, see here.
(18) The Argus, September 21, 1929, see hereWeekly Times, November 23, 1929, see here.
(19) Koo Wee Rup Sun, February 13, 1930 p. 4; Koo Wee Rup Sun, July 10, 1930. p. 4
(20) Koo Wee Rup Sun, August 7, 1930 p. 2
(21) See my Trove list, here,  for activities. Report of meeting is from The Age August 1, 1930, see here.
(22) I have written about the establishment of the Garfield CWA here
(23) Occupation from Electoral Rolls on Ancestry.
(24) Koo Wee Rup Sun, September 17, 1931 p. 1.
(25) Koo Wee Rup Sun, October 1, 1931 p. 1.
(26) Koo Wee Rup Sun, November 5, 1931 p. 1.
(27) Weekly Times, September 3, 1932, see here. There is nothing on Trove and I checked the Koo Wee Rup Suns (which are not on Trove)  from 1931, 1932,1933 and 1934 and could not find anything.
(28) The Age, May 26, 1933, see here; Dandenong Journal, June 5, 1940, see hereDandenong Journal, June 26, 1940, see here.
(29) Dandenong Journal, September 20, 1939, see here; Dandenong Journal, November 30, 1938, see here; Dandenong Journal, July 10 1940, see here
(30) Dandenong Journal, December 18, 1946, see here.
(30) Obituary - Dandenong Journal, September 1, 1954, see here; Margaret and William were both cremated at Springvale Crematorium.