Merino District Settlers

South-West Victoria, Australia

Extract from:
"Historic Souvenir of the Back to Merino and Henty Centenary Celebrations",
November, 11th to 15th, 1937

Recollections of Settlers Outside the Town Boundary

There are so many vantage points to view the beautiful scenery surrounding Merino that one has to think where to start. We older residents who have visited the other States and also other parts of the world know that our locality is as delightful as any other we have seen. Is it any wonder that Major MITCHELL called this district "Australia Felix" and that HENTY settled at Merino Downs?

Those who have half a day to wander round might follow the main read north and branch off to the right, where they will find a hill overlooking a bridge on the road that leads to what was formerly Struan, owned by Mr. ROBINSON, and later by CAMERON and HUXLEY. After the war the estate was bought by the Government for soldier settlement. It is now called Paschendale after the town in Belgium, where the Australians won such fame in the World War. A visit to the soldier settlement will be of interest, and across the Wannon another station, Hillgay, may be seen. Generally the settlers have prospered, and their farms are set in picturesque surroundings. From our first observation point we can almost see Merino Downs homestead, which nestles away in the long valley to the north. Formerly the land to the west, north and north-eastern horizon belonged to Francis HENTY, and extended as far to the eastward as the present butter factory, which was built on land acquired from this estate.

The green trees on the distant hilltop surround a large brick homestead formely occupied by Alexander McLEOD, of Talisker, who married Francis HENTY's daughter, Caroline, and is survived by two daughters. Between Talisker and our vantage point lies Laggan, the property of D. McINTYRE, who was one of the earliest settlers and had five sons—Neil, Archie, Angus, and Dougald, who were well known breeders of sheep and cattle and were highly respected in the district. The grave of another son, John, may be seen in an early private cemetery on the top of the hilltop just above the bridge, and here also the daughter, Mrs. BRADY, is interred.

The present cemetery is located north from the township, and graves of historic importance may be seen. The first to be interred there in 1862 was Miss CROKER, from Merino Downs. Two others from this homestead are Lawrence Shum HENTY and Mrs. C. McLEOD, also the graves of some early servants. There are also those of MALONEY, KING and others of the early pioneers.

Mrs. BRADY, a well known lady and daughter of D. McINTYRE, senr., lived for years in her home on the road to Struan. The family of one son, Angus, still resides in the vicinity. In the early days the creek below the old homestead was a favored fishing and picnic resort, and at a later date the area was tested for coal.

Towards the township was a large paddock owned by Charles WOMBWELL, and it extended from that old garden site near the creek to over the hilltop. The "inseparables." Dave and Amos, his sons, and their sister lived in a house on the hilltop. The property to the south was the home of John O'BRIEN, the blacksmith, and later of Bryan FITZGERALD. Dougald McINTYRE next occupied Emerald Hill, as the homestead was named, and his family later took up teaching or nursing as their professions. Two daughters served as nurses in India during the Great War.

Adjoining the Mocamboro road was the property and home of Robert HOWARTH. At the top of the hill on the eastern boundary is the racecourse, whilst below is the home of the MUTCH family, who were early settlers and brickmakers in the district.

On the vacant corner as we return towards the town was the home of Duncan GRANT, and it will be remembered that his son had a horse tread mill for threshing the corn. The horse was enclosed in a frame box and spent its time walking up hill and getting nowhere. Adjoining his home was the property of P. KRAATZ, who later went to Horsham, but finally returned to his original farm. On the triangular block lived Tom JENKINS, an early carpenter of F. HENTY's. Next to the south is Ned FITZGIBBON's home, and he was one of the original teamsters. Turning now into a road running easterly on the hilltop we pass Jasper WOODs' old home site on the left, whilst on a vacant block across the road was formerly the home of George CRAWLEY. George and his brother Jim were typical bushmen, and thought nothing of dividing a bag of flour and carrying it to their camp in the bush often nine miles away. Their favorite sport was to hunt the kangaroos and run down the wild horses which were plentiful in the bush.

Over the small bridge past the hills where J. EGAN grew some of the first wheat crops is the home of Alex (Sandy) McNICOL, an early shepherd on Rifle Downs, whilst further to the left is the site of J. KERR's home. Further east past J. CRAWLEY's home, J. JONES lived, and when 10 years of age he was engaged with COLTON to drive bullocks to Portland, and later was a pit sawyer.

Peter WOMBWELL, a brother of the proprietor of the world famed WOMBWELL's Menagerie, lived here also. On the corner at the turn of the road to Coleraine is the old boot shop of James MALLETT, whose early experiences when employed by Edward HENTY are given elsewhere in this book.

From this elevation we can see the road to Coleraine leading past the butter factory, which draws its supplies mainly from the closer settlement farms at Tahara and Talisker. At first the land was mainly used for rearing and fattening cattle and sheep, but such men as Gid NICOL, G. MOXON, BUSHELL Bros., G. ALLEN, D. McLEOD, QUINN, HAY, and PYE improved its possibilities as a dairying centre, and it is to these men that the settlement owes much of its prosperity. The NOLTEs in particular did a fair amount of tilling of the soil also.

Down near the creek on the right is the original site of the building and property owned by John LEAKE, whilst opposite lived the DRUMMONDs. Over the bridge is the late John KING's farm whilst to our right on the slope over the creek are quite a number of soldier settlers' farms established about 1919 on portion of Glenorchy Estate, which belonged to the JOHNSTONE family and extended almost to Digby. Prior to its present use part of it was cultivated and sown with wheat or oats, which yielded up to 70 bushels to the acre.

At the head of the gully up the creek, J. SHORT, an old settler, had a farm, but this was later acquired by Edwin HUSSON. It is interesting to note that SHORT was alleged to have been wounded by the notorious bushranger, MORGAN. On the corner in front of us is the home site of Dugald McINTYRE, who with J. CLARKE took up large areas of land near Toowoomba in Queensland. but droughts were so prevalent that they returned to Merino. To our right towards the township was the home of John McPHEE, whilst J. HILL, the blacksmith. lived on the hilltop to the south. Below this on the west was J. KERR's farm, which had a large orchard surrounded by a furze hedge. Rabbits abounded here in 1882, and provided many an afternoon's sport for the boys of the settlement.

From this hilltop looking southward a road may be seen about half a mile away, and at the end of the long lane was the home of Bob HICKS. The road continues on up the hill to Grassdale, formerly COLEMAN's property, and a beautiful scenic drive may be had between the subdivided blocks of the early Glenorchy estate. The top road to Grassdale divided the main portion of Glenorchy estate from that on the east side known as Glenlivet, formerly owned by J. McRAE. The homestead is situated at the foot of the high red hill in the distance.

All the land to the horizon excluding SILVESTER's property and a few holdings in the foreground comprised the Glenorchy estate. J. PEARSON was the original owner, and his sons John and Joe, mentioned by FEATHERSTONEHAUGH in "After Many Days," were great horsemen and rode the King Alfred bred horses. Succeeding managers for JOHNSTON were ELMS, J. SMITH, and J. McNICOL, son of a former manager of Tahara, Donald and Alex GRANT, whilst John and Thomas DAVIS were two well known overseers.

On the level ground past the hilltop the road passes the large woodshed where thousands of sheep were shorn. The homestead of the Glenlivet overseers was a large brick building about half a mile in the paddock to the east. Below on the creek were the sheep yards and dip, and It was here that what may have developed into a tragedy occurred in early eighties.

The MELDRUM family and two sisters of DAVIS of the homestead were fishing at the creek. The day being very warm. Bob Meldrum saw some clear looking water in a large tank, which had been used to prepare arsenic for the sheep dip. Filling a bottle with the cool water, he resumed to the rest of the party, who became very ill shortly after drinking it. The DAVIS girls went to their brother's farm, and when the doctor arrived the children were saved from any serious consequences. The news soon spread to the township, and Mr. ENSCOE getting a distorted account that his son was drowned, galloped to the homestead to find his family all well. The shock seriously affected his health for some time.

Billy O'BRIEN lived on the hill to the south, and his chief means of conveyance was a bullock dray with solid wooden pole and two wheels. Many and varied were his expressions as he drove his bullock team down the hill. Over the road from Hicks on the sharp angled block lived the road contractor Sam GENGE and his son-in-law, Alf YEWERS.

On the rise nearby to the south-west was the home of the late Archie McPHEE, who was the stud groom for Frank HENTY since boyhood. In the middle distance about half a mile south was the home of James BOYD, senr., whose son Jim, now ninety years or age, is still hale and hearty, and supplied much of the information regarding Merino's early history. Following the lane eastward we pass the old home of John LILLIE, an early storekeeper, whilst on our left is the home and property of James FULTON, the early flour miller. R. FULTON, a brother, went in for breeding Clydesdales and thoroughbreds on the property now owned by R. DUNN and formerly by Alex MOSS. In the house lower down lived "Sonny" ELSTON, as he is still known, although now approaching eighty years of age. He is reputed to be the first white child born in Merino, and was a well known athlete in earlier days. On the nearby hill the first school in Merino was built, and Mr. HUGHES was the first schoolmaster. J. BOYD, an early scholar, still points out a briar bush which was in the school yard.

Almost directly over the hill from ELSTON's was the old bark hut where Bob MILLER lived in the early days. Many of his sons and their families reside in the district. On the corner of the block below the McRAE family had their home.

The tall row of poplars on the road to Glenorchy sheltered the home of James HEANEY, the road contractor, and the old garden below SILVESTER's surround d the original home of Bombay SMITH, a very early Council land valuer.

SILVESTER, of Springdale, is dealt with in a separate section, so we look right over this fine homestead towards the lighter timbered country to the south-west. There lived several families, including ANNETTs, PETERs, and SCARBOROUGHs. The latter were well known teamsters, and supplied much of the firewood for the township. The early road from Portland was in this vicinity in the early days, being far west from the present Digby road. Nearer the township on the east side of the Digby road lived the KINGs and BENNs, and the old garden trees may still be seen. Nearby on the opposite side of the road was TURNER's home. Further west in the scrubby country several families lived in the early days, but gradually settled in the better country to the eastward, or left for other parts. Among these settlers we remember John and Andrew DWYER, F. COULSON, F. KRAATZ, H. LANG, P. McCARTHY, FORAN, W. McRAE, SMITH, CORNFORD. and H. KOHN. Now we come to the road leading to these various homes; really it is a branch of the back road to Casterton at the quarries above the Mocamboro hill. A little further north may be seen old bricks on the site of an early hotel built by George Yarra Bilston, who claimed to be the first white child born at Port Phillip settlement. The steep Mocamboro hill provided many exciting trips with the early teams, and Jim BREBNER, a well known contractor, had a cart tip over on top of him. Jim's vocabulary was very lurid, and it is asserted that his remarks to his team on this occasion could be heard in the township.

Source : "Historic Souvenir of the Back to Merino and Henty Centenary Celebrations",
November, 11th to 15th, 1937

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