Tag Archives: Port Phillip District

William Greig: A South Sea Bubble in Port Phillip

“History never repeats.”

So goes the song. The New Zealand band were singing about love and hurt but in the world of economics it’s a different story. Boom and bust have long been a feature of the Australian economy and as property prices continue to soar once more across Melbourne, it’s a sobering thought that when it comes to the economy, we never learn from the past.

"The old belief in the safety of money in bricks and mortar remains strong..."
“The old belief in the safety of money in bricks and mortar remains strong…”

As UK based analyst Jonathan Tepper recently put it, Australia is now in the midst of “one of the biggest housing bubbles in history.” The old belief in the safety of money in bricks and mortar remains strong in a world where governments print money to lend it on the property market, hoping repayments in another, more valuable foreign currency, will cover their own dubious paper. It’s money making money, the economists’ dream.

In the last post the tale was told of the Plenty River bushrangers of 1842 whose activities up and down the Plenty River valley could be seen as a reaction itself to a down turn in the Colonial economy at that time. Everyone loves a get rich scheme and the Plenty River Bushrangers had one they thought would beat even the property speculators. It all ended in tears for them of course but then, get rich schemes often do.

The recession at Port Phillip in the early 1840s was driven by a combination of economic and social factors. In an all too familiar story, rampant speculation led to an overheated local property market where prices paid for land became unreflective of its ability to produce an income in a rural economy at the bottom end of the world. This, combined with a fluctuating international economy and a corresponding withdrawal of foreign investment, led to Port Phillip’s first financial crisis.

                         John Bakewell, 1807-1888

John and Robert Bakewell’s arrival in Port Phillip in 1840 was timed almost to coincide with this crisis but instead of being caught up in it, they turned the situation to their advantage. As Donald S. Garden Wrote in “Heidelberg: The Land and its People”, the story of the land that became Yallambie:

“…was a constant struggle because of the relatively poor quality of much of the land in Portion 8. Nevertheless, where others failed, the Bakewells managed to succeed, both by means of hard work and sufficient capital.” (Heidelberg: The Land and its People, Donald S. Garden, MUP, 1972).

The “profile” which accompanies each page of this blog at left describes Yallambie as having been “first settled in the 1840s” within the “Goldilocks Zone” of Melbourne. However this is a somewhat overly simplified view of history. Although the Bakewells were the first settlers to consolidate a successful farm on land that forms the present day suburb, they were by no means the first to dig a spade into Yallambie’s good earth.

Thomas Walker, 1804-86
Thomas Walker, 1804-86

The land that formed Portion 8 at the first land sales of the Heidelberg district was purchased from a Crown comfortable with its concept of Terra Nullius, at a public auction in Sydney in September, 1838 by Thomas Wills for £1067, or £1 2s per acre. Wills was a speculator who had no interest in the property and quickly passed it on to Thomas Walker for £1261, or £1 6s per acre, a profit of almost £200 for holding it for just six months. As previously noted in the pages of this blog, Walker had visited Edward Willis squatting run in 1837 at what is now Yallambie and Lower Plenty, writing about it in his book “A Month in the Bush of Australia,” (Thomas Walker, J. Cross, 1838). It is believed that it was either Wills or Walker who first referred to the land at Yallambie as the “Station Plenty”.

In the latter half of 1839, Walker subdivided Portion 8 into 12 blocks, selling them at a price of between £2 and £3 5s per acre, more than doubling the money that he had paid Willis only months previously. The Port Phillip District was in the middle of a full-fledged property boom, the cannon shot report of which was being heard right around the world.

Walker's subdivision of Portion 8 with coneptual overlay of Bakewell c1850 survey map and (part) modern street plan.
Walker’s subdivision of Portion 8 with coneptual overlay of Bakewell c1850 survey map and (part) modern street plan.

None of the six purchasers of Walker’s subdivision of Portion 8 took much interest in their holdings and they either sold them again or operated them as absentee landlords. The blocks which today specifically constitute the Yallambie area were bought by just five men: James David Lyon Campbell of Campbellfield, late of the 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers; William Thomas Elliot, a Western Port pastoralist; Nicholas Alexander Fenwick, later to become Police Magistrate at Geelong; and Robert Reeves and Robert Cook.

Detail of Bakewell survey map with modern street plan showing position of William Greig's farm marked, "Hut" and "Old Garden".
Detail of Bakewell survey map with modern street plan showing position of William Greig’s farm marked, “Hut” and “Old Garden”.

Campbell’s land fronted the Plenty River on the corner of present day Allima Avenue and Tarcoola Drive, Yallambie. In the midst of the big property bang, it appears that Campbell agreed to sell this land on easy terms to a 24 year old Scot from Fife, William Greig, whose “Farm Day Book” written at Yallambie from October, 1840 to February, 1841 constitutes one of the earliest and most interesting primary accounts of small scale crop farming in the Port Phillip District in the early 1840s. The manuscript, now in the Mitchell Library NSW, illustrates over a five month period the experiences of this naïve young man, very much a stranger in a strange land. A man of good education Greig however had little practical farming expertise of the virgin soils that confronted him or of the unfamiliar climate that came with them.

Edward LaTrobe Bateman's pencil study for View XII in his Plenty Station series, NGV. View XII, (XII Distant view of hut with creek in foreground), drawn more than a decade after Greig's departure, very likely depicts Grieg's old hut and is marked on the Bakewell plan as "hut" and "old garden".
Edward LaTrobe Bateman’s pencil study for View XII in his Plenty Station series, NGV. View XII, (XII Distant view of hut with creek in foreground), drawn more than a decade after Greig’s departure, very likely depicts Grieg’s old hut and is marked on the Bakewell plan as “hut” and “old garden”.

Greig described himself on the 1841 Census as living at “Plenty” in a completed wooden house containing six people: himself, his wife Marion, his manservant Meikle and wife, and two other people. Greig’s original intention had been to write: “a Diary of daily events on the Farm and any other particular occurrence which may happen I shall confine myself to that,” (Greig, Farm Day Book).

In the end the “Diary” became more than that and is a record instead of all his hopes and dreams and also of the many frustrations he encountered.

It opens optimistically enough on the first day of October, 1840. Greig had just purchased a Van Dieman’s Land plough for 8 guineas and had engaged a team of six bullocks and a driver from the “Scotch Company” at £1 per day to plough his fields while he and two married workmen cleared stumps from: “a nicely lying Flat & two Banks in all about an acre & a half of as good soil as any in the Colony and to surpassed by none in richness in any Country whatever – from which I fully expect an abundant Crop of Potatoes”.

Already Greig’s initial draft of chickens had more than doubled and more eggs were hatching. A garden was started and aside from the potatoes, Greig planted a virtual vegetable Garden of Eden at Yallambie: mustard, cress, cabbages, turnips, peas, carrots, spinach, melons, lettuce, radishes, cucumbers, cauliflower, broccoli and onions.

The rural idyll: a gentleman farmer with bullocks ploughing his fields at the start of the 19th century.
The rural idyll: a gentleman farmer with bullocks ploughing his fields at the start of the 19th century.

A pony provided transport to town whenever needed but the hired bullocks kept straying and the ploughing took longer than anticipated. The work was difficult and where the plough missed Greig and his men followed up with spades. The cutting blade on the plough soon broke and had to be sent over to a nearby farm for repair but by mid-October, 1840 the initial work was complete.

On the day ploughing finished, Greig dismissed one of his workman and the man’s wife, “Owing to Jerry again giving me impudence…” When they left, Greig gave “Jerry” a paper stating that he was “a very good workman and an industrious man,” his only fault being his “impudence and a too conceited use of his tongue on all occasions.” Old World class distinctions prevailed under the wide Australian sun where Grieg’s status as an employer and independent landowner placed him, at least in his own mind, on a higher social rung on the sliding scale of a status-conscious 19th century society. Greig was obviously accustomed to hiring and firing servants and was sufficiently aware of his own implied importance to take quick offence at what he termed “impudence”.

By the 23rd October the potatoes were at last in the ground and Greig looked to the future with an “expectation of a good crop.” There were frequent trips to town for supplies, to find a replacement workman for the impudent Jerry and his wife, and to enquire after the post from Britain.

Greig was in actual fact a deeply worried man. In spite of his pretensions to gentleman status, the young Plenty River “farmer” enjoyed only limited capital. He had agreed to purchase James David Lyon Campbell’s Portion 8 landholding with a series of regular payments and the first of these would be due in the New Year. It had been some months since he had any news from home but all the same, Greig looked to the post in vain expectation of a remittance from a wealthy uncle, without whose help he would be unable to meet even his initial commitment to Campbell.

In November, 1840 the first signs of the impending collapse of the Port Phillip colony became apparent and Greig wrote: “Bad accounts from Sydney – some great failures and all business houses in a very tottering state, from the great scarcity of money – in fact the whole colony seems bordering on insolvency.”

"I intend starting a dairy if possible..."
“I intend starting a dairy if possible…”

Meanwhile work proceeded with fencing the fields while Greig contemplated diversifying his farming interests. He sent his man to inspect some cows, the property of Mr Watson of Watson & Hunter. “I intend starting a dairy if possible and he is inclined to be liberal as to receiving payment it will be always able to bring in something and would with proper management pay itself off in the first year, so I shall make the attempt.”

But to Greig’s disappointment, his man found the suitability of the moo cows a moot point. Only twenty cows in the herd of two or three hundred were satisfactory for a dairy and Greig’s enthusiasm waned, but not before he had already spent money making preparations and purchasing materials for the planned dairy.

On 4 December he wrote: “I am now very dubious as to trying the dairy at all as I am afraid the expense & trouble at this distance from Town is too great to be worth it. I think I’ll get a Bullock team which will bring as much & more money in than 20 cows wd independently of there being no trouble.” The experience of the straying bullocks at the start of his operations was forgotten.

"the rats are playing havoc among the potatoes..."
“the rats are playing havoc among the potatoes…”

Meanwhile the hoped for income from his potato beds was under threat as: “the rats are playing havoc among the potatoes, going down the drills regularly and eating them up by their very roots, I’ll have to tie the dogs up all night beside them.”

The potatoes had been sown too late in the year to do well. Bushfires played havoc with his land and dogs got into the melon patch. The heat of the Australian summer made him feel quite unwell: “I wish I had a thermometer for I can’t think the heat is far short of 130 degrees at mid day. We feel it terribly in our wooden house.” And “The nights are as unbearable as the days. What crops are in the ground just now must suffer terribly.”

Christmas and New Year passed under a gloom of anxiety. “I am far from being enviably placed now and the great anxiety I am in completely unfits me for everything… With assistance from friends at Home I think I could ensure success, but without that I have nothing left for it but to make the best of my way home. There to begin a world of troubles…”

Still no letters appeared and the horse had gone lame. The diary does not record whether he considered shooting it, or himself. Perhaps he contemplated both. Greig was losing great quantities of meat due to spoilage in the heat and on the 15 February he wrote that he had: “lost half the sheep we killed owing to the weather so that was 28lb of meat thrown to the dogs. I have altogether lost a terrible quantity since being here.”

"Finally, after five months the hoped for letters from home arrived..." (The squatter's hut: news from home, Harden S Melville, 1850-51, NGA
“Finally, after five months the hoped for letters from home arrived…” (The squatter’s hut: news from home, Harden S Melville, 1850-51, NGA

Finally, after five months the hoped for letters from home arrived (they had been delayed in Adelaide) but there was no money to accompany them.

By the end of February, 1841, Greig was negotiating to rent a house in Melbourne. The last entries for the month, and for the Farm Day Book itself, contain mention of the downturn in the colonial economy and a comment on the government’s policy of selling Crown land at a minimum upset price of £1 per acre. In Greig’s opinion: “a great many will find most of their land not worth a pound.” With this thought, Greig walked away from his 156 acres and out of history. He went into receivership in November, 1841 leaving James David Lyon Campbell to pick up the pieces.

"He went into receivership in November, 1841..."
“He went into receivership in November, 1841…”

Campbell soon found a ready-made buyer in the form of the Bakewell brothers who paid Campbell £400 for Greig’s farm. The Bakewells had purchased land at the Plenty Station from William Thomas Elliot soon after arriving in the colony and added Campbell’s holding to it, creating a farm that would henceforth be named by them, “Yallambee”.

"Casa Maria" Convent, formerly Woodside Farm, Yallambie.
“Casa Maria” Convent, formerly Woodside Farm, Yallambie.

In the depressed economy of the early 1840s the Bakewells continued to add further holdings to their “Yallambee Park” estate until they owned all of the Portion 8 land north of the Lower Plenty Road, excluding the northern most portion which passed to William Laing, (who developed the now demolished  Woodside, later Casa Maria). In mid 1842, the Bakewell’s brother in law and near neighbour, Richard Howitt, visited Yallambee and wrote that:

“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.” (Richard Howitt, Impressions of Australia Felix, 1845)

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.
“The locality is at the commencement of the vast and sterile stringy-bark forests.” Contemporary pastel by G A Gilbert. (SLV, H29575, http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/29449)

As William Greig fades from history, the question remains, what motivated these men of the pioneering 1840s to travel half way around the world to endure a world of hardship and uncertainty under the harsh Australian sun. Why did so many get caught up in a Port Phillip bubble and allow the financial burden of speculators to be passed on to them, either as lessees or buyers on terms while risking disorientation, depressive anxiety and even existential angst? The answer must surely have been their hope of a better future.

Lynette J. Peel referred to Grieg’s Diary in some detail in her book, “Rural Industry in the Port Phillip Region”, (MUP, 1974) where she wrote:

“…it is quite wrong to assume that these people made a series of sound agricultural and economic decisions in embarking on the life of a farmer. Their optimism and irrational decisions, usually through ignorance of the local situation, undoubtedly did much to fan the flames of rural land speculation before the depression.”

Peel suggests that there is no reason to believe Greig’s story of small scale crop farming at Port Phillip was atypical. Greig had found little difficulty raising easy finance for his endeavour. Including himself, there were three men working his farm, compared to an average of 4.4 recorded for small holdings in the 1841 census but Greig was nevertheless confident in his own ability to succeed provided there was what he termed “proper management.”

Cropping practices at this time were dependent on intensive manual labour. There were high costs associated with establishing a farm on virgin land and this had to be met before the natural fertility of the soil could be exploited. (NGA oil by John Glover, "My Harvest Home", 1835).
Cropping practices at this time were dependent on intensive manual labour. There were high costs associated with establishing a farm on virgin land and this had to be met before the natural fertility of the soil could be exploited. (NGA oil by John Glover, “My Harvest Home”, 1835).

Up to the time when the Diary closes, two and often three men had been working on Greig’s 156 acres to produce a one and a half acre crop of potatoes, most of which would be needed for seed the following season. Wages had been paid to the employees, some fences had been built, (although not enough to prevent the bullocks straying), and a garden had been planted. Six chickens had multiplied to 30 but additional meat and provisions had needed to be purchased to supplement what the farm produced, and to feed the four to six adults living there. In retrospect, what he really needed to plant was a money tree.

The inability of Greig through lack of capital to broaden his activities into his pie in the sky bullock team or dairy herd pipe dream meant that much more time would have been needed to make the farm on the Plenty a going concern, if ever. As Peel writes, “…reasonable financial liquidity was essential for flexibility in farming operations.”

The Bakewell brothers later success on the same land on which Greig failed was built partly on their previous farming experience in and around Nottingham, but also on their ability to diversify. John Bakewell worked as a wool sorter in Melbourne while his brother managed the farm at Yallambee, diversifying their interests from the market gardens on the river flat to a cattle herd on the uplands, Richard Howitt’s “vast and sterile stringy-bark forests.”

The pastoral era at Yallambie has long been a thing of the past. Where Greig and the Bakewells once farmed, the land was long ago consumed by the suburban sprawl. Today an average size house from the A V Jennings’ era on an average size block will set you back upwards of seven hundred thousand dollars. A house in the newer “Streeton Views” estate might cost even more. And Yallambie by all reports is one of Melbourne’s more “affordable” suburbs. All over Melbourne come reports of the million dollar mark being crossed at auction, sometimes several times over.

Where this is all leading remains worryingly unclear in the first half of 2016. Like the Emperor’s New Clothes, nobody wants to really say what we have all been thinking about Melbourne’s property scene. At the time of writing this post I have just returned from visiting a much loved sister who for two decades has lived and raised a family, together with her American husband, in one of the better neighbourhoods of Atlanta, Georgia. Their large and very fine home I am told is worth something over USD$400,000. However, if they had ever thought of living in Melbourne again, they have quite dismissed the idea as being impractical. As my brother in law told me, “We would need over $2 million to live in a house like this in an Australian capital city.”Bubbles_Millais

Meanwhile, like the Port Phillip bubble of 1840, Melbourne’s property balloon keeps expanding but with as yet, no sight or sound of anything going pop. Don’t look now, but is that Adam Smith with his eyes tight shut and his “Invisible Hands” placed firmly over our collective ears?

 

Plenty river underbelly

Everyone loves a good story of crime and punishment. Like Dostoyevsky, we all like to ponder for a moment the motivations behind these stories, comfortably remembering all the while that it’s a tale that hopefully involves somebody else.

In the last post, the 11 year old John Henry Howitt wrote to his cousin Alfred in Europe, describing the Bakewell farm at Yallambee in 1842 and recounting in adolescent fashion the escapades of a gang of bushrangers who had been busy along the Plenty River at that time, holding up isolated homesteads up and down the valley, all along the way.

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…” (1842 letter from John Henry Howitt to A. W. Howitt, SLV).

"with some one standing over you with a pistol threatening you with instant death if you stirred…"
“with some one standing over you with a pistol threatening you with instant death if you stirred…”

The Plenty River bushrangers.

It’s a fistful of dollars, narrative of Sergio Leone proportions. I first heard of them from another source in a hearsay anecdote told to me about Yallambee nearly 20 years ago. John Bakewell had been “shot in the arm by bushrangers in the early 1840s” went this surprising but improbable story which would appear now at best to have been a baseless exaggeration of history. It seems that these bushrangers never operated further south on the Plenty River than St Helena and they hardly wounded anyone in the process. John Henry Howitt’s own report of the events confirms that:

“Uncle’s escaped a visit from these Bushrangers and only heard of them the night before they were taken.” (John Henry Howitt).

However, had Yallambee been disturbed by the bushrangers, they may not have found the Bakewells completely underprepared. As Richard Howittt, writing of the situation of his brothers-in-law at Yallambee in that same year said:

“Guns were piled in corners, but which I dare say are now, the first country newness being over, seldom used.” (Impressions of Australia Felix, Richard Howitt).

The Plenty River gang were formed at a meeting in a back room of a hotel on the north-west corner of Bourke and Elizabeth Streets, Melbourne, early in 1842. The economy of the Port Phillip District was in recession that year. Money was tight for many and to the have-nots of the early colony, the settlers of the Plenty valley must have appeared as relatively well-off sitting ducks, ripe for the plucking.

Elizabeth Street, Melbourne in 1847 looking north past the Collins Street corner towards Bourke Street, where the Plenty River bushrangers met to plan their crimes. (Tinted lithograph by J. S. Prout, NLA.)
Elizabeth Street, Melbourne in 1847 looking north past the Collins Street corner towards Bourke Street, where the Plenty River bushrangers met to plan their crimes. (Tinted lithograph by J. S. Prout, NLA.)
"Cash and Company", bushranger TV drama.
“Cash and Company”, bushranger TV drama.

The gang of four was led by a 27 year old bounty immigrant, John Williams. The other members were Martin Fogarty aged 18,  Charles Ellis, 19, and an American, Daniel Jepps aged 27. They may have earlier been active in Geelong and Dandenong but then switched their operations to the Plenty where they proceeded to bail up numerable stations. For all their efforts however, the bushrangers were remarkably inept and in the end, didn’t really steal very much. Indeed, the story seems to contain all the elements of a melodramatic comedy.

"Fogarty was seen riding around in his (stolen) scarlet Austrian Hussar’s uniform..."
“Fogarty was seen riding around in his (stolen) scarlet Austrian Hussar’s uniform…”

They were romantic.

Fogarty was seen riding around in his (stolen) scarlet Austrian Hussar’s uniform, complete with a ceremonial sword.

They were fearless.

Jepps was observed nonchalantly lighting his pipe with bank notes in the face of the massed, levelled muskets of the besieging authorities.

And they had a sense of humour.

They shot a goose at one station and told the cook to prepare it for their return the next day and, when interrupting a meal at another station, they:

“…appropriated the roast ducks and red herrings to their own plebeian throats remarking that “you must make way for your betters gentlemen”… (while) regaling themselves with much glee…” (Port Phillip Herald, 1842).

Bushrangers raiding a house, an illustration from Melbourne Punch, 1864.
Bushrangers raiding a house, an illustration from Melbourne Punch, 1864.

But for all that, the confrontation with the authorities when it came was a violent affair. After all, these were desperate men in straitened times and they were pitted against the well-established order.

Legend has it that when reports of the bushrangers on the Plenty filtered through to the settlement at Melbourne, Superintendent La Trobe stood on the steps of the Melbourne Club and exhorted the Gentlemen of Melbourne to bring the miscreants to justice where the inept local police force had failed. The story may be apocryphal but in any event, five Port Phillip gentlemen were sworn in as special constables (later styled as the “Fighting Five” of Port Phillip: Henry Fowler, Peter Snodgrass, James Thompson, Robert Chamberlain and Oliver Goulay) and set off on the evening of Friday, 29 April, 1842 to hunt the gang down. They went first to Heidelberg in an attempt to gain up to date information and they may have visited the Bakewells at Yallambee in the process, as John Henry Howitt wrote that his uncle had heard about the bushrangers “the night before they were taken”.

The posse then systematically made their way up the Plenty River valley overnight, visiting each station in succession. Peter Snodgrass narrowly avoided being shot in the face when he went to the door of the St Helena Station homestead north of Yallambee where a pistol was presented at his head by someone who mistook him for one of the bushrangers. After identifying himself and the object of his party, Snodgrass was informed that the bushrangers had been in the area the day before but had left.

Photograph by Charles Nettleton of a rural station in northern Victoria but probably fairly typical of the sort of bark slab construction seen by the Plenty River bushrangers on the Upper Plenty in the 1840s, NLA.
Photograph by Charles Nettleton of a rural station in northern Victoria but probably fairly typical of the sort of bark slab construction seen by the Plenty River bushrangers on the Upper Plenty in the 1840s, NLA.

The posse eventually ran the Plenty River bushrangers to ground the next morning, Saturday, 30 April upriver, at Campbell Hunter’s “Wet Lowlands” station, located just north of present day Milky Lane, an extension of Wildwood Rd, Whittlesea.

Bushrangers sitting down to dinner, an illustration from Melbourne Punch, 1864.
Bushrangers sitting down to dinner, an illustration from Melbourne Punch, 1864.

The pursuers discovered the bushrangers sitting down to a (purloined) breakfast at the station and spurred their horses to the charge. The station owner, Campbell Hunter and five others had up to that moment been held prisoner against a fence at the homestead while the bushrangers ate their fill but effected an escape during the charge. Fogarty, Jepps and Ellis retreated to the Wet Lowlands homestead but Williams instead took cover in a nearby shed.

The battle was ferocious. Goulay was first on the scene, forcing the shed door open where he came face to face with Williams who was armed to the teeth and held pistols in either hand. As Williams fired one pistol, Goulay dodged the ball knocking the second pistol aside and shoving his own into the bushranger’s mouth. He pulled the trigger but instead of sending Williams into eternity, the weapon misfired. Reversing it he clubbed Williams about the head with the butt end, struggling with him onto the floor where the bushranger managed to pull another pistol out of his belt and fired it at point blank into Goulay’s side. Goulay, thinking himself a dead man, swooned and called for assistance but the ball had hit a powder flask in his coat pocket and had been deflected. Snodgrass burst into the shed to find Goulay still struggling with Williams, took aim at the bushranger with his musket and fired.

The former duellist, Peter Snodgrass.
The former duellist, Peter Snodgrass.

Snodgrass had previously been known as a duellist who, in a farcical encounter with William Ryrie using a pair of hair trigger pistols borrowed from Joseph Hawdon of Banyule, Heidelberg, had only managed to prematurely shoot himself in his own foot. (Ryrie sportingly delivered his own shot into the air.) On this occasion, Snodgrass’s aim was slightly better for his ball hit its mark, but not before grazing the head of the hapless Goulay in the process. Williams however, like a cat with nine lives, was “not dead yet”. Channelling Rasputin he struggled to his feet, drew yet another pistol and declared, “I’ll die game.” Snodgrass then dashed forward and broke the stock of his musket over Williams’ head, perhaps in an attempt to see which of the two was the harder, just as Chamberlain appeared in the doorway and fired his pistol, killing the leader of the Plenty River bushrangers on the spot.

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 “Battle of Wet Lowlands”. (“Tales of Old Time, C H Chomley, 1903).

The three remaining bushrangers meanwhile defended themselves with a fusillade of gunfire from the homestead. Henry Fowler was hit in the face and had to be escorted from the field of battle but the gentlemen were soon joined by reinforcements at Wet Lowlands in the form of a party of 12 settlers and constables drawn to the scene of the siege. A barrage of shots were exchanged over a period of several hours without further serious damage being done on either side before the three remaining “not dead yet” bushrangers consigned themselves to their inevitable fate and surrendered to their attackers. But not before Jepps had presented himself as a target outside the homestead, lighting his pipe with currency notes in the manner described earlier, in a suicidal attempt to beat the hangman. When they were searched, the bushrangers’ immediate loot amounted to nothing more than a few gold and silver watches, some shillings and sovereigns, a gold chain and stamp, and a few other assorted trifles. The settlers of the Plenty River valley we find were not so very well off after all.

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.

The surviving bushrangers were brought before the irascible John Walpole Willis in Melbourne, the Resident Supreme Court Judge of Port Phillip. Their case was probably not helped when it was revealed that one object of the bushrangers was to meet Willis on the Heidelberg Road and kill him, their mistaken belief being that, in the event of their capture, they could not be tried in the absence of a Supreme Court Judge at the settlement.

The three prisoners were accordingly convicted and condemned, although Willis to his credit recommended mercy for Jepps, a recommendation in the event denied by the court in Sydney. The execution took place in front of a crowd of several thousand people in Melbourne on 28 June, 1842, the first white men to be hanged in Port Phillip. (The Aboriginals, Bob and Jack, had been executed previously in January, that same year).

The Plenty River bushrangers were not the only bushrangers to make a mark in Victoria, but they were among the first. The ruins of the Wet Lowlands homestead were visible for many years up until the end of the 19th century near the present day Yan Yean Reservoir, the timber framing of the structure still bearing the ball marks of the exchange of fire from that day in 1842. Another early construction in the same area that may be connected with this story is “Bear’s Castle”. It survives to this day on the banks of the Yan Yean and is romantically believed by some to have been built by the Plenty River settler, John Bear, as a protection from bushrangers, (or Aboriginals), after his family were terrorised by the Plenty River gang.

Bear's Castle, Yan Yean, from a 1905 postcard.
Bear’s Castle, Yan Yean, from a 1905 postcard.

Lindsay Mann has researched and written comprehensively on this subject in “The Plenty River Bushrangers of 1842” and Michael Jones also covered the subject with a chapter in “Nature’s Plenty”. During their short career however, the Plenty River bushrangers never actually managed to kill anyone and it is this fact that has been given latterly as a reason for their story becoming otherwise largely forgotten by history.

"The most well-known highwayman of the 18th century."
“The most well-known highwayman of the 18th century.”

One way of looking at bushranging in Australia in the 19th century is as an extension of the English highwayman tradition of the previous century. Unlike the Plenty River bushrangers however, the most well-known highwayman of the 18th century, Dick Turpin, did kill but only when threatened by capture.

"Horrible Histories" channels Adam Ant and the story of Dick Turpin.
“Horrible Histories” channels Adam Ant and the story of Dick Turpin.

Adam Ant on the other hand never killed anyone, although he possibly damaged some ears along the way.

A bushranger killed Henry Hurst at Hurstbridge in 1866, not far from the scene of the earlier activities of the Plenty River gang and Australia’s most famous (or should that read infamous?) bushranger, Ned Kelly, also killed, but we forgive Kelly this for the sake of his sartorial style. Kelly was born at neighbouring Beveridge in about 1854. The ensuing “Kelly Outbreak” of the 1870s is seen now as the “last expression of the lawless frontier”. (Serle)

"The Trial", Sydney Nolan, NGA. Painted in 1947 a few kilometres south of Yallambie at "Heide", the home of John and Sunday Reed.
“The Trial”, Sydney Nolan, NGA. Painted in 1947 a few kilometres south of Yallambie at “Heide”, the home of John and Sunday Reed.

However, even before this “last expression of the lawless frontier”, the image of the Australian bushranger had already entered the popular imagination in a similar way to that of the Old West as represented in Buffalo Bill Cody’s shows. William Howitt, who visited Yallambee in 1852, had personal experience of bushrangers during his travels across the early gold fields of northern Victoria:

The visitor to "Yallambee", William Howitt, drew upon personal experience with bushrangers in northern Victoria to write stories of the Australian bush.
The visitor to “Yallambee”, William Howitt, drew upon personal experience with bushrangers in northern Victoria to write stories of the Australian bush.

“…I determined, if they demanded money, to go into the tent, on pretence of fetching it, and giving them the contents of a revolver in rotation.” (Land, Labour and Gold, William Howitt).

He later used these travel experiences as an inspiration for a work of fiction, “A Boy’s Adventures in the Wilds of Australia”.

Similarly, it has been noted by others that the writer Ernest William Hornung, who created the gentleman thief A. J. Raffles, was inspired by stories of bushrangers during a two year visit to Australia in the 1880s. The suggestion goes that Hornung became absorbed specifically with the tale of the Plenty River bushrangers during that time and in one of his stories, written in 1899, Raffles is seen recalling a visit to the Plenty River.

“It was an interesting ride enough, especially after passing the place called Whittlesea, a real wild township on the lower slopes of the ranges, where I recollect having a deadly meal of hot mutton and tea, with the thermometer at three figures in the shade.” (Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman, E. W. Hornung).

In a case of mistaken identities, Raffles robs a country bank during the confusion in the neighbourhood caused by a bushranger attack.

“…a huge chap in a red checked shirt, with a beard like W. G. Grace, but the very devil of an expression.” (ibid)

So the Plenty River bushrangers lived on, at least for a while it seems in popular literature. Material maybe for the ultimate in prequels to a certain television franchise, the Plenty River “Underbelly”. After all, when it comes to crime and punishment there’s nothing new under the Australian sun.

 

Selected sources:
 “The Plenty River Bushrangers of 1842”, Lindsay Mann
 “The Australian Experience in the Plenty Valley” (Plenty Valley Papers vol 2), edited by Lucy M Grace Ellem
 “1842, The Public Executions at Melbourne”, compiled by Ian MacFarlane
 “Nature’s Plenty”, Michael Jones

Picture this

If you live anywhere in Melbourne or thereabouts, it’s odds on that you’ve already encountered the name “Howitt” somewhere along your travels whilst scarcely noticing it. The fact is, it’s a name that is closely associated with the early story of the Port Phillip District. There are Howitt streets and roads, Howitt parks and palms and the occasional memorial cairns and monuments, all named after the various members of that most interesting family of our early history.

The monotypic genus Howittia, a native blue-flowered mallow, named by Baron von Mueller in acknowledgement of Howitt's "devotion to botany".
The monotypic genus Howittia, a native blue-flowered mallow, named by Baron von Mueller in acknowledgement of Godfrey Howitt’s “devotion to botany”.

There’s even a Mt Howitt somewhere in the so called Australian Alps which you can climb, as Mallory once said, “Because it’s there”.

mount-howitt-track-sign

However there are no streets in Yallambie named after these Howitts, which is perhaps surprising. There are no mountains either, for that matter.

William Howitt
William Howitt

As previously discussed in the pages of this blog, both Richard and William Howitt visited the Bakewell farm at Yallambee and wrote about their experiences in 1842 and 1852 respectively. That’s a story that deserves a closer inspection later alongside the Yallambie connection of that prominent exponent of Melbourne’s early cultural establishment, Dr Godfrey Howitt.

Dr Godfrey Howitt, by Samuel Calvert, 1873.
Dr Godfrey Howitt, by Samuel Calvert, 1873.
Phoebe Bakewell (Mrs Godfrey Howitt) c1858-c1862
Phoebe Bakewell (Mrs Godfrey Howitt) c1858-c1862

The good doctor was the brother of William and Richard and the brother in law of Yallambee’s John and Robert Bakewell, Godfrey and his wife Phoebe having travelled with the Bakewells when emigrating to Port Phillip aboard the SS Lord Goderich in 1840. Godfrey and Phoebe came to Australia partly in an attempt to improve the health of their eldest child, John Henry Howitt who it was considered would benefit from the warmer climate. The eleven year old John Henry Howitt is known to have visited his Bakewell uncles at Yallambee in 1842, a year before his premature death from Tuberculosis. He wrote a very interesting and eloquent letter to his then similarly aged cousin in England, the future Australian explorer, Alfred Howitt, describing the Bakewell farm and the exploits of the marauding Plenty River bushrangers.

However, more to that story in my next post.

With this in mind, it was while Googling the name of Dr Godfrey Howitt today that I found the following two images online, the property of the State Library of Victoria.

1. "Dr. Godfrey Howitt's garden" [sic]", SLV.
1. “Dr. Godfrey Howitt’s garden” [sic]”, SLV.
2. "Dr. Godfrey Howitt's garden" [sic]", SLV.
2. “Dr. Godfrey Howitt’s garden” [sic]”, SLV.
The pictures are sixth-plate Daguerreotypes from the collection of Stanley Yalkowsky and were purchased at auction by the Library at Sotheby’s in New York in 2010 for USD$18,750, nearly three times the pre-sale estimate price. The pictures reportedly carry a pencil inscription describing the images as being “Dr Godfrey Howitt’s garden”.

I had these images open on my lap top, wondering about them in a curious way when my wife came along and glanced over my shoulder.

“Oh look,” she said. “It’s the Station Plenty. Is it on ebay?” she added hopefully.

“You would have needed $20,000 6 years ago to buy it,” I replied. But she was right. It did look like Yallambee.

View of the Station Plenty, Port Phillip district, (I) Distant view of station with cattle in foreground, 1853-1856, Edward La Trobe Bateman, NGV.
View of the Station Plenty, Port Phillip district, (I) Distant view of station with cattle in foreground, 1853-1856, Edward La Trobe Bateman, NGV.

A lot.

Dr Godfrey’s house in Collins Street East was the centre of Melbourne culture in the early colony and the beauty and the extent of his garden was widely regarded. On the face of it the photographs could have been this garden but all the same, one of the Daguerreotypes seemed to show a pre-fabricated building similar to the sort put up by Superintendant La Trobe at Jolimont or the Bakewell buildings at Yallambee. Dr Godfrey and Phoebe are believed to have built something similar in Collins Street in the 1840s but the only pictures I had seen previously of the Howitts’ house in Melbourne were of a later date and of a rendered brick building in the 1860s.

Home of Dr Godfrey and Phoebe (ne Bakewell) Howitt on the corner of Collins Street East and Spring Street, Melbourne, 1868, SLV.
Home of Dr Godfrey and Phoebe (ne Bakewell) Howitt on the corner of Collins Street East and Spring Street, Melbourne, 1868, SLV.

Daguerreotypes are laterally reversed or mirror images because they are necessarily viewed from the side that originally faced the camera lens. By reversing the first of the SLV pictures and comparing it to a cropped detail of Edward La Trobe Bateman’s View I, the truth suddenly becomes clear. The Howitt Daguerreotype of the building is taken looking up at the roof line and from a closer proximity than the Bateman drawing, which was made from the top of the ridge on the modern day Yallambie Road, but in essence the picture is the same. The trees are the same. The trellis is the same. The chimney is the same.

Comparative detail View I of the Station Plenty, Port Phillip district, by Edward La Trobe Bateman (reversed) and 1. Dr. Godfrey Howitt's garden [sic].
Comparative detail View I of the Station Plenty, Port Phillip district, by Edward La Trobe Bateman (reversed) and 1. Dr. Godfrey Howitt’s garden [sic].
Comparative detail View IX of the Station Plenty, Port Phillip district, by Edward La Trobe Bateman and 2. Dr. Godfrey Howitt's garden [sic].
Comparative detail View IX of the Station Plenty, Port Phillip district, by Edward La Trobe Bateman and 2. Dr. Godfrey Howitt’s garden [sic].
As to the second Daguerreotype, I would suggest that the Yucca depicted is the same plant visible on the right of picture in the Edward La Trobe Bateman drawing, View IX.

The photographs are extraordinarily rare out door images from the colonial era. The author of the images is unknown and one can only wonder at the reason behind and under what difficult circumstances the pictures could possibly have been made. The Howitt provenance is clear but the Bakewell connection is at this stage, speculative. One of the few photographers working in the Daguerreotype medium in early Melbourne, Douglas T Kilburn, was like Dr Godfrey’s son John Henry, a consumptive. Kilburn kept Melbourne’s first professional photographic studio in Little Collins Street and it is perhaps easy to guess at the situation leading to the creation of the SLV pictures.

Douglas T Kilburn, 1850s, SLT.
Douglas T Kilburn, 1850s, SLT.

To my mind the SLV “Howitt” Daguerreotypes should join the 12 Edward La Trobe Bateman Station Plenty drawings as a part of documentary evidence in any discussion of the early farm at the Bakewell brothers’, “Yallambee Park”. The story of how the Daguerreotypes came to be made, almost in unison with the Bateman drawings and at a time of or before the Victorian gold rushes, remains uncertain. Clearly more research needs to be conducted from this point by those with an academic persuasion.

However, as a last but probably not final word, it is interesting to note that Dr Ann Neale in her PHD thesis, “Illuminating Nature”, suggested that the 12 Station Plenty Bateman drawings at the NGV may have been part of an overlapping series, only a part of which the Bakewells retained privately.

Might the SLV Daguerreotypes have somehow figured in this theoretical series?

Might the two SLV photographic images have once been a part of a larger whole?

daguerreotype camera

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.

HISTORY
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.

DESCRIPTION
Geomorphology
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.

COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS
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.

Notes:
*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