Tag Archives: George Alexander Gibert

The dashing Mr Gilbert

“He [George Gilbert] teaches drawing and professes to be an artist. He is a man of the most active mind… and disposition I know. He is always involved in trying mechanical experiments but unfortunately never perfects anything… he is a very intelligent person and will talk from morning to night always in a fluent and agreeable manner. He appears to have studied every subject started, or at all events plunges into the midst of it and dives to the bottom of it in a very short time.” (John Cotton, Port Phillip pastoralist, describing G A Gilbert September, 1848)

Some people listening to the claims of his capabilities or of his scale of competency might have thought him a bit of an artist, but not of a type more usually found holding onto the end of a bristle brush, palette in hand and starving in a garret. There is no doubting that G A Gilbert had both the energy and the industry to match his various claims, or that as Edmund “Garryowen” Finn put it, he enjoyed “a plausible gentlemanly manner,” but when it came to the visual arts the record was more clear. George Alexander Gilbert, teacher, publisher, librarian, gentleman pastoralist, gold commissioner, mesmerist sensation and confirmed dilettante was the walking embodiment of that old adage, “Every artist was first an amateur.”

George Gilbert was a young man of about 25 years when he emigrated to Port Phillip with his much older wife and the children from her first marriage. The son of an English landscape painter, George was himself an artist of some minor talent who had determined to look for opportunities in the new agricultural enterprise that was right then emerging at the bottom end of the world. George’s wife, Anne has been described as “one of the more exotic of the early colonists”, (Serville: Port Phillip Gentlemen) and had previously moved freely in literary circles and the London avant-garde. She was the widow of Sir John Byerley and this connection allowed the Gilberts to immediately join the cultured set of Melbourne upon their arrival at Port Phillip in 1841.

Dr Godfrey Howitt, by Samuel Calvert, 1873.

With his winning ways and refined manner George Gilbert soon befriended some of the leading men in the settlement including Dr Godfrey Howitt, Superintendent Charles Joseph La Trobe and the Oxford-educated clergyman turned squatter, Joseph Docker for whom he began acting as agent. Gilbert’s own property ambitions quickly followed suit and these included the lease on a farm on the Plenty River of which he wrote in March, 1843:

“I have taken up a farm of 200 acres 10 miles from town where I intend to train and cultivate the trees while mi cara sposa intends to train the idea [in her school] so between the intellectual and more solid requirements of this life, we hope to secure a home here by paying our rent until we can obtain apartments in that house where everything is ‘a la discretion’.

Bakewell era survey map of “Yallambee”.

The described distance of 10 miles from town begs the question, just where was this Plenty River farm? Could it have been the Bakewells’ 200 acre “Capital Compact Farm” 11 miles from town and advertised for lease that very same month? The distance of 10 miles would put the location at a guess at the lower end of the Plenty and it is an intriguing idea that, based solely on this point, Gilbert and the Bakewell brothers may very possibly have been near neighbours at this early date. Further to this, the Bakewell survey map of “Yallambee, The Property of Messrs. J. and R. Bakewell”, produced about a decade later, surprisingly places a “school” house on the south east border of their estate, somewhere near where the corner of Yallambie and Lower Plenty Roads stands today. It’s a small thing but one is left to wonder at the sort of students that might have been available at that time, the nature of the school, or indeed, the unlikely identity of its teacher.

Detail from the c1850 Bakewell survey map showing the presence of a “school” near the present day corner of Yallambie and Lower Plenty Roads.
Thomas Wills “Lucerne”, photographed by Colin Caldwell before demolition c1960, (Source: State Library of Victoria).

As a gentleman farmer, George Gilbert appears to have enjoyed only limited success at Port Phillip. Like many settlers of the early 1840s he became insolvent and with his pastoral ambitions now largely forgotten, the fact is that it is as an artist of the Port Phillip District landscape that he would later be best remembered. It was probably around this period that Gilbert produced drawings of Joseph Hawdon’s Banyule and Thomas Wills Lucerne, both early and prominent properties of the Heidelberg district, and also the now well-known pastel of John and Robert Bakewells’ Station Plenty, (Yallambee) an art work which has been reproduced on numerous occasions within these pages.

Banyule House, Heidelberg. The residence of Joseph Haw[don Esq.]
Artwork c1849 from the “Bakewell Collection of drawings by G A Gilbert”.
(Source: Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria) http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/172769
 La Trobe University’s founding professor in Art History, Lucy Ellem has suggested that The Station Plenty pastel comes from an English tradition of estate portraiture, quoting from Daniels that “flourishing plantations, pasture and tillage displayed the economic, social and patriotic virtues of progressive estate management.”

Following this English aesthetic, Gilbert has in the Plenty Station picture composed his view of the Bakewell farm in a frame of trees in imitation of an English picturesque landscape. The little prefabricated house has its back turned on its Australian bush land setting while the garden of Robert Bakewell is shown in its early infancy. A ploughman speedily turns over the virgin soils of the Plenty River flats, vines grow in rows and hay stacks float with a ghostly, ethereal quality at top of the ridge, evidence of the bounty being harvested from this new land. Smoke from a chimney on the cottage indicates the settled lives of the Quaker brothers who live here, the enclosures of fences and paths imposing an order seemingly at odds with the wild land beyond view.

The Bakewell brothers’ Yallambee by George Alexander Gilbert. (Source: Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria) http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/294649

With the end of Gilbert’s brief farming endeavours on the Plenty, the erstwhile artist threw himself into a variety of other pursuits. He was a member of the Horticultural Society, the Society of Saint George, the Melbourne Hospital and Melbourne Debating Society committees and served for a time as Secretary of the Medical Board of Port Phillip. In addition to these endeavours, Gilbert was also the Secretary of Melbourne’s Mechanics Institute for six years from 1844, an institution which boasted the membership of some of the leading and most influential figures of Port Phillip Society at that time, including Dr Godfrey Howitt and Howitt’s Bakewell brothers in law. At the MMI Gilbert taught art and acted as a secretary, librarian and museum curator and by the time he moved on in 1850, he had overseen its teething pains and “helped establish it as an important and enduring cultural organisation in the colony.” (Bowman)

Sixth-plate Daguerreotype of the Bakewell brothers'”Yallambee” from the State Library of Victoria Collection.

Gilbert’s biographer, Margaret Bowman, who recorded the above line and who wrote the definitive history of the artist, “Cultured Colonists” and upon whose research a large part of this article is based, wrote that his contemporaries found Gilbert a talkative although sometimes tiresome fellow and that he seemed to know “something about everything” while at the same time “not being entirely successful at anything.” (Bowman: Cultured Colonists, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2014) It is true that Gilbert was apparently “personable, intelligent and good hearted” (ibid) but it was also said that he appeared sometimes to present better than he performed. He is known to have dabbled in Daguerreotype photography and entomology, both subjects that were of interest to the Bakewells and their circle, but in Gilbert’s case, it seems these interests did not extend beyond early experiment and examination.

Back Creek, Bendigo by S.T. Gill 1860, (Source: State Library of NSW Collection).
Lachlan MacLachlan, AKA “Bendigo Mac”

With the discovery of gold in 1851 Gilbert was appointed by the newly created Lieutenant Governor, Charles Joseph La Trobe, as an Assistant Gold Commissioner at the Sandhurst (Bendigo) and Forest Creek (Castlemaine) gold fields where he served, funnily enough, alongside this writer’s own Great Grand Uncle, the Police Magistrate, Lachlan “Bendigo Mac” McLachlan. By the end of Gilbert’s gold fields appointment which ended in clouded circumstances a year later, the marriage of George and Anne Gilbert had broken down and in 1857 George returned to England, sans “mi cara sposa”. This was the same year that John and Robert Bakewell also returned “home” but it is unknown if these movements were in any way related.

John Bakewell (Source: Early Pioneer Families of Victoria and Riverina, Alexander Henderson, 1936)

A group of Gilbert drawings, some of which were almost certainly commissions, did find their way into the possession of John Bakewell and together with the E L Bateman Plenty Station drawings and a number of Eugene von Guerard presentation drawings, they formed a collection which remained by descent with the family of John Bakewell until 1935. In that year the Gilbert drawings were purchased by the State Library of Victoria following a Centenary of Melbourne exhibition with the Bateman and von Guerard pictures going to the NGV a little later, in 1959. Gilbert’s Yallambee pastel, which had remained in the family of Dr Godfrey Howitt, was gifted to the State Library in 1967 to complete the picture.

Photograph from the Bishop Strachan School Museum and Archives, Toronto and reproduced in Margaret Bowman’s 2014 book, “Cultured Colonists”. George is the moustachioed man slightly to the middle right of the picture.

George Alexander Gilbert appears to have returned to Australia briefly at the start of the 1860s before finally vanishing from the colonial record in Victoria. Sometime before 1863 he resurfaced in Canada with a new “wife” where he lived in style in Toronto, teaching art “to fashionable young ladies and aspiring young men.” In Toronto he was described as being “very free with his money of which he must have had plenty at that time.” Where this wherewithal had come from is unclear but by this time the “dashing Mr Gilbert” was in his early 50s and described as “impressive, tall and fair with curled grey whiskers and moustache, always well dressed and a fluent talker.” His former life in Australia seems to have been all but forgotten but after nearly a decade in Canada, he was on the move again finding another new life and another new “wife”, this time in the United States and it was there that he died in Hartford, Conneticut in December, 1877.

George Alexander Gilbert, 1869. Detail.

G A Gilbert wore many hats in his career, sometimes the cap fitting, at other times not. He reinvented himself more than once and on more than one continent in what was really a full and eventful life. In an attempt to put a perspective on his life, Margaret Bowman best summed him up with a characterization, “An artist after all,” words which she used as the title of the second to last chapter of her book. In that chapter, Bowman said that Gilbert’s output was, “historically important as a record of Early European settlement, of a land in transition, seen through English eyes.” She concludes with, “(he) not only contributed to the development of the visual arts in the colonies, but also left a substantial Victorian legacy of delightful and historically important artworks.”

“Melbourne from the south side of the Yarra.” The annotation across the lower margin identifies several landmarks including the Bakewell Wool Stores in Market Street, just above the Falls.
Artwork c1845 from the “Bakewell Collection of drawings by G A Gilbert”.
(Source: Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria) http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/172766

As a representation of this “Victorian legacy”, a proportion of Gilbert’s artwork left Australia in the 19th century along with other more significant work by E L Bateman and von Guerard, only to return to Australia in the 20th century to form important collections at the State Library of Victoria and National Gallery of Victoria.

Gilbert’s Yallambee pastel, used on a promotional page for a Heidelberg Historical Society exhibition running at their museum in Jika Street until 25 November.

John Bakewell could not have known at the time that his patronage and collecting interests in Australia would one day form the basis of a serious starting point in the understanding of Australian colonial art history, but today his collection constitutes a rich resource for the annalists. Writing in an earlier 1995 paper, Lucy Ellem described the art aesthetic that established itself during the first wave of European settlement in Australia and in particular the way in which it applies to the Plenty River landscape.

Anderson’s Mill on the Plenty by George Alexander Gilbert. Artwork c1849 from the “Bakewell Collection of drawings by G A Gilbert”. (Source: Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria) http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/172755

“An examination of written and pictorial responses to the Australian landscape of the Plenty Valley made by European visitors and settlers suggest that its transformation from its ‘natural’ state came about not simply because of practical agrarian or farming needs, nor because of nostalgia for a distant homeland, although these factors were both important, but because of a conscious aesthetic, a way of perceiving the landscape in accordance with the English aesthetic categories of the Beautiful, the Sublime and the Picturesque.” (Ellem: Picturesque and Panoramic)

The “Beautiful”, the “Sublime” and the “Picturesque” were all European concepts of the 18th century which came to be applied to the wild Australian landscape in the 19th. Writing specifically of the Bakewells’ Station Plenty, Lucy states that “the Bakewell brothers, rank among Victoria’s earliest and most important pioneers”, and while the Gilbert pictures might not necessarily stack up as great art, Lucy remarks that Gilbert’s Yallambee pastel, together with the numerous other pictorial and written records of the Bakewell property, finds a place within the narrative of this aesthetic. Indeed, in Gilbert’s case it could be said there’s more to the story. If at heart every artist really is first an amateur, then George Gilbert was an amateur but an amateur and a gentleman of the first order.

Gravely speaking

We all die.

That was as true 180 years ago as it is today and, with life expectancies generally shorter, that fact was nowhere more evident than in the primitive colony at Port Phillip in 1836. The dilemma was, what to do with all those dead people who so inconveniently kept departing this mortal coil, running down the curtain and joining the choir invisible?

The dead parrot dilemma.
The dead parrot dilemma.

Several cemetery sites were initiated in the early years, some now almost forgotten to history. The present Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Robert Doyle was in the press last week arguing the case for the inclusion of Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market on the World Heritage Register, part of his reasoning being the status of the Queen Vic site as an early burial ground (from 1836), prior to its development as a market.

Looking north at the Old Melbourne Cemetery before the Victoria Market expanded across the site.
Looking north at the Old Melbourne Cemetery before the Victoria Market expanded across the site.
Opera singer and former Yallambie girl, Shakira Tsindos at OITM, 2015.
Opera singer and former Yallambie girl, Shakira Tsindos at OITM, 2015.

Next time you’re down that way buying an orange, pause for a moment and think about those early Melbournians, many of who still reside beneath your feet and who will never enjoy an orange again. Brindisi at Opera in the Market takes on a whole new meaning.

Carpe diem while you can.

Doyle called the Market “Melbourne’s first cemetery”, a somewhat inaccurate description since a small burial ground at the Flagstaff Gardens (Burial Hill), preceded it slightly in that same year. There were also burials at the abortive settlements at Corinella in Westernport in 1826 and at Sorrento in 1803 while Indigenous  Australians with their strong sense of place, had been honouring their ancestors in their own ways throughout thousands of years of Dreamtime. But nobody likes to mention that.

Cemetery sites around Melbourne in the 1840s included Point Ormond (Elwood) where there was an early quarantine camp, the St Andrew’s Church graveyard at Brighton, established 1841, the Yarra Bend cemetery, 1848, and the Point Gellibrand cemetery at Williamstown, 1849.

Greensborough Cemetery at Jessop Street, Greensborough, February, 2016. Approximately 350 people were buried here from the early 1860s onwards.
Greensborough Cemetery at Jessop Street, Greensborough, February, 2016. Approximately 350 people were buried here from the early 1860s onwards.

Local to Yallambie, private burial grounds were developed at the St Helena churchyard, St Helena, in Jessop Street, Greensborough and in Hawdon Street, Heidelberg while major cemeteries were created at Warringal in Heidelberg and at Diamond Creek.

Old Heidelberg Cemetery in Hawdon Street, Heidelberg, February, 2016. Established by the Trustees of St John's Church of England in 1852, 111 burials took place here.
Old Heidelberg Cemetery in Hawdon Street, Heidelberg, February, 2016. Established by the Trustees of St John’s Church of England in 1852, 111 burials took place here.

Prior to 1867 record keeping was not regulated but by one count there are today a total of 22 cemeteries in Heidelberg, Greensborough, Darebin, Eltham and at Whittlesea.

Wragge family memorial at Warringal Cemetery, February, 2016.
Wragge family memorial at Warringal Cemetery, February, 2016.

In my last post the suggestion was made that two Daguerreotypes owned by the State Library of Victoria purported to show images of Dr Godfrey Howitt’s garden in Collins Street East were actually made at “Floraville”, the Bakewell garden at Yallambee, and were contemporaneous to the Plenty Station drawings created by Edward La Trobe Bateman c1853, held today by the National Gallery of Victoria. This interpretation has been provisionally accepted by the SLV (email correspondence, January, 2016) and it is hoped that the Daguerreotypes will be brought together with Bateman’s drawings at the Gallery by way of comparison. But that is possibly not the end of this discussion.

At the National Library of Australia there is an intriguing drawing, ostensibly the work of Edward La Trobe Bateman, but not necessarily a part of his Plenty Station series. This drawing is of the same size as the drawings in the Plenty Station Set (188x274mm) and carries an inscription “Private Cemetery in a Garden on the River Plenty, near Melbourne”. According to Anne Neale, “Comparison of the background details of the garden with those shown in the Plenty Set indicate that the site is almost certainly the Plenty Station,” (Illuminating Nature, Dr Anne Neale, 2001).

Private cemetery in a garden on the River Plenty, near Melbourne, National Library of Australia. This image of Italian cypresses surrounding a bush grave is not one of the NGV set of Plenty Station (Yallambee) drawings but was attributed to E L Bateman by Anne Neale in her 2001 doctorate study, (Illuminating Nature). "Comparison of the background details of the garden with those in the Plenty set indicate that the site is almost certainly the Plenty Station."
Private cemetery in a garden on the River Plenty, near Melbourne, National Library of Australia.

Neale suggests that the 1856 Athenaeum description of a drawing numbered No. 3 in the Athenaeum article “…remarkable for its dark ghostly cypresses, solid cones of black shade, silent and watchful as sentinels. The leaves of the plants, fingered or fan-like, are given with botanical truth”, fits the NLA cemetery picture better than the usual candidate in the NGV set, usually referred to as View VII. It is this confusion that she cites as the basis for the possibility that the NGV Plenty Station Set was once part of a larger whole.

The Station Plenty, (Yallambie) view VII by Edward La Trobe Bateman 1853-1856
The Station Plenty, (Yallambie) view VII by Edward La Trobe Bateman 1853-1856

It has been suggested elsewhere that NLA cemetery picture may depict the Pioneer Children’s Cemetery upriver from Partington’s Flat at Greensborough. However the Children’s Cemetery is on the east bank of the Plenty River. Standing on that bank the river runs south, downstream from right to left. Conversely Yallambie is on the west bank of the Plenty and when facing the river the valley runs from left to right. I would suggest that this is the fall of the land as depicted in the NLA Bateman cemetery picture.

Memorial plaque at the Pioneer Children's Cemetery, Greensborough.
Memorial plaque at the Pioneer Children’s Cemetery, Greensborough.

Furthermore, it has usually been asserted that the first burial at the Children’s Cemetery did not occur there until 1848, around five years before Bateman’s Plenty Station Set. The Italian Cypress trees in the NLA drawing are evidently too well established to have been planted in 1848, or at any time there after. If the NLA Bateman picture is to be considered as a part of the Plenty Station Set, then the trees depicted could not have been planted at the end of the 1840s.

But they might have been planted in the early 1840s.

Italian Cypresses were an early feature of Yallambee. George Alexander Gilbert drew cypresses and showed them as small trees in his pastel of Yallambee. The trees had grown considerably by the time Bateman came to draw them some years later in his Plenty Station Set.

YALLAMBEE by George Alexander Gilbert, c1850, elevated view of river, vineyard on side of hill rising from the river and house at crest of hill.
YALLAMBEE by George Alexander Gilbert, (SLV, H29575, http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/29449)
The Station Plenty, (Yallambie) view VI by Edward La Trobe Bateman 1853-1856. Distant view of station on hill with creek in foreground.
The Station Plenty, (Yallambie) view VI by Edward La Trobe Bateman 1853-1856.

Richard Howitt makes specific mention of cypresses during his 1842 visit to Yallambee, (“I noticed cypresses, R.(obert Bakewell) had raised from seed in abundance”) and surviving specimens of the Bakewell trees can still be found growing along the River landscape at Yallambie even today.

The inscription on the Bateman picture suggests the grave is in a garden somewhere. It obviously depicts the grave of a well-loved individual. This was a person whose loss was felt keenly and acutely enough to plant a grove of cypress trees within a garden setting around a grave and to construct a memorial over it.

When the nephew of Yallambee’s John and Robert Bakewell, the 11 year old John Henry Howitt came to Australia in 1842 with his parents, Dr Godfrey and Phoebe Howitt, it was in an attempt to improve the boy’s very fragile state of health by introducing him to Australia’s warmer climate:

“the Doctor [Godfrey Howitt] is anxious for a more salubrious climate to improve the general health of his family, but more especially, if possible to save the life of his eldest boy, to whom one more English winter would be certain death.” (Richard Howitt, Impressions of Australia Felix, 1845).

The move was ultimately to no avail as, after an initial improvement, John Henry Howitt died aged 12 in May 1843.

“The amiable qualities of this lovely boy, his high mental endowments, added to learned acquirements, which would have done honour to those far beyond his years…” (Obituary, Melbourne Times, May, 1843).

A year before he died he wrote the following touching letter to his cousin Alfred in Europe. In this letter, John Henry describes an extended visit to his Bakewell Uncle Robert at Yallambee, remarking, “I enjoyed it exceedingly”.

The letter also makes mention of the decline of John Henry’s own infant brother Charlie, his death on the 9th March, 1842 and of his burial in their father’s garden at Collins Street East. The letter is presented here in its entirety but to my mind it poses the question, just who was the lovingly regarded individual buried in the garden at Yallambee sometime in those early years of the 1840s?

[1 MARCH 1842 — MAY 1842]

March 1st 1842
My dear Alfred, Are you alive and well, this and fifty other things I want to know about you; Anna Mary’s1 letters to Mamma did not say one syllable about you, I never thought I could have been so angry with Anna Mary who was so kind to me at Esher2 and in London, I felt very much inclined to wish her letters into the candle. I hope she will never again forget to write about you and I will forgive her this once. And I think you deserve a scold too, for you promised you would write to me as soon as you were at Heidelburg3 and give me a long account of its famous castle. Mamma has often told me when I wanted something to do to begin you a Journal but I thought I would wait till your letter came but I am at last tired of waiting. Today is very hot the thermometer 96 in the shade, just the heat that suits me. I was very poorly all last winter and kept almost entirely to the sofa but the hot weather has at last began to do me good, though I do not sit out of doors as I did last summer I get plenty of fresh air for we keep all our windows and doors open.

Our dear little Charlie has many times been ill, he is cutting teeth; now he is lying quite still on Mamma’s lap and takes very little notice of us so different to when he was well. Oh what a fat merry little creature he then was; he has never been so ill before and Papa is very much afraid he will not get better. I don’t know what we should do without him he is such a very sweet entertaining little creature.

When I began this journal I had no idea I should have such a sorrowful subject to write about Our darling little Charlie died on the 9th at 5 in the morning. He is buried in the garden. I shall put by this till we feel cheerful again.

"Dr Howitt's Corner" by Eugene von Guerard, 1862, showing the doctor's garden behind a brick wall on the corner of Flinders and Spring Street, Melbourne, (SLV).
“Dr Howitt’s Corner” by Eugene von Guerard, 1862, showing the doctor’s garden behind a brick wall on the corner of Flinders and Spring Street, Melbourne, (SLV).

I have had such a pleasant drive to day, down to the Beach. The very sight of the sea did me good, it was extremely green with just the tops of the waves tiped with foam. Many ships, schooners, &c were lying at anchor at Williams Town. Three miles beyond the Manlius was in quarantine the Pathfinder with many of her sails set was tacking out of the bay; the Corsair steamer from Launceston was coming up, some boats close to us were pulling out to sea and famously they were rocked up and down. It was altogether a beautiful sight; I did long to be on board the Pathfinder for I believe another journey would do me good.

Hobsons Bay and Williamstown, Port Phillip seen from Sandridge (Port Melbourne) c1850, SLV.
Hobsons Bay and Williamstown, Port Phillip seen from Sandridge (Port Melbourne) c1850, SLV.

Willie and Edith4 go to school now to Mrs Stevenson from half past 9 till 3 and they like it very much. Willie is reading Markhams History of England which have been very favourite books of mine. He is a much better accountant than I am but that does not say much for him. I had intended to learn Latin on the voyage but I have not begun yet in good earnest. I have no doubt you would think us all great dunces.

To day the thermometer is 70. The sun is very bright and there is a most gentle breeze. I am sure you would think this a most pleasant country.

12th April
I have been staying 3 weeks at the Plenty with Mamma and came home yesterday. I enjoyed it exceedingly, all but the drive there and back which shook me too much. Uncle Robert5 made me a little carriage to ride in, and took me several short drives in it. I went to see some trees that Willie had felled when he was there as thick as himself which he had made a famous boast of. Uncle Robert has a very nice garden, it is down in a flat you go to it by a zig zag walk; his vines were 14 feet high.

2. "Dr. Godfrey Howitt's garden" [sic]", SLV.
“Uncle Robert has a very nice garden.”
They have abundance of Melons, the pigs are regularly fed on them; while we were there the dray and four bullocks brought up a load out of the garden, for the rats had taken a fancy to them there. The bell birds sing all day long at the Plenty; I like to hear them much better than the laughing jackasses. I read The Talisman, Old Mortality, and Ivanhoe while I was there which delighted me exceedingly and I am now reading Quentin Durward. As we came home we called at the Yarra to see Uncle Richard.6The river winds there very prettily, I had just a peep into the cottage but it did not look very clean I assure you. Mamma got out but I took my very notes sitting in the carriage.

All the talk lately has been about the Bushrangers who have (?) in the Plenty district, the first there have been in Australia Felix. They are a party of 4 well armed and mounted, who have robbed more than thirty stations beside highway robbery, but their reign of terror did not last more than a week. They commit their daring deeds in broad daylight. Would you not think it extremely pleasant to be bailed up in a corner with some one standing over you with a pistol threatening you with instant death if you stirred; this they do while the other bushrangers ransack the hut of what they want and then are off to the next station. Two parties of gentlemen and a few of the mounted police went in pursuit of them, one of the party five in number at last got on their track and at Mr. Hunter’s the bushrangers were interrupted just as they were going to sit down to a breakfast of roast ducks. The gentlemen of the house having been ordered from table to make way for their superiors. When they saw the party in search of them they called out stand to your arms men, they then rushed out and fired a volley but in retreating to the hut the ringleader got separated from the rest and after a very desperate resistance, three of the gentlemen haveing been wounded, the man was shot in self defence. The other three after firing 60 shots at last surrendered and are brought in for trial.7 Uncle’s escaped a visit from these Bushrangers and only heard of them the night before they were taken.

The siege of the Plenty River Bushrangers, the so called "Battle of Wet Lowlands" took place at Campbell Hunter's station on 30 April, 1842. ("Tales of Old Time, C H Chomley, 1903).
The siege of the Plenty River Bushrangers, the so called “Battle of Wet Lowlands” took place at Campbell Hunter’s station on 30 April, 1842. (“Tales of Old Time, C H Chomley, 1903).

Edith has been a week at Brighton and is to stay 2 more. it is by the sea side. There is a nice firm beach. I dare say she will be fonder of running about on the beach than attending to her lessons, though Miss Ascham, a lineal descendant of Roger Ascham, is the teacher at Mrs Were’s. Little Johny Were is a very funny boy, he says he does so wish he was married his Mamma is so cross to him. He is only four years old.8

I have had a very nice ship sent me. It is not half complete in the rigging. I have been very busy putting Main Mizen and fore top gallant masts, flying jibboom, main fore and sprit sail yards, and in a few weeks I shall make it a complete model full rigged ship. It was made by a sailor who had not time to finish it. The length is two feet six. It is a four gun ship. Melbourne people are very fond of keeping birthdays. The children went yesterday into the country to celebrate one and they had a famous romp at hiding seek among the bushes. They went and returned in a tax cart and were in such high spirits. Edward intends to be a Doctor and Mrs Palmer told him she would have him when she was ill to cure her and he is quite set up about it. I read the papers every morning. There is generally some good fun in them. Such curious police reports. The Police Magistrate9 is very peremtory, so his name is a bye word here. “I’ll Major St John you”.

The notorious supreme court judge Hon John Walpole Willis, not the first judge to have been removed from office but the first to have been sacked twice.
The notorious supreme court judge Hon John Walpole Willis, not the first judge to have been removed from office but the first to have been sacked twice.

Judge Willis10 is very quarrelsome. In one case a little lawyer who had the boldness to address him was frightened out of his senses by having thundered in his ear “who are you, down sir, down sir, I say” and with this the little Man rushed out of Court upsetting every one in his way. So Tipstaff was not summoned to take him out. Even Teddy stands a little in awe of Judge Willis and Big Chin, Mr La Trobe’s messenger. But Judge Willis is a very good man though he is so cross sometimes. Willie, Edith and Edward join me in dear love to you Claude and Charlton and to Anna Mary.
Your very affectionate cousin,
John Henry Howitt

1 Anna Mary Howitt, sister of the letter recipient, Alfred.
2 West End home of William Howitt, John Henry’s paternal uncle. William visited Yallambee in 1852 and wrote about it in “Land, Labour and Gold”; father of Alfred.
3 In Germany, where Alfred was sent to be educated.
4 John Henry’s siblings.
5 Robert Bakewell of Yallambee; maternal uncle of John Henry.
6 Richard Howitt, brother of William. Richard visited Yallambee in 1842 and wrote about it in “Australia Felix”.
7 The first white men to be hanged in Victoria.
8 Jonathan Were, son of J B Were.
9 Major Frederick Berkley St. John.
10 The notorious Hon John Walpole Willis, who lived 5km south of Yallambee at Heidelberg; believed to have been a target of the Plenty River Bushrangers.

A Yallambie Historical Society

Despite its landscape classification by the National Trust in 1998 the history of Yallambie remains little known. The locality doesn’t rate a mention with any of the local historical societies, Banyule City Council are disinterested and you won’t find much about it if you go looking for it elsewhere online. “We need to start our own Yallambie Historical Society,” my wife said to me one evening. “We can have a membership of two. Three if you count buster.” In the absence of such a society I am going to quote at length from Winty Calder’s sweeping and award winning book “Classing the Wool and Counting the Bales, The Wragges of Tulla and Yallambie” (Jimaringle Publications, 1996). In over 576 pages, Calder’s book tells the story of the Wragge family, their association with Yallambie and with several wool producing stations in the Riverina. The passages about the early development of “Yallambee” are comprehensive. The following extract of those passages are reproduced here by permission of the author.

John Bakewell, 1807-1888 (Source: Early Pioneer Families of Victoria and Riverina, Alexander Henderson, 1936)
Phoebe Bakewell (Mrs Godfrey Howitt) c1858-c1862
Phoebe Bakewell (Mrs Godfrey Howitt) c1858-c1862 (Source: State Library of Victoria)

Bakewell property John (1807-88) and Robert (1809-67) Bakewell were trained in Yorkshire woolen mills as wool sorters, and reached Port Phillip on 7 April 1840 with members of the Howitt family, including their sister, the wife of Godfrey Howitt. As partners, Robert did the farm work while John concentrated on pastoral properties and wool-sorting. Soon after their arrival, they opened a wool-sorting business at the corner of Market and Flinders Streets but, on 9 December 1850, they sold it to Richard Goldsborough who had started a similar business in Melbourne in 1848. In 1888 Goldsborough combined with Thomas S. Mort of Sydney. Another early purchase made by the Bakewells was land beside the Plenty River east of Melbourne, where the climate was (and still is) temperate. Rain falls throughout the year, with slight peaks in spring and autumn, and averages about 700 millimetres (26 inches) per year. The mean monthly maximum temperature is about 27 degrees C (80 degrees F) in January, but falls to less than 12 degrees (53 degrees) in June and July. The mean monthly minimum in February is about 13 degrees C (55 degrees F), and about 5 degrees C (42 degrees F) in June, July and August. Any frosts are light and snow is rare. The land acquired by the Bakewells had been initially purchased from the Crown by speculator, Thomas Wills and his wife, Mary Ann. Son of a convict who was transported for highway robbery in England, Wills became a successful businessman in Sydney. In January 1839, he acquired a rectangular piece of land, designated as Crown Grant Portion 8 in the Parish of Keelbundora — 390 hectares (970 acres) west of the river — for £1,261 and used it as a sheep run. It has been stated that Wills built a house with a ‘pillared and balconied front,’ and of ‘graceful architecture’. As Wills was a speculator, who held the land for only a few months, it is more likely that the house given that description was erected later by the Bakewells. In July 1842 they purchased, from a subsequent owner, the land on which their residence would stand. By June 1839, Wills had sold Portion 8 to Thomas Walker and made a profit. Walker subdivided that land into twelve blocks with areas from 20 hectares (50 acres) to about 40 hectares (100 acres), then sold them between June and November 1839 to more than double his money. Either Wills or Walker seems to have called Portion 8, “The Plenty Station”. The Bakewells made their first purchase of part of Portion 8 in July 1840; another purchaser from Walker was James David Lyon Campbell and, about 1840, William Greig attempted to establish a farm by the Plenty River on what would become an extension of Campbell’s land, near the northern extremity of what would become the Bakewells’ holding. Struggling with virgin land, Greig hired a bullock team to clear stumps from the flats where he intended to grow potatoes. He planted mustard and cress, cabbages, turnips, peas, carrots, spinach, melons, lettuce, radishes, cucumbers, cauliflowers, broccoli and onions. He also kept chickens and had a pony to help him collect supplies; but for all this, he had few fences. He proposed that, when he was established, he would develop a dairy farm and hire out bullocks. Greig did manage to erect a house (or hut) with store and kitchen, but his plans failed as the Australian economy went into decline during the next couple of years. He went into receivership and lost his 51 hectares (156 acres) in November 1841. It has been claimed that a timber mill was built beside the river, across the flats from a point below the site on which the later “Yallambie” homestead would stand, and that this mill was operated by a large water-wheel. However, it is not clear when this mill was in use. It has been claimed that: ‘In the 1960s (the mill’s) foundations were still visible when the river was low.’ The Bakewells continued taking up lots in Portion 8 until February 1854, almost certainly unaware of the underlying geological formation. More than one million years earlier, basalt flows from the west had pushed the pre-existing Plenty River eastward before cooling and forming rock, the surface of which eventually weathered into rich soil. The displaced river gradually cut down through the basalt and into the underlying, much older sandstones and mudstones, which produced poor soils on the western side of the new river valley, although nutrient-rich soil developed from the alluvium that was deposited on the floor of the valley when the winding stream flooded. Most of Portion 8 was on those poorer soils, although it also included some of the river flats in the valley floor. Although much of the land was of poor quality for farming, and the quality of most lots did not justify the inflated prices paid for them, the Bakewell brothers succeeded because they were willing to work hard and did have some capital. The acquired about 246 hectares (606 acres 2 roods 36 perches)of “The Plenty Station”, north of the Lower Plenty road, and called their land “Yallambee Park”. Credit for building the second residence on Portion 8 belongs to the Bakewells; and evidence from a surviving plan of the Bakewell property indicates that their gracious pre-fabricated house stood where Thomas Wragge would later construct a tennis court for his family. In mid-1842, Richard Howitt, the Bakewells’ near-neighbour, visited the farm and commented that:

At the river Plenty reside J. and R. B. The river is a small one, but as its name imports, never exhausted. The locality is at the commencement of the vast and sterile stringy-bark forests. Part of the farm is consequently almost worthless, and the other by the water-side, of the richest quality. Their weather-boarded house is situated beautifully on an eminence in the wild region, overlooking the river and its meadow. Winding down a foot-path, cut in zig zags, you descend to the Plenty-flat, in which is the garden, one of the best in the whole district; full of (for the time they have been planted) astonishingly large, healthful, and beautiful fruit-trees. Vines I never saw grow so freshly, so luxuriantly. Foreign shrubs and trees, amongst which I noticed cypresses, R. had raised from seed in abundance. The whole pleased me; but that which was the pleasantest surprise, was a largish clump of what in England we should not look for in a garden, yet what once filled in England the soul of Linnaeus with delight, covered over with its golden bloom—gorse; the seed whence it was raised taken from a common near Nottingham. On May-day it was that I first visited J. and R. B. Their farm and ours are only six miles from each other; yet so thoroughly had I been absorbed by the demands of our own wilderness, that two years had elapsed before I found leisure to visit them. It was a pleasure to see them so pleasantly located. How neat and nicely fitted-up was their house! In it, with its thin walls and French windows, you seemed scarcely in-doors. It was the Sabbath, and on the table lay the Bible, and not far from it a Literary Souvenir. Guns were piled in corners, but which I dare say are now, the first country newness being over, seldom used. Of books there were a good display; ‘friends, substantial friends, and good,’ in the forest.

About 10 years later, Richard’s father, William Howitt, also visited the Bakewells. That was in October 1852, and his description of their property gives us some idea of Thomas Wragge’s impressions when he first saw the property:

The Plenty farm is very agreeably situated on a high swell above the river of that name. It has a considerable extent of cultivated fields; and the house is one of those wooden ones brought out of England, and which seem as good now as on the day they were set up. They certainly have answered well. To this are added extensive out-buildings, generally of wood, and some of them roofed with sheets of stringy bark. We found a hearty welcome from Mr. Robert Bakewell, who chiefly resides there. From the brow of the hill on which the house stands, on a lawn of rich Kangaroo-grass, the bank descends steeply to a flat of from four to five acres, which is laid out in a garden, orchard, and vineyard. The river runs round this flat in a semicircle, coming up at each bend near to the foot of the hill on which the house stands. The river is not a large one, not wider than a good high-road. It is, like all the Australian rivers, deep between its banks, and is encumbered with an extraordinary number of fallen trees. From the hill near the house you have a full view of the whole garden. The fruit-trees were nearly all in blossom, and the vine-plots were well dressed and kept. They cut their vine-stocks there generally much shorter than in Germany, little more than a foot from the ground, and give separate sticks to each. Mr. Bakewell’s were an exception. I was surprised to see the flat of this garden planted with the vines, and the sloping sides of the hills only partly planted with them. But as they grow the grapes chiefly for market, no doubt they obtain much heavier bunches, but they would not produce so finely-flavoured a wine. The apples, pears, and plums there flourish and bear immensely. They have plenty of gooseberries, which do well in places shady and not too dry for them; and I am persuaded that they would succeed there well on the plan of the market gardeners near London, that is, grown under the fruit-trees, especially in cherry-orchards. Currants they have too. All other fruits flourish beautifully. They have the finest and most abundant peaches, where they are cultivated ; but that is yet but rarely. I read, as I was on the voyage, of peaches and all sorts of fruit being as abundant in Australia as in America. They would be so, if they were as much cultivated as in America; but this is by no means the case: land is too high, labour too dear, and the people in too great a hurry to make fortunes, with the favourite and universal idea of “going home.” Therefore fruit we found very rare and very dear. Their apples and pears are superb, and of a large size and good flavour. Plums, apricots, melons, grapes, and almost all kinds of fruit are as fine as can be grown, where they are grown. Almonds and figs abound on the trees, the latter producing two crops a year: the quinces are gigantic in size, and make the most admirable marmalade. They have oranges and lemons in the open air; but they succeed much better at Sydney, whence Melbourne is chiefly supplied. I saw filbert trees; and they say they bear abundantly. English cherries are splendid; and I am told that, as on the continent of Europe, they are obliged to prop the branches of the apple-trees, the crops are so heavy. The Japanese fruit, the loquat, which grows on a tree very much resembling the medlar, is frequent. It resembles a yellow plum about the size of a pigeon’s egg, with a peculiar acidulous flavour. All kinds of kitchen vegetables do well. Peas now (the 18th of October) were in flower ; and they had long been cutting asparagus. The sea-kale crop was over. I observed that the rhubarb there grows nearly flat on the ground, instead of upright as ours does, though brought from England. I heard of very large rhubarb, but I only saw very small. The scorzonera, or Schwarz Wurzely is finer than any I saw in Germany, the roots being as thick as your thumb, and very tender. All these things you see growing amid the strangest and most foreign-looking things, especially the loquat, the date-palm, great fleshy prickly pears, with their oval leaves stuck one on the end of another, and their purple fruit; cacti and cereuses, which with us only flourish in the conservatory. But, spite of foreign vegetation, the English stamp and English character are on all their settlements. They are English houses, English enclosures, that you see; English farms, English gardens, English cattle and horses, English fowls about the yards, English flowers and plants carefully cultivated. You see great bushes of furze, even by the rudest settlers’ cottages. There are hedges of sweet-briar around their gardens, bushes of holly, though rare; and, what is odd, the finest holly-trees I saw were grown from seeds of the fine old trees about our own house at home. There are hawthorns and young oaks in the shrubberies. There are cowslips and oxlips now in flower in the gardens; but I saw no primroses. There are lots of snapdragons of various hues, roses and lilacs, looking very English. England reproduces herself in new lands; and how feeble seem the native races against the sinewy, plucky, pushing, predominating Englishman. The hunter races of the earth, the forerunners of the house-building, ship-building, ploughing, busy, encroaching white man — they who occupied the wilderness, and sat under the forest-tree, without commerce or ships, living easily on the animals of the chase — they who lived like the mammoth and the mastodon, the kangaroo and the emu — have perished with them, and are daily perishing before the civilised and artistic tribes, indomitable in the spirit of the conqueror and the possessor. One thing pleased me there, — the old English dog, in the fire-places of the country houses instead of stoves. Wood is the chief fuel; the fires it makes are very warm and cheerful; and at the Plenty we found them very acceptable, for it came on heavy rain, followed by a south wind, which is always cold. I don’t know when I felt it colder than when we arose at five o’clock in the morning to return. The valley was filled with white fog, and the grass glittered in the rising sun with a frosty dew. But the sun speedily chased away fog and dew, and all was bright and warm. All night the quails in the corn-fields near had kept up their plaintive cry, which would make us fancy that their name was but an ancient pronunciation of the word “wail.” Towards morning they were superseded by a host of other birds with strange voices, many of them clear and bell-toned. The woods which at a distance surround the place, looked very duskily pleasant in the morning sun, and the voices of birds thence came mingling with the more familiar ones about the house… magpie… laughing-jackass… leatherheads… a tree-creeper… The boys amused themselves with fishing, and caught what they call black-fish and trout, to us quite new fish, and a brilliant blue crawfish, with prickles all down each side of its tail. I amused myself with watching the huge spiders which the common people here will persist in calling, not tarantulas, which they are, but triantelopes, and examining the, to me, equally new vegetation on the banks of the river: the tea-scrubs; a Michaelmas daisy growing on a shrub; another shrub, with flowers and leaves like buckwheat, which they oddly enough call the native currant, &c. &c.

It is understood that the Bakewells carted grapes, other fruits and vegetables by dray along the Heidelberg road to market in Melbourne. The Bakewells had other visitors beside members of the Howitt family, and some left pictorial records of the property. About 1850, George Alexander Gilbert depicted the house and orchard from the eastern bank of the Plenty River, using coloured pastels. At some time between 1852 and 1859 Edward La Trobe Bateman, cousin of Governor La Trobe, must have stayed with the Bakewells while he made several pencil drawings of their property. These were collectively called Views of the Station ‘Plenty’ Port Phillip District; and they now form part of the Felton Bequest in the National Gallery of Victoria. The ten skilfully executed drawings, showing about fifteen years development by the Bakewells, give a clear impression of their complex of buildings, with house, outhouses and yards, their extensive planting of trees and other vegetation close to their house and on the slopes below it, their post-and-rail fences and the picket fence around the garden, a gardener’s shed at the bottom of the river cliff, their vegetables, vines and fruit trees on the rich river flats, and a distant hut with a water tank, as well as glimpses of the tree-lined Plenty River. In 1987, based on these illustrations, a horticultural botanist attempted to identify species planted by the Bakewells. These included elms (Ulmus procera, or x hollandia) close to the house, and possibly a maple (Acer sp.), a polar (Populus sp.), and an oak (Quercus sp.), as well as shrubs that may have been Cape Honey-flower (Meliathus major), jasmine (Jasminum sp.) and a species of Eleaganus, as well as irises (Iris sp.) and a climbing rose (Rosa sp.); cypresses (Cupressus? macrocarpa and C. Sempervirens) on the slope in front of the house and among the grapes on the river flat; Spanish Dagger (Yucca gloriossa) in the garden near the house and on the river flat near the tool shed; possibly Prickly Pear (Opuntia sp.), Silver Wormwood (Artemisia arborescens), Canary Date Palm (Phoenix canariensis), Century Plant (Agave americana) and Creeping Coprosma repens) beside the lower end of the steps down the river cliff; possibly a pumpkin or squash, as well as a passion fruit (Passiflora edulis) vine and a poplar (Populus sp.) near the tool shed; a conifer (?Picea sp.), willows (Salix ?alba and S. babylonia) and possibly a ti-tree (Leptospermum sp.) in a grove near the bottom of the steps; also grape vines (Vitis vinifera) trained onto upright posts and various fruit trees on the river flat, as well as some plants of Giant Reed (Arundo donax) and New Zealand Flax (Phormium tenax).

YALLAMBEE by George Alexander Gilbert, c1850, elevated view of river, vineyard on side of hill rising from the river and house at crest of hill.
YALLAMBEE by George Alexander Gilbert, c1850, elevated view of river, vineyard on side of hill rising from the river and house at crest of hill. (SLV, H29575, http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/29449)
The Station Plenty, (Yallambie) view V by Edward La Trobe Bateman 1853-1856. Station outbuildings in distance with trees and creek in foreground.
The Station Plenty, (Yallambie) view V by Edward La Trobe Bateman 1853-1856. Station outbuildings in distance with trees and creek in foreground.

The plan of the Bakewells’ farm that has survived from this period gives the total area of their property as 246.76 hectares (606 acres 2 roods 36 perches), with 29 hectares (71 acres 1 rood 28 perches) under cultivation, 210.3 hectares (519 acres 1 rood 19 perches) used for grazing and 6.4 hectares (15 acres 3 roods 29 perches) being developed as a garden adjacent to the house. The furthermost gully, west of the house, was dammed, and there were two huts on the west side of the gully closest to the house. In the north of the property, and beside the river, was an old garden and a hut, which may have been Greig’s cultivation and residence. To the south of that garden was a shrubbery and another cultivated area. Developments above the river cliff, north of the house complex, included: a rick yard; another hut; a tool house; a hot house; and a dairy. The main house had a detached kitchen. Below the cliff, on the river flat, was a tool shed, adjacent to the garden, and a third cultivation area.

YALLAMBEE_ survey_map_c1850

Until 1850, Warringal (probably meaning ‘Eagles Nest’), or Heidelberg, beside the Yarra River about 5 kilometres (3 miles) south-west of “Yallambee”, was regarded as a distinctly aristocratic locality. The beauty of the river scenery and the quiet countryside, 18 kilometres (12 miles) from Melbourne, had attracted men of means who built country residences away from the increasingly unpleasant business district. Despite the accolades of the 1850s, Heidelberg and its surrounding district remained a quiet backwater from the early 1860s until the mid-1880s, but it did remain a beautiful place for picnics. Dairying became the main industry in the district, but no other successful enterprises were attracted so population declined. Fortunately, Heidelberg was spared the disaster, on 7 February 1851, which would become known as Victoria’s ‘Black Thursday’. Fire commenced by the upper Plenty River, when bullock-drivers left a smouldering fire behind them. Driven by some hot, north winds, it swept through the Plenty and Diamond Creek districts and close to Heidelberg before joining with other fires. Thousands of hectares of grassland were burnt; dozens of homesteads, woolsheds, bridges and shacks were destroyed; crops were lost and thousands of head of stock incinerated. Even though so close to the source of the fire, “Yallambee” escaped. By the late 1840s John Bakewell’s holdings also included large areas at Western Port. From 1847 he was in partnership with John Mickle and William Lyall, dominating thousands of hectares on either side of the Great (or Koo-wee-rup) Swamp. By 1849, John and his brother, Robert, held “Burneweng”, or “Burnewang”, a run of almost 45,700 hectares (112,293 acres) on which they grazed 12,000 sheep and 800 cattle. John Bakewell also held “Tooradin Estate”, which would be subdivided into a number of large holdings in the 1860s. One of them, called “Field’s Waters”, or “Yallambie”, was sold to Robert O. Timms in 1878 and to George Fairbairn in 1884. It would be interesting to know the origin of that second name.

Thomas Wragge
Thomas Wragge

Thomas Wragge’s “Yallambie” Thomas Wragge may have worked for the Bakewells at “Yallambee” during part of his first decade in Victoria, but he certainly knew that property from 4 February 1854. It is highly likely that Thomas was the Bakewells’ active tenant from 1857 (when they returned to England, probably regarding “Yallambee” as a good, steady source of income) until about 1863, just before he went to “Uardry”. During most, if not all, of the 1860s, the whole property apparently was leased to John Ashton, as a sub-tenant to Thomas Wragge. Ashton endured bad seasons which caused poor economic returns. Regardless of climatic conditions, prices of farm products had dropped by 1860. Serious flooding in April 1861, followed by a dry winter, was bad enough, but there were two floods in the winter of 1863, followed by another in mid-December when all the small, tributary valleys of the Yarra River became lakes. Torrential rain at that time seriously damaged fruit crops, causing great loss of income; and many farmers were ruined. The disaster may have influenced Thomas Wragge to join the partnership with his brother, William, and the Hearn brothers. Heavy rains in mid July 1864 caused another flood, which was followed by lesser floods in August and November. Then drought in the summer of 1864/1865, with rust and caterpillars, resulted in poor crops. A severe hailstorm in December 1865, which damaged orchards and market gardens, was followed by another caterpillar plague. Many tenant farmers on low-lying land were unable to pay their rents. Although harsh conditions continued until 1868, John Ashton apparently was able to survive, which was probably due to the fact that the bulk of “Yallambee” was grazing land and produce from the river flats was not the only source of income. Thomas Wragge must have been alerted to these climatic hazards of the district, but he would have known that, while their effects were serious for small farmers dependent on cultivated crops and orchards, those effects were much less on pastures. With good management most of “Yallambee” might be run at a profit, despite the poor quality of soil on its higher areas. Anyway, he may have already been planning to use the property as a home base while acquiring productive land in the Riverina of New South Wales. From 1871, Thomas Wragge was rated for “Yallambee” and listed in the Heidelberg Rate Books as its owner, although a common law title was not conveyed to him from John Bakewell until 20 December 1872, and contract of conveyance for £2,950 (a little under £5 an acre) was not formalized until 28 February 1873. A Certificate of Title under the Transfer of Land Act 1890 was issued to Thomas Wragge in 1891, confirming that he was proprietor, in fee-simple, of the estate covering 244.7 hectares (604 acres 2 roods 35 perches). On the north side of the Eltham road, the eastern property boundary was eastern edge of water in the southward-flowing Plenty River, so the water course was part of the estate, but probably was subject to general rights of public access. The western boundary was Greensborough Lane (later Greensborough Road), but a triangular piece of land in the junction of the Eltham road and that lane was excluded. Although later some of them were usually in New South Wales, “Yallambie” would be the home of the Wragge family until the death of Thomas in 1910, and then it would remain in family ownership for another fifty years. The poorer land was gradually cleared, divided into five fenced paddocks for grazing horses and a dairy herd, and two acres on the river flats were used for a fruit and vegetable garden. “Yallambie” was crossed by three main gullies running southward to the Eltham road, and the Wragge family would have names for them. The most westerly one, just east of Greensborough Lane, was called ‘Dead Horse Gully’ — for obvious reasons. The next was ‘Ferret Gully’, because a lost ferret was seen there from the road and recovered. The reason for referring to the third one as ‘Adams Gully’ was lost within a few decades, but it may be that an employee named Adams had occupied the huts shown beside this gully on the early plan of the Bakewells’ farm. Thomas changed the spelling of the property’s name from “Yallambee” to “Yallambie”, to avoid confusion with another “Yallambee”. The name “Yallambie” was claimed to be an approximation of an Aboriginal word meaning ‘place of shade’, or ‘shelter’, and had been derived from the long, deep pool in the Plenty River where there was always water, even in the worst droughts. Before European settlement, there had been a permanent Aboriginal camp beside it. Fish could be caught in the crystal-clear Plenty River, and the growing children would spend happy hours rambling along its tree-lined banks to find possums and platypus. Although partially beheaded in the mid-1850s, when the Yan Yean Reservoir was constructed, a continuing flow in that river was guaranteed, which was just as well because Heidelberg did not receive Yan Yean water until the 1880s.

Plenty River in flood looking upstream towards the site of the old pump house (removed early 1980s) which had earlier replaced the windmill visible here.
Plenty River in flood looking upstream towards the site of the old pump house (removed early 1980s) which had earlier replaced the windmill visible here.

Little has been recorded about Thomas’ use of “Yallambie” land beyond the immediate surrounds of the house and the cultivation of the river flats, but it is evident that he was leasing 202 hectares (500 acres) to tenants by the 1880s. These were: butcher John Brundell in 1883, 1884 and 1885, as well as a James Wragg of Yarra Bend, in 1885; John Hanson of Carlton, who leased a ‘hut etc’ in 1886; and John Sill and Thomas Davey, graziers of Heidelberg, from 1886 until 1888. On 20 April 1888, an indenture of lease was transferred from Messrs Davy and Sile (or Sill) to John Blanchard, who would pay a rental of Stg£300 in quarterly instalment for the next twelve months. The spread of introduced plants in the still new colony is indicated in the agreement with Blanchard that he would cut all sweetbriars down 3 inches below ground. In addition, he would allow Thomas Wragge free entry to his house and land; and also Blanchard was not to cut down any timber without permission in writing, or sell dead wood, and allow his landlord to remove any fire wood required for his own use. Thomas paid all the rates. John Blanchard remained as Thomas Wragge’s tenant into the 1890s.

Wragge women on a post and rail fence. Sarah Ann Wragge appears to be the person in the middle. Picture taken probably in the fields that later became the Simpson Army Barracks.
Wragge women on a post and rail fence. Sarah Ann Wragge appears to be the person in the middle. Picture taken probably in the fields that later became the Simpson Army Barracks.

District development In 1872, “Yallambie” was adjacent to largely undeveloped country, and a visitor to the district noted that: ‘For beauty of a quiet rustic kind there are few places in Victoria that can compete with the districts of the Plenty and the Upper Yarra’. There was no railway in the 1860s and 1870s so roads were important, but their poor condition probably contributed to the district’s decline and lack of progress during those decades. By the 1880s Heidelberg was linked to Melbourne by coaches which ran over steadily improving roads. The natural beauty of undulating hills and ridges in the district was attracting influential men. They began developing fine farms and, by the 1890s, “Yallambie Park”, of about 245 hectares (604 acres), was the fifth largest of these.

Victorian Railways No.1 steam charabanc at the Plenty Bridge Hotel, (located opposite the south east corner of Yallambie Park), c1905
Victorian Railways No.1 steam charabanc at the Plenty Bridge Hotel, (located opposite the south east corner of Yallambie Park), c1905

A National Trust landscape

The glazed look that creeps across a face when you tell someone you live in Yallambie is the motivation behind this blog. “Where’s Yallambie?” usually follows and after the answer -16km due north east of Melbourne – comes the inevitable, “Oh, is that so? I thought it was in the sticks.”
It is true that the land that makes up the present day suburb that is Yallambie remained rural far longer than it’s close proximity to Victoria’s capital would suggest. But today the locality marks the geographic centre of the City of Banyule and includes a history that dates back to the very earliest days of the Port Phillip district. To give an idea of that history is my aim in these pages. As a good starting point and as an overview it’s probably best to begin with the landscape classification of Yallambie which was made by the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) in 1998.
The full classification follows under.

YALLAMBEE by George Alexander Gilbert, c1850, elevated view of river, vineyard on side of hill rising from the river and house at crest of hill.
YALLAMBEE by George Alexander Gilbert, c1850, elevated view of river, vineyard on side of hill rising from the river and house at crest of hill. (SLV, H29575, http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/29449)


YALLAMBIE PARK, river flat, 1997
YALLAMBIE PARK, river flat, 1997

NAME OF PLACE: Yallambie House & environs and Yallambie Reserve
LOCAL GOVERNMENT AREA: Banyule City Council (formerly City of Heidelberg)
CADASTRAL INFORMATION: Reserved existing public open space on the western banks of the Plenty River from Lower Plenty Road. Private land comprising the remnant garden of Yallambie House 14-18 Tarcoola Drive, Macleod. The total area being about 9ha (22.5 acres).
TYPE OF PLACE: River valley landscape, comprising riparian habitat and horseshoe bend river flat and escarpment.
EXTENT OF CLASSIFICATION: Yallambie Reserve north of Lower Plenty Road to the extension of Allima Avenue and including the environs of Yallambie House and garden.
STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: The landscape of Yallambie Reserve is of high local significance. It is of Regional significance as a cultural landscape being the site of the former ‘Plenty Station’ and one of the very important early colonial sites. In summary it is significant for the following reasons:
a. Association with John and Robert Bakewell (1840-1867) and the Wragge family from 1872-1960.
b. As site of the ‘Plenty Station’, one of the earliest and best documented colonial settlements.
c. Remnant plantings of pines, hawthorns, oaks, elms, willows and orchard trees. Particularly the surviving Pines (Pinus radiata), Bunya Bunya Pine (Araucaria bidwillii), Hoop Pine (Araucaria cunninghamii), English Oak (Quercus robur), Cypress (Cupressus sp.) and Deodar Cedar (Cedrus deodara).
d. Aesthetic characteristics of the river landscape, and views across and along the river valley from high points.

European History
The initial Crown Grant of the Plenty Station (Crown Portion 8) was to Thomas Wills 12 September 1838. This was sold to a neighbour Thomas Walker in 1839 who in turn subdivided and sold most of the land. Brothers John and Robert Bakewell purchased lot 5 (site of Yallambie House) in 1846* for 31 pounds. The Bakewells continued to add to their holding until they owned most of the portion north of Martins Lane and South of Yallambie Rd. Robert Bakewell purchased his brother’s interest in the land in 1859 for 6000 pounds. He retained the property until his death in 1867. It was purchased by Thomas Wragge in 1872. Wragge, a farmer, came to Port Phillip in 1841** from Nottingham. He leased a property on the Plenty River in 1857 and claimed to have started the first orchard in the district. Wragge added to the Yallambie holding and by 1893 his holding totalled 606 acres (245 ha). Thomas Wragge died in 1910 but the family remained in occupation until 1960 when the area north, west and south of the house became a housing estate.
The present house was built on the edge of the Plenty River escarpment between 1872 and 1876. Further improvements were carried out by Wragge’s widow in 1910 and in 1919 by Wragge’s sons. The house is described as having two levels built of stuccoed masonry designed in the Italian style. It has an asymmetric plan, bay windows and stucco ornamentation. The main roof is slate. There is a shingle-covered balustrade to the upper level verandah. Alteration to ground level openings is evident under the verandah but generally the full arch is dominant at the window heads. Corniced guilloche pattern balconettes and corniced stucco chimneys have survived. Extensive interior alterations occurred between 1919 and 1923. Removal of major outbuilding including the stables to the north of the house occurred relatively recently. The house itself is superficially altered and is of low architectural importance but remains as the period focus of the pre subdivision context.
Little of the former orchards of Yallambie remain – a few pears, figs etc. on the river flats. The hawthorn hedged farm track now extends from the public car park off Tarcoola Drive. A number of large pines and oaks also remain on the escarpment and river margins. These plantings provide perhaps the largest and nearest to the original context for an early Victorian house in Banyule. The hill slope and house garden typify the nineteenth century landscape and encapsulate colonial attitudes to nature and land.

Yallambie Reserve is on the Plenty River some 3 km from its confluence with the Yarra. The river is in a stage of early maturity. The stream profile and widened valley floor indicates that downcutting has significantly decreased except for scour during periods of flood. The river course at Yallambie has changed little over the past 50 years. The reserve itself is mainly a river terrace within a horseshoe bend of the river.

Flora and Fauna
Public access is gained to the horse shoe river flats from Tarcoola Drive. The land slopes down to the flats with an old farm track bordered by a row of Hawthorn (Crataegus sp) trees which provide an aesthetically pleasing entrance to the flats which open up before you as you descend the path. The River flats contains an impressive 100 year old Hoop Pine (Araucaria cunninghamii) and a 120 year old English Oak (Quercus robur) both classified by the National Trust. Remnants of the orchard remain in the form of a number of Pear and Fig trees. The River flats is bordered to the west by a number of homes fronting Tarcoola Drive including the original Yallambie Homestead and a number of remnant trees remain in this area along the escarpment some in the reserve and some in backyards. These trees include Hoop Pines (Araucaria cunninghamii), Bunya Pine (Araucaria bidwillii) and Deodar Cedar (Cedrus deodara).
Other remnant exotics from the homestead era occur throughout the open space including Prickly Pear (Opuntia), Agapanthus (Agapanthus praecox), Cape Broom (Genista monspessulana), European Olive (Oleo europea), Maritime Pine (Pinus pinaster), Monterey Pine (Pinus radiata), Cypress (Cupressus sp.) and Deodar Cedar (Cedrus deodara).
A number of Manna Gums (Eucalyptus viminalis), possibly remnants, exist on the river flat; more of this species appear to have been planted. Along the River are numerous Black Wattles (Acacia mearnsii), Willows (Salix sp.), Swamp Gums (Eucalyptus ovata) and Tussock Grass (Poa sp.).
Unfortunately invasion of the reserve by weeds has occurred in many locations. These include Wandering Jew (Tradescantia albiflora), Cape Ivy (Delairia odorata), Angled Onion (Allium triquetrum), Asparagus (Asparagus officianalis), Bridal Creeper (Myrsiphyllum asparagoides), Great Brome (Bromus diandrus), Blackberry (Rubus sp.) Watsonia (Watsonia sp.), Prairie Grass (Bromus cartharticus), Fumitory (Fumaria sp.) and Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica).

Aesthetic Characteristics
Yallambie Reserve is an attractive open grassy landscape dotted with Manna Gums and remnant exotic trees. Pleasant views are possible from the elevated areas of the escarpment and from Yallambie over the horseshoe bend of the Plenty River toward the indigenous woodland on the opposite side of the valley. The approach to the Yallambie flat is along a riverside trail and from paths descending from Tarcoola Drive. One of these paths follows an old farm track and is hedged by hawthorns, pines and oaks. Preservation of the integrity of the western escarpment under private management is critical. The owners should be encouraged to participate in sympathetic management.

With the exception of Gulf Station no early river stations on the Yarra or Plenty Rivers remain relatively intact. Although the Yallambie river station landscape has been modified it nonetheless retains enough elements to allow interpretation of its earlier form. fragments of other river stations in metropolitan Melbourne include the site of Pontville Homestead within Paddle Reserve, Templestowe, but only minimal remnants of the plantings remain. Clarendon Eyre (fmr Springbank), off Bulleen Road, Bulleen, is on the Yarra escarpment but the landscape has been severely modified by recent road works and encroaching subdivision. As a landscape the Yallambie flat is comparable to other river flats on the Yarra but gains its uniqueness from the remnant plantings of large exotic trees and its association with Yallambie House.

*The date 1846 in the above classification for the purchase of the house block would appear to be an error. According to Calder, (Classing the Wool and Counting the Bales), the land on which the residence stood was purchased by the Bakewells in July 1842. Certainly, Richard Howitt is known to have visited the Bakewells in their home at the Plenty Station in August 1842 where by that time they were already well established, “the first country newness being over”. (Richard Howitt, Impressions of Australia Felix).
**The date 1841 for Wragge’s arrival would also appear to be an error. (Ibid, Calder), Thomas Wragge arrived at Port Phillip in November, 1851.

YALLAMBEE_ survey_map_c1850