Tag Archives: Viewbank Homestead

The past is not such a foreign country

“You are destroying your past, and one day you will realise it when it is too late.”

These words were spoken by Dutch artist Rein Slagmolen nearly fifty years ago and were quoted in a local newspaper report. At the time Slagmolen was referring to the impending demise of an historic, National Trust classified landmark at Yallambie but his words have a discouragingly all too familiar ring to them today as they echo across the passage of the intervening years. As the built face of Melbourne continues to change with every passing year, it turns out the past is not such a foreign country after all. They do things just the same there.

William Laing's Casa Maria, formerly "Woodside Farm", (John T. Collins, Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria).
William Laing’s Casa Maria, formerly “Woodside Farm”, (John T. Collins, Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria).

Slagmolen had been living at Casa Maria, “the House on the Hill”; a local feature on a ridge on what is now the north eastern edge of Yallambie. As stated in the previous post, when John and Robert Bakewell created their farm, “Yallambee Park” at the start of the 1840s by buying up most of the parts of Walker’s subdivision of Portion 8 north of the Lower Plenty Road, the one section that they overlooked was a strip of land combining Walkers’ Lots 6 & 7.

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.

This land of about 68 hectares was at this time in the hands of Nicholas Fenwick, later Police Magistrate at Geelong. In 1843, by dint of a complicated deal involving several disassociated parties during the turbulent period characterising the first economic crisis of the Port Phillip District, the land was handballed to William Laing and Peter Johnstone. William Laing soon became the sole owner of the property and built an attic roofed farmhouse, probably adding it in front of a pre-existing, single storey cottage he found already located there to the north.

Laing called the property “Woodside”; an appropriate name perhaps given that Richard Howitt, writing about nearby “Yallambee” in 1842, recorded that: “The locality is at the commencement of the vast and sterile stringy-bark forests.” (Impressions of Australia Felix)

1945 aerial survey showing late 20th century subdivisions and site of Casa Maria (Woodside) farm.
1945 aerial survey showing late 20th century subdivisions and site of Casa Maria (Woodside) farm.
Squatting era kitchen wing, (John T. Collins, Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria).
Squatting era kitchen wing, (John T. Collins, Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria).

In the late 1960s, foundation members and honorary architects for the National Trust of Australia, John and Phyllis Murphy, reported that the earliest cottage section at Woodside most probably dated far back to the 1830s and the first days of settlement in Victoria.

Verandah detail, (John T. Collins, Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria).
Verandah detail, (John T. Collins, Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria).

The Murphys were well known Melbourne architects at the time and noted for their conservation work at what is still reputed to be Victoria’s earliest building, “Holly Green” (Emu Bottom Homestead). They speculated that the original cottage at Woodside was as old, or perhaps even older, than that Sunbury property itself. Remarkably this would have put the first construction at Woodside outside the first Crown land sales of Heidelberg and back into the short lived squatting era on the Lower Plenty, but their hypothesis seems immaterial now. By any State of Victoria measure, Woodside was old. Very old.

This earliest part of Woodside was used by Laing as a kitchen wing and to minimise fire risks it was kept separated from the main building. It consisted of a large, single storey kitchen/living room area and three utility rooms. The doors of the cottage were small by any standard, barely 180cm tall, with wooden steps that by 1970 had been worn quite hollow by the passage of time. High beams in the roof were concealed by a low ceiling lit by small, crooked windows and much later, a sky light and west facing louvre window. The sum total of kitchen “mod cons” consisted of a simple wooden kitchen dresser built alongside a huge kitchen fireplace. The fireplace had originally been an open arrangement with a chimney crane used to lift pots over the embers, later replaced by the installation of an Aga stove.

Dormer windows", (John T. Collins, Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria).
Dormer windows”, (John T. Collins, Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria).

The other, or front section of the house, erected by William Laing when he took possession of the property, was dual level with two attic dormer bedrooms across a small hallway which was reached via an iron made staircase. These bedrooms were built without internal fireplaces but were kept warm in winter by the heat from the exposed brick work of the chimneys from the ground floor rooms below. Australian Red Cedar joinery was a feature of the lower rooms although later, much of this was ignominiously painted over. The walls were of soft, hand-made bricks and rendered with lime mortar. The roof, originally slate shingled, had been replaced by tiles after a fire in 1950.

20th century addition, (John T. Collins, Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria).
20th century addition, (John T. Collins, Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria).

William Laing died in his 90s in 1891 and Woodside passed to his family who continued to farm it until well into the 20th century.

Paved courtyard, (John T. Collins, Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria).
Paved courtyard, (John T. Collins, Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria).

A third section of the house with walls made of battened fibro sheets was added between the original cottage and Laing’s main building, joining the three parts together into a “house that Jack built” whole. A small paved court yard was located in a space left vacant on the western side between the two original sections and planted with vines.

Donald S. Garden writing in “Heidelberg: the Land and its People” states that Woodside suffered a somewhat “chequered history” in its later years. A man named Brassier farmed and operated a vineyard at the property, (adding to an early local tradition started by the Bakewells in 1840) and he was followed by a certain Ms Nancy Hassock who operated a riding school there. She was succeeded by a Mr Shaw, who also operated a riding school.

In 1950 Woodside was purchased by an order of novitiate nuns, the Santa Maria Order, who renamed the property “Casa Maria”, the name by which it became more generally known over time in the surrounding community. By this time the original property had been reduced to 11 hectares. The nuns built a prefabricated structure behind the house and this they maintained as a dormitory and chapel.

Casa Maria pictured from the west, south and east, (John T. Collins, Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria).
Casa Maria pictured from the west, south and east, (John T. Collins, Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria).

In 1960 Casa Maria was sold again, this time to the property agents Arthur Tucket & Malone. The property was leased for ten years to a succession of tenants but with the carve up of the nearby Yallambie Homestead estate by the developer A V Jennings from September 1966, it was only a matter of time before Casa Maria would itself come to the building planners’ attention. A contemporary newspaper reporting on the Casa Maria property recorded that: “several hundred yards away is Lord Ragg’s Yallambie homestead.” Thomas Wragge would certainly have been amused by this presumptuous promotion of his person to the peerage, however the two properties did occupy adjoining ridges on the western lower reaches of the Plenty River. Laing had been Wragge’s nearest neighbour.

According to Ethel Temby’s memoir, Jennings’ first survey of the Yallambie Homestead “cut through the house garden and pegs close to the verandah indicated that had they not found a buyer for the house it would have been demolished.” In the end, Yallambie Homestead was spared this inglorious fate, but for Casa Maria, the end seemed nigh. John T. Collins, a teacher by profession and keen amateur photographer, would record the building between 1967 and 1969 in a series of photographs taken as part of a National Trust programme aimed at recording historic properties.

In the 1960s Rein Slagmolen became the final occupant of the Laing farm house. He was a Dutch born sculptor who, with his wife Hilary Prudence Reynolds, had immigrated to Australia from central Africa shortly after World War II.

The wrecking ball threat...
The wrecking ball threat…

The Slagmolens had four sons and were still renting Casa Maria in 1970 when the wrecking ball came swinging. The family kept horses and enjoyed a semi-rural lifestyle. Their sons would recall frightening childhood friends with night time tales of bushrangers, stories that seemed all too real to ears and imaginations tuned to the sounds of horses in the surrounding paddocks.

Casa Maria childhood, (Slagmolen family collection).
Casa Maria childhood, (Slagmolen family collection).

Rein kept an artist’s studio in the nuns’ old prefab chapel/dormitory from where he operated a successful business “Vetrart Studios” working on collaborative commissions for new church spaces.

Stations of the Cross (6 stages of 14) by Dutch artist Rein Slagmolen, on display in St Francis Xavier Church, Mayona Rd, Montmorency.
Stations of the Cross (6 stages of 14) by Dutch artist Rein Slagmolen, on display in St Francis Xavier Church, Mayona Rd, Montmorency.

The beautiful, light filled Modernist interior, with its sculptures and lead light panels at St Francis Xavier Church, Montmorency are just one local example of his work.

Slagmolen interior of St Francis Xavier Church, Montmorency.
Slagmolen interior of St Francis Xavier Church, Montmorency.
Holy water font by Rein Slagmolen, located inside the entrance to St Francis Xavier Church, Montmorency.
Holy water font by Rein Slagmolen, located inside the entrance to St Francis Xavier Church, Montmorency.

The Slagmolens attempted unsuccessfully several times to buy Casa Maria from the property developer syndicate and a community campaign was launched to save Casa Maria, but it was all to no avail. The chance to create a Montsalvat style artist community at Yallambie was lost. In the words of Donald S. Garden, “the battle culminated in yet another victory to private enterprise,” (ibid). Casa Maria, formerly “Woodside Farm”, was demolished in 1971 to make way for an enlargement of the Yallambie housing estate, the so called “Santa Maria Subdivision”.

Today if you walk past the former location of Casa Maria along Allima Avenue and into Kurdian Court, Yallambie, there is little to remind you of the presence of one of the earliest colonial properties ever built in Victoria. A number of ancient Italian Cypresses still mark the lines of the old garden but these are probably held in little regard, the exotic home of nuisance possums and cockatoos.

As quoted at the start of this post, Rein Slagmolen said, “You are destroying your past, and one day you will realise it when it is too late,” but perhaps he had it all wrong. As the past is destroyed it fades from our collective memory. Without records, who remembers what has gone before? If they are not written down, stories are all too soon forgotten, a fact that has perhaps never been more true in this digital age of email. This has been the operating inspiration behind the existence of this blog from the very first post of August, 2014.

At the time of writing this post, two houses which occupy the former front yard of Casa Maria at 38 and 40 Allima Avenue are scheduled for auction by separate agents later in the month. Furthermore, on a suburban block opposite these houses, a new home is even now nearing completion after a brick veneer from the old A V Jennings/Santa Maria subdivision was cleared away to make way for it. A new, two storey house fills the block almost to its boundaries. It will be a fine home when complete but in a few years’ time, who will remember the earlier succession of homes it replaced and the haunting layers of their life’s existence?

If you’re like me and enjoy watching old episodes of the British made documentary series “Time Team” on cable, it seems there are very few places in the UK where you cannot dig without turning up Roman mosaics or Iron Age ring forts. The European archaeological history of Australia is small beer by comparison but at 10.30am on this Friday at Eltham Library, Jeremy Smith, an archaeologist at Heritage Victoria, is scheduled to give a talk about one example at the site of Viewbank Homestead, just down river from Yallambie. That 1840s era homestead was professionally demolished in 1922 and several digs in the last two decades have uncovered an array of artefacts: jewellery, porcelain, ornaments and coins, all of which give an insight into the lives of the settlers of this district.

Archaeological investigation of remains of Viewbank Homestead, Viewbank, 1997
Archaeological investigation of remains of Viewbank Homestead, Viewbank, 1997

Long academic studies have been devoted to the story of Viewbank. Perhaps one day someone will show enough interest to stick a pick or trowel into the forgotten histories at Yallambie, some of which are still there to be found, just below our pedestrian feet.

casa_maria

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Love makes the world go round, about

I think my wife must be getting all religious. She keeps talking to me about someone called St Valentine who apparently has a big day out next Saturday. I think this St Valentine chap must be rather influential because she insists I could be going to heaven that night. What she means by that, I’m not exactly sure. It seems to involve the sacred offerings of chocolate and flowers for something she calls the “altar of love”.

Love – it’s the oldest story of all. It’s been around since Adam was a lad. Each generation thinks they invented it which, if that were true, would offer no explanation to how the species keeps reproducing itself.

Douglas Adams thought that there was an awful lot of it going about and wrote “it really is, terribly complicated.” For all that, the tradition of sending Valentine gifts or vows dates back to the days of Chaucer with printed cards first appearing in England in 1761. Improvements in printing techniques and in the postal service lead to a great expansion in Valentine-sending in the Victorian era before an Edwardian decline which was not exceeded until the later part of the 20th century. The present day probably sees another decline in the giving of traditional Valentine cards as their role is increasingly replaced by various electronic messaging devices.

Victorian era valentines
Victorian era valentines

The tradition of giving cards must have been active in the first half of the 20th century when my late mother attended St Michael’s Church of England Girls Grammar School in St Kilda. I remember her describing to me, like a scene in “Picnic at Hanging Rock”, the excitement among the girls when one of the mistresses received a Valentine card. It carried an inscription on the front, “Roses are red, Violets are blue” but inside the insulting conclusion “a monkey like you belongs in the zoo” with an all too artistically drawn picture of a particularly nasty looking monkey. The girls thought it very amusing of course but not so the unmarried school mistress for whom teaching was probably one of the few ways of supporting herself.

Cleanliness is next to Godliness: girls of St Michael's Church of England Girls Grammar School, St Kilda
Cleanliness is next to Godliness: girls of St Michael’s Church of England Girls Grammar School, St Kilda

The concept of class distinction and the demarcation line of marital relations across it that existed in 19th century Australia is a foreign one to us in a world where today marriage is sometimes thought to be an antiquated institution. After all, who wants to live in an institution? If we look at a few of the 19th century romances that were around the Heidelberg district in the not so staid Victorian era, what is clear is that love really does make the world go round, even if sometimes the edges turn out to be a bit crooked.

As explained previously, the brothers John and Robert Bakewell established the first successful farm at Yallambee in 1840. John Bakewell was a wool classer by profession and left the running of Yallambee to his brother while he himself looked after their business affairs. John seems to have been pretty good at affairs for it has been rumoured that he managed to get a serving girl in the family way at Tooradin. That was on a property where he maintained additional farming interests as a partner in Mickle, Bakewell and Lyall. The class divisions between marital relations were very clear in the 19th century and could be experienced by every section of it at different times and to varying degrees. When reading the surviving accounts of their relationship, who does not believe that Queen Victoria was in love with John Brown? She no doubt fancied a man in a kilt. She stipulated that a photograph of Brown, a lock of his hair and his mother’s ring should be buried with her when she died. They say that love makes no clear distinction, however it was class and the mores of society that kept the devotion of Victoria and Brown in life almost certainly unconsummated.

Portrait group of John Brown and Queen Victoria. Oil painting by Charles Burton Barber, believed to have been a personal gift from the Queen to Mr Brown.
Portrait group of John Brown and Queen Victoria. Oil painting by Charles Burton Barber, believed to have been a personal gift from the Queen to Mr Brown.

While Australia has always endeavoured to produce a classless society, a product perhaps of our convict past, from the earliest days of settlement the Heidelberg district had pretensions to being something of an aristocratic locality, or the nearest thing to one the archetypal Port Phillip district could provide. “It is natural that on each of the main hills along the Yarra and its tributaries wealthy people, able to afford such select spots, should have settled and built large houses.” (Heidelberg – The Land and Its People 1838-1900, Donald S Garden, MUP)

The pre gold rush estates of the Yarra Plenty River confluence, with their exotic gardens and houses situated on high riverside ridges, were like Antipodean-Italian hill side villas, landmarks in a colonial landscape so newly settled. The mass plantings of Italian cypresses by Robert Bakewell would have done much to further this effect at Yallambee. Some of these properties were built on hill sides within sight of each other and given the class distinctions of the day it was only natural that sometimes the children of the owners of these prestigious rural seats would find romance nearby among their social peers.

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."
This image in the collection of  the National Library of Australia 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.”

Minnie (Mary) Graham, the daughter of wealthy merchant and land agent, James Graham, grew up at Heidelberg’s Banyule Homestead in the early 1860s which her father leased from Joseph Hawdon. She married Robert Martin Jr in 1874, the only son of Dr Robert Martin of the neighbouring Viewbank Homestead which was built around 1840, a few kilometers downstream from the Bakewells’ Yallambee.

Archaeological investigation of remains of Viewbank Homestead, Viewbank, 1997
Archaeological investigation of remains of Viewbank Homestead, Viewbank, 1997

In 1922, after the farm was purchased by the Bartram family, Viewbank Homestead was professionally demolished, a home now to nothing more than a warren of rabbits burrowing into its foundations. We used to fly kites nearby as children, when Banyule Rd then had much less traffic.

If you stand on the vacant location of the Homestead today, marked as an archaeological site near the southern end of the Plenty River Bicycle Trail, and pause to look across the valley, you will see Banyule Homestead poking out from the suburban landscape. That impressive pre gold rush building still stands on the opposite ridge above former farmland, redeveloped in the 1970s as the “Banyule Flats” park. Squinting to look west, past the old Bunya pine and into the setting sun, you can maybe imagine for a moment how the relationship between Minnie and Robert, the proverbial older boy next door, might have developed. How often did Minnie Graham gaze out from Banyule across this valley and with rose coloured glasses imagine what the future might have in store?

Banyule Homestead seen from Viewbank Homestead (site) at dusk, February, 2015
Banyule Homestead seen from Viewbank Homestead (site) at dusk, February, 2015

The marriage pleased Robert Jr’s father, Dr Martin, who saw in it a merger of colonial gentry. Dr Martin’s wedding gift to the couple was Banyule Homestead itself, which Graham had been attempting to sell on Hawdon’s behalf for some years. Sadly Robert Martin, a diabetic, left Minnie widowed after only four years of marriage which just goes to show that in real life there is always the possibility of an unwanted postscript to the Jane Austen ending.

When it came to son in law material, Dr Martin set the bar high and was keen that each of his five daughters should marry into the Melbourne elite. Three of them, Emma, Charlotte and Annie chose or had chosen for them, well credentialed gentlemen who were all members of the doctor’s own Melbourne club. In the case of the last named, Annie, Dr Martin insisted that she marry the city coroner, the middle aged Dr Richard Youl, taking no notice of his daughter’s feelings nor taking to heart the broad disapproval: “everyone from Lady Hotham downwards all pitying poor Annie”.

Dr Martin’s other two daughters followed their hearts and in so doing defied their father. Edith Martin married Captain Bradley, the commander of HMS Galatea, the ship that brought Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh to Australia on the first Royal tour. Dr Martin disapproved of naval officers and Edith corresponded in secret with Captain Bradley for a year before a marriage was agreed upon. Even then her father insisted on a long engagement of 2 ½ years before wedding nuptials were possible.

The black sheep of the family was surely Dr Martin’s eldest child, Lucy Martin who followed her heart’s desire and eloped in 1857 with Lieutenant John Theodore Thomas Boyd of the vice regal staff. Dr Martin had even less respect for junior army officers than he did for naval men and had earlier refused his permission for the match. Aged 23 Lucy was free to marry anyway which is just what she did, leaving Viewbank on a pretext and meeting Boyd at a pre-arranged rendezvous from where they travelled to Richmond to be married. They later returned to Viewbank to confess and although we can imagine the scene that ensued, the story appears to have ended in forgiveness. The happy couple seems to have quickly got the hang of it and produced a dozen children, including Arthur Merric Boyd, the founding father of the Boyd dynasty of Australian artists. Today it is the progeny of Dr Martin’s wayward child Lucy who are remembered by history.

From "The Bride" series by Arthur Boyd, an allegory of star crossed lovers currently showing at Heide Museum of Modern Art
From “The Bride” series by Arthur Boyd, an allegory of star crossed lovers currently showing at Heide Museum of Modern Art.

A generation later, the children of Yallambie’s Thomas and Sarah Wragge perhaps encountered their own difficulties when it came to choosing appropriate life partners. The eldest Wragge son married a woman who had been governess to some of the Wragge children, a marriage that “was not wholeheartedly accepted by some members of the Wragge family”. The Wragge’s very own “Jane Eyre”.

Tranquil Winter, painted by Walter Withers,1895. The house on the ridge is still standing, located today in Walker Court, Viewbank at the back of Viewbank Secondary College.
Tranquil Winter, painted by Walter Withers,1895. The house on the ridge is still standing, located today in Walker Court, Viewbank at the back of Viewbank Secondary College.

Winty Calder thought that the Wragges probably kept fairly much to themselves, with few intimate circles on the broader scale. One social outlet it seems included drawing and painting lessons from the Heidelberg School artist Walter Withers at his studio in Cape Street, Heidelberg which Jessie and perhaps also Annie Wragge enjoyed.

Walter Withers' studio at Cape Street, Heidelberg, c1894 where the Wragge girls enjoyed painting lessons.
Walter Withers’ studio at Cape Street, Heidelberg, c1894 where the Wragge girls enjoyed painting lessons.

The conduct of these lessons drew this comment from their mother in an 1898 letter: “So Jessie has finished her paintings at last, and I quite think with you that there must be more talk than work at that studio.” Jessie was 30 when her mother wrote that but in the late 19th century, before the advent of “eHarmony”, country girls like Jessie from good upstanding, Anglican families probably had few real opportunities to mix with their social peers of the opposite sex. All the same, Jessie seems to have maintained a keen interest in her appearance and the social graces, evidenced by an “intense interest in current dress fashions”.

Accoutrements of fashion: an autograph album and magazine
Accoutrements of fashion: an autograph album and magazine

This story from Jessie’s nephew Frank Wright, and reported in Calder’s “Classing the Wool and Counting the Bales”, records something about the opposition to her dress style that she encountered within the Wragge family home:

“One story of these times, and which I heard later, is rather a staggerer to us of later times. Women’s fashion then included the tight, hour-glass waist, but Thomas Wragge had forbidden it. However, secretly Jessie had bought one of these costumes and thought much of it. One evening a large party was at Yallambie and everyone but Jessie took their seats at the dining table, with grandfather at the head. He had a great joint in front of him and the carving knife and fork in his hands, when Jessie, in her beloved dress, scuttled into the room and to her seat. She had planned that by so doing, she would escape observation. She had no luck.

Thomas Wragge's nightmare: the wasp waist corset.
Thomas Wragge’s nightmare: the wasp waist corset.

There was a roar from the old man – ‘Jessie, stand up’ was the command. Then – ‘Jessie, come here’ he ordered, pointing to the floor beside him. In the paralysing silence which followed, Jessie did as ordered. Then ‘Turn around’ was the order. Whereupon the old man slid the carving knife down her back inside the offending dress, and he ripped it open to the waist. Jessie was thereupon ordered to ‘Go upstairs and get decently dressed.’”

Jessie died from tuberculosis in October, 1910, five months after the death of her father Thomas, he of the carving knife, and predeceasing her mother. She died unmarried and aged only 42. The local newspaper wrote of her: “The late Miss Wragge was of a retiring disposition, but was a general favourite among her intimate friends.”

Wragge family group on the original east verandah at Yallambie. Left to right standing are Alice, Thomas and Sarah, Jessie; seated are Annie and Harry. (Visible in the background is an earlier prefabricated wooden house possibly dating from the Bakewell era.)
Wragge family group on the original east verandah at Yallambie. Left to right standing are Alice, Thomas and Sarah, Jessie; seated are Annie and Harry. (Visible in the background is an earlier, prefabricated wooden house possibly dating from the Bakewell era.)

Another Wragge daughter, Jessie’s younger sister Alice, did marry but her choice of a younger and socially inferior partner incensed her father into a dramatic action. Calder described the union in “Classing the Wool and counting the Bales thus:

“On 24 August 1908, Alice Wragge married Albert Edward Friar of Carlton, a son of Henry and Mary Ann (nee Tyler) Friar, who lived in Heidelberg. Henry was a bricklayer. The prelude to that marriage has long been shrouded in secrecy as far as the Wragge family has been concerned. Alice was thirty-six and Albert was twenty-three. They were married by a Congregational minister at 448 Queen Street, Melbourne, and the witnesses probably knew little about the couple. Albert had been employed as a groom at “Yallambie”, and Thomas did not approve of the liaison. His disapproval was so intense that he signed a codicil to his will on 19 December 1908, ensuring that Albert would never profit directly from the Wragge fortune. But that codicil also disinherited Alice’s descendants.”

From the small amount of surviving documentary evidence concerning the life of Alice Wragge, Calder thought that “she was a light-hearted young woman, who regarded life with a considerable amount of humour- which is absent from letters written by other members of the family.” I think we would have liked Alice.

Sarah Annie Murdoch (ne Wragge) at the front door of Yallambie on her wedding day. Sarah Annie was 36 when she married Wallace Murdoch on 20 August, 1903.
Jessie and Alice’s older sister, Sarah Annie at the front door of Yallambie Homestead on her wedding day. Sarah Annie was 36 when she married Wallace Murdoch on 20 August, 1903.

It seems to me that eloping Alices must have been all the fashion at one time. My wife’s family had one all their own, complete with a Viewbank/Plenty River connection which is worth a mention here. Ada Alice Smith was a member of the extensive W. H. Smith family, well known stationers in the UK. Early in the 20th century she ran off with my wife’s great grandfather, a painter and decorator by trade, who brought Ada Alice to Australia. I suppose she must have liked his wall paperings. The net result was that Ada Alice was cut off by her family without the “proverbial shilling”. She ended up on a chicken farm on the very next bend of the Plenty river, downstream from Yallambie and which Great grandfather purchased from the Bartrams at Viewbank around the time that Viewbank Homestead met its wrecking ball end. The house that Great grandfather built is itself now long gone but the foundations are still there in parkland at the end of the extension of Martins Lane, Viewbank, if you know where to look.

Trufitt farm house, Seymour Rd, Lower Plenty. The house was located at what is now the extension of Martins Lane, Viewbank on a bend of the Plenty River, downstream from Yallambie.
Farm house, Seymour Rd, Lower Plenty. The house was located at what is now the extension of Martins Lane, Viewbank on a bend of the Plenty River, downstream from Yallambie.

It would seem that Great grandfather was better at charming than farming. In the 1920s he managed to kill all of his chickens with an accident involving an incubator. Family legend has it that only one chicken survived which Great grandfather managed to also consign to oblivion by tripping over the unfortunate feathered fellow with his size number 11 boots. Probably a partly apocryphal story but Ada Alice died all too young on the Lower Plenty River, forgotten by her paterfamilias and far from the land of her birth.

Of the family of that other Alice, in 1997 to launch “Classing the Wool and Counting the Bales” a Wragge family reunion was held at Yallambie Homestead with over a hundred descendants of Thomas and Sarah Wragge present. One of the more touching aspects of that day was the involvement of the descendants of Alice Wragge from her union with Albert Friar. That branch of the family had been estranged in an earlier generation in a way that, by the end of the 20th century, seemed incomprehensible. On that day for the opening of the publication of Calder’s book, for the first time in ninety years the descendants of Thomas and Sarah Wragge were remarkably united.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Bartram's Silos at sunset in front of the Viewbank Homestead archaeological site, Viewbank, February, 2015
Bartram’s Silos at sunset in front of the Viewbank Homestead archaeological site, Viewbank, February, 2015