Edward Green’s borough

Greens-brah, Greensburra, Greensborrow, the Burra, Down-Burra Way, Greenzie – call it what you will, but if Yallambie is the geographic heart of the City of Banyule, then Greensborough just to the north is the administrative capital. The new Council Centre which was opened three years ago on the site of the old public baths has certainly been a leg up for an area previously known only for its commercial hub and the back end of an ugly shopping plaza, but it might surprise those who have never given a thought to the pronunciation of the word “Greenzburra” that the town nearly had another name right at outset. It might surprise them still further to learn of the common commonality Yallambie shares with the Burra’s flamboyant founding father, that colourful if at times controversial Port Phillip luminary, Edward Bernard Green.

Soldier, squatter, social benefactor – “one of the most dazzling business entrepreneurs of early Melbourne”, (Dianne Edwards) – Green was the instigator in the early days of a pioneering overland mail run between Sydney and the burgeoning settlement at Port Phillip. Born of English parents at Cork in Ireland’s south west in 1809, E B Green arrived in New South Wales in 1831 as an officer of the 4th Regiment of Foot, the King’s Own Regiment.

That “dazzling business entrepreneur”, Edward B Green. (Source: Greensborough Historical Society, https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5455c9272162f10d64fa1f43)

Leaving the King to go whistle, Green quickly resigned his commission in favour of pursuing commercial and pastoral activities in New South Wales. He took up land at Bogaland Station near Yass on the Southern Tablelands where he found himself well placed to familiarise himself with the overland travel routes in the south just then being explored by Major Mitchell. When a bank failure later in the decade lost him money, Green applied for and won the contract for the carriage of the mails from Sydney to the new settlement at Melbourne. Initially Green conducted the arduous and sometimes perilous journeys himself, alone on horseback at first, then with a light cart and paying passengers, gradually building his activities into a successful coaching business.

Little changed from the way Green knew it. Grimshaw St near the corner of Marcona St, c1914. Marcona St was called Barham St on Green’s original plan and marked the western boundary of his estate. (Source: Worfolk Collection, The Diamond Valley Story, D H Edwards)

E B Green held the overland mail contract for the next decade, maintaining his monopoly against all comers while at times resorting to what can only be described as occasionally shrewd tactics. In 1844 while he was temporarily absent from the colony, the mail contract came due for renewal and a new tenderer unexpectedly appeared, a man named Walsh. Green returned to find his business in jeopardy and weighed up a tactical response. Early the next year when Walsh attempted to commence his mail service he discovered that all supplies of fodder along the Sydney Rd had mysteriously become unavailable, to the extent that he was soon forced to relinquish the obligations of the mail tender. The owner of the fodder supplies on the Sydney Rd, E B Green who had been secretly buying up supplies, then stepped forward to renew his former contract with the Government. This time the contract was on Green’s own terms and he held it for another five years, making a fortune along the way.

The “Dashing Mr Gilbert”, 1869. (Bishop Strachan School Museum, Toronto)

Green lived in palatial style in St Kilda and became a director of several companies. He was a donor to a number of charities and was honorary treasurer of the Melbourne Hospital of which the “Dashing Mr Gilbert” was also a member. In 1848 he purchased the south east corner of Bourke and Swanston Streets in Melbourne at a cost of £1750 on which he erected the Royal Mail Hotel which he used as the Melbourne terminus of his coaching activities. For the purposes of this story however, it is the considerable pastoral interests Green developed in the up country Riverina that is of special note to us here. In 1843 Green followed the course of the Murray downstream and was so impressed by the well-watered country of the anabranches of the Murray that he secured a pastoral lease of 45,130 hectares (114,656 acres) on the south bank of the Wakool River which he called Barham. To this he then added another lease of 27,700 hectares (69,200 acres) on the north bank which he called Beremagad, building a slab hut from roughly hewn native timbers which was designed to be defendable from the local tribes who at that time were described as “troublesome”. A subsequent owner of Beremagad would later rename this station when he turned the lease into freehold. But more of Thomas Wragge and Tulla Station a little later.

Such heady entrepreneurship was pretty typical in the boom and bust early years of Melbourne but when it came to land that Green purchased on the Plenty River it appears he risked taking his sometimes sharp business practices a step too far.

Looking across a part of Green’s 640 acres from Grimshaw St in the early years of the 20th Century. (Source: Greensborough Historical Society, https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/54e01fd82162f11b94ffe91a)

In 1840, six months after establishing his mail run, Green had purchased 259 hectares (640 acres) of land on the Plenty River from the Sydney speculator Henry Smythe. The land had cost Green £1600 but he harboured grand ambitions for the riverside location. A new township was planned which with sycophant intent, Green proposed to call La Trobe. A surveyor was employed to draw up plans for a village on the slopes overlooking the river and instructions were issued to mark out small farm lots along the river flats.  It was a street plan that in general form survives to the present day, however it was Green’s greater plan to turn the site into a coaching stop on his mail run to Sydney that was to bring widespread condemnation.

A rural scene in Greensborough (or possibly Diamond Creek), late 19th Century, looking much the way Green would have known it.
(Source: Picture by Edwin H Cooke from an album in the State Library of Victoria)

Green’s object was obviously to increase the value of the subdivision of his Plenty River land but it flew in the face of the Government’s position that the overland mail should go north along the established Sydney Rd with a course through Seymour. Green’s alternative route would have crossed the mountains into the upper Goulburn area near the Yea River, thereby bypassing Seymour and its Goulburn River punt altogether. It was a plan that was not without merit, especially if like Green you happened to own property along the way, but it provoked the government to proclaim official road routes to forestall any further private enterprise adventures into road planning. Green’s town, which soon came to be known as Greenborough, then Greensborough, would not in the end find itself on the coach road north to Sydney after all. Instead it would remain a sleepy backwater until the coming of the railway in the 20th Century, its district development a side story in the wider context of the story of the Plenty Valley.

Main Rd, Greensborough, c1920 looking down towards the River, “a sleepy backwater until the coming of the railway”. (Source: Diamond Valley Library)

In 1859 Edward Green, the 50 year old epitome of a successful Australian businessman and pastoralist, sailed for England with his wife and son. He left a manager in charge of his considerable Australian interests and instructions for his agents to begin selling his entire holdings. For Green his star was at its zenith, but you know what they say about the higher you climb… Things were about to become mightily unstuck.

Map showing location of Green’s Beremegad (Tulla) and Barham Stations north of the Murray. (Source: “Walking in Time” by E J Grant)

The problem appears to have begun with the sale of Green’s Wakool River pastoral leases and an honest misunderstanding between all parties involved as to whether a 4050 hectare (10,000 acre) area known as Bucket Island belonged to the Beremegad or Barham runs. Green’s agents entered into contracts of sale with John Hay of Noorong for the Beremegad lease and with Driver and Co for the Barham lease but confusion of place names, details describing localities and boundaries of both runs ended up in a legal bun fight. The litigation got very complicated with Green seeing red and taking the matter all the way to the Privy Council, but in a legal catastrophe for him, the courts ruled against Green’s case.

It has been estimated the whole debacle cost Green approximately £30,000. Driver and Co, believing the contract of sale had not been properly honoured withdrew from the sale and soon after Green died in England at the comparatively young age of 52 years, his star well and truly set.

The trustees of Green’s estate maintained his Wakool country for another decade following his death. Finally, when the dust had settled, Green’s Riverina property was successfully sold and at the start of the 1870s one of the eventual owners of the property was a name familiar already to readers of the Yallambie story, Thomas Wragge. Winty Calder writing of Wragge’s early foray into the Wakool region stated that:

“It is possible that Thomas had met Edward Green a few years earlier and became interested in his account of land by the Wakool River…” (Calder: Classing the Wool, p91)

Thomas Wragge from Nottinghamshire, (Source: Bill Bush Collection)

Thomas Wragge from Nottinghamshire of course had arrived at Port Phillip in 1851 with a letter of introduction to the Bakewells at Yallambee. While Wragge’s town life would be centred round the Warringal village at Heidelberg, Thomas must have been well familiar with Green’s attempted township just a few miles to the north and chances are he visited the Beremegad run at times in the 1860s for a look see. By then Green was dead, the Wakool leases were up for grabs and Thomas was travelling regularly between Echuca and Uardry, the 13,000 hectare (32,000 acre) pastoral run to the north Thomas held in partnership with his brother William and brothers in law John and James Hearn.

The rest, as they say, is history. Wragge began buying into the Beremegad run at about the same time that he built his house at Yallambie, converting the lease hold of Beremegad into freehold and renaming it Tulla. The story of Thomas Wragge’s Tulla Station has been told elsewhere but the memory of E B Green has faded into obscurity, his name remembered now primarily for its conjunction with that other word, “Borough”, a name that appears on street signs, council chambers and the discombobulated 513 Dysons bus route seen all over the City of Banyule.

Greensborough – but pronounce it with an emphasis on the “Burra”, the town on the Plenty conceived by E B Green.

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