John Wood BEILBY 1818-1903

Edinburgh, Scotland; Port Phillip (Victoria);

Squatter of "Strathdownie West" station (N of Dartmoor on the Glenelg), Victoria, Australia

Link to a map showing Pastoral Runs in the Strathdownie and Dartmoor area.

1818-1903 : Brief Summary of John Wood BEILBY ...

John Wood BEILBY 1818-1903, b. Edinburgh, Scotland to Dr William BEILBY and Maria Catherine MOLLER; arr Port Phillip in 1841; Squatter "BEILBY's" Station, Gardiners Creek 1841-2; "Woodstock" Station, Bet Bet Creek 1842; Station Manager (for Chas. HUTTON) "HUTTON's" Station, King Parrot Creek 1843-4; Squatter of "Strathdownie West" Station 1845-48, shot & killed Charles DURRANT in a dispute over a horse at "Strathdownie West" in 1847; d. 1903 Beechworth, Victoria; m. 1850 "Airlie Bank" South Yarra, Port Phillip to Catherine OGILVY 1811-1897, b. Edinburgh, Scotland to David OGILVY and Catherine SPENCE; d. Beechworth, Victoria (no children).

1841 : Summary in 1936 of John Wood BEILBY as a Pastoral Pioneer in Port Phillip ...

"The Australasian" (Melbourne, Vic.) Saturday, 6th June 1936.


JOHN BEILBY. -- No. 129. -- JOHN WOOD BEILBY, who arrived in Port Phillip in 1841, ran his herds along Gardiner's Creek. He held a run next to John Gardiner's old run, which had been transferred to Edward Walpole and George Goggs. He remained only a few months on Gardiner's Creek. He followed James Hodgkinson to the Bet Bet Creek, and for about a year held the country afterwards known as Woodstock. Beilby then became manager for Captain Charles Hutton, the overlander, who was the founder of Flowerdale, on the King Parrot Creek, but he was unhappy as an employee, and he set out to look for a run in the far west of the colony.
He reached the Glenelg River, and was granted a depasturing licence covering 28,000 acres, known afterwards as Strathdownie West. But he lost heavily there. Sheep diseases, dogs, and hostile blacks combined to bring about his downfall, and he was obliged to abandon the country. Beilby then made notable journeys of exploration with Kennedy through the Mallee.

Although following for a time on the tracks of Edwin White's survey of the boundary between Victoria and South Australia, they cut off at Scorpion well near Pinnaroo, and crossed the Mallee at imminent risk of death by thirst. By good fortune they discovered water in a native well or soak, now known as the Skeleton Hut waterhole, on the Old Cow Plains--Pine Plains mail track. In the "Port Phillip Gazette" an account of Beilby's wanderings was published.

In 1850 he was associated with the Wedge brothers in Corhanwarrabul. Afterwards he had interests in Tirhatuan, Clow's Horse Station, and Glencairn. When the gold fever broke out he joined in the rush to the fields, but he gained little more than experience from his mining ventures.

Subsequently John Beilby became well known as a contributor to the press, and in 1869 in Edinburgh he published "The True Theory of the Earth and Philosophy of the Predicted End." This was republished in Melbourne 10 years later. In Melbourne he issued a succession of pamphlets on geology and mining. Later on (in 1887) "The Eastern Question in the Light of Unfulfilled Prophecies" was issued in Beechworth, where John Beilby remained in business till his death in 1902 [sic 1903], aged 83 years.

[This series of articles was begun in "The Argus" on August 14, 1934, and was transferred to "The Australasian" on October 6, 1934.]

1841/'46 : John Wood BEILBY's Reminiscences of his arrival and occupation of Strathdownie East and West and more ...

"The Herald" (Melbourne, Vic.) Friday, 7th March 1890.


A recent correspondent of one of the daily Melbourne journals, commenting upon one of my three published reminiscences, urged that I should commit all to the Press. I have always found a general interest taken in early colonial experiences, and up to this time last year, when my homestead was desolated by fire and manuscript and early journals destroyed, I had intended doing this. The circumstances alluded to in the heading of this letter I communicated to the Victorian Royal Society when the late Dr. Macadam was its secretary, many year ago. The narrative probably appeared to be too incredible to be placed on record here by the society, but it might well be recorded as a fact it fell to my lot to corroborate, and the origin is given at length in one of the early Blue Books containing evidence on secondary punishments in connection with exile to New South Wales and Tasmania, then penal colonies.

I was a pressman fully half a century ago. Mr David Blair contends that he is the oldest now extant in Victoria. It is a moot point, but I was a contributor to Tait's "Edinburgh Magazine" within the thirties. When checked in medical studies by a tedious illness, it was decided I should emigrate. There were then several colonies alike presenting advantages to an enterprising youth ; and I got an advocate's order to peruse at my leisure all records of Colonial Histories contained in the Advocate's Library of my native city, Edinburgh, then the only substitute there for a Public Library. I made copious extracts from Government Blue Books, etc., and was arranging with Waugh and Innes, then well known Edinburgh publishers, to compile a Cyclopędia of Histories of British Colonies, when I received a gratifying and responsible appointment. And had to abandon literary pursuit for the life of a colonist. In one of the New South Wales or Imperial Blue Books there was an account of the trial of a ship captain, who, having suffered shipwreck on a former voyage to Sydney, at Maria Island, or creek, on the south-east coast of South Australia, and he and his crew being maltreated, or murdered, by the natives, called in at the Cape on a subsequent voyage, and procured, and thence conveyed, a lioness, and had landed the beast by boat from his passing ship, towards the scene of his shipwreck catastrophe. Up to date of my fire, I had a record of the authorities quoted from.

At the end of 1840, Capt. Patrick Wood, of Dennistoun, Tasmania, father of the hon. John Dennistoun Wood (formerly Attorney-General and now barrister-at-law in Melbourne) and brother of John Wood, who was connected himself with the wealthy Dennistoun family of Glasgow, and whom I was named after, arranged for my management of his Crown grant of an extensive area in Western Australia. A vessel was chartered to proceed to the Cape and load thence with mares. Four married couples were engaged, and an ample station equipment, when information reached my principal that the Crown grant had been revoked, as conditions of stocking and occupation within a stated period had not been observed. Our scheme being frustrated, I emigrated here in March, 1841, bringing out the families and equipment, and became manager for the late Dr. afterwards Sir James Officer, of Tasmania, a relative by marriage of the Wood family. We held lands around Donnybrook, on Merri Creek, now Sir William Clarke's estate, as a sheep station. Our stock was destroyed by catarrh.

Now for facts enabling me to fully attest the narrative as to the lioness in South Australia. In the year 1844 I leased a herd of cattle, and mob of about 40 horse stock then depasturing on the King Parrot Creek, Goulburn River, from the late Captain Charles Hutton, well-known as a much esteemed Melbourne magistrate in early days, and father of Messrs Hutton Brothers, Clear Creek station, near Wangaratta ; and I had to strike out westward to find a new run for his stock and for my accumulating share of the increase. After six months or more of travelling with the stock, and taking up country, only to be ejected by Crown Commissioners in favor of earlier applicants, one holding that a license to occupy was the primary requisite, and another that possession with the stock on the territory claimed was a pre-requisite to application for license of occupation, I obtained undisputed possession of a large area between the Glenelg and Mount Gambier, consisting of limestone downs, with numerous caverns, in which, and winter-supplied lagoons, was an abundant water supply. I named our respective runs East and West Strathdownie, after an estate in the west of Scotland. Captain Hutton wished to alter the names to Strath Hutton and Strath Beilby, but the first names had got into Government charts, and were perpetuated to this day. Scrubby portions of the run, chiefly about Limestone Creek, on the Glenelg River frontage, were then a stronghold of marauding blacks. They had for a long period previously stolen flocks of sheep from the nearest Glenelg and Wannon station, driven them into the scrub, and kept them from escaping until they were consumed as food by breaking their hind legs. They had killed shepherds and hut-keepers, robbed huts, and speared horses and cattle. For months there was deadly strife between the advancing tide of settlers on new runs to the westward and a tribe of some three hundred vengeful blacks ; but, at last, the ringleaders were disposed of, and aboriginal families began to settle down quietly. I had afterwards several as shepherds, having added sheep to my stock, and they became gradually very useful to me.

When I was comfortably housed I found field mice abundant, and at last brought home from Portland, 70 miles distant, on my saddle, a lady cat, promising a family--the first taken into the Mount Gambier district. I afterwards got a couple of fat wethers from neighbors for each kitten. Pussy excited astonishment amongst the natives, and they had a lively jargon of their own about it. I sought from them the subject of their absorbing interest, and not one alone, but several middle aged men and women contributed the facts. "Long time," before, "big one, like that one," had suddenly appeared amongst natives farther west, had killed and eaten blackfellows, chiefly women, and then disappeared, and, later, was found dead in a limestone cavern it had descended into for water and could not climb out from. Many years ago a blackfellow was found in a cave at Penola in a fossilised state. The fossil encased man is now in the British Museum. I remember when it was then reported he had escaped from deadly carnage between settlers and blacks, and was entering the cave with his hand over where shot in the abdomen, just as found years afterwards. The lion, fossilised, or as bones of carnivora, may also probably be found. Is it not well to put the facts on record, as data, can still be put together proving their authenticity? But for the fire at my house I could have given book, chapter, and lines.--I am, etc., J. WOOD BEILBY. Beechworth. February.

1845/'47 : John Wood BEILBY's Reminiscences in 1891 of his time at Strathdownie from 1845 ...

"The Herald" (Melbourne, Vic.) Monday, 22nd June 1891.


Shortly after occupation of Strathdownie stations I began to find out who were my neighbors with whom to establish friendly relations. Traversing north-westerly one day I came on sheep tracks, and following them up, I came to the well-appointed homestead of John Edward and Alfred Bates, men recently from the Duck Ponds, near Geelong. The name of their new location was Kaladbro. West of their sheep station was a vast rushy and sandy waste I named the Dismal Swamp, a name I believe it still bears. South of this, to within the South Australian boundary, my run of East Strathdownie extended, until the Ardno and Limestone Ridge stations were severally purchased from me, to the curtailment of my area, which at first bounded with Edward Henty's station, at Mt Gambier, afterwards E. P. S. Sturt's. Sturt and partners Messrs Brodribb, had been my neighbors at Sunday Creek. West of Henty's or Sturt's, at Mt Gambier, there was a large sheep station held by the South Australian Pastoral Investment Company. There was no permanent surface water on their run. Wells were sunk, and caves with water in these were opened accessibly to stock. In fact, it was often found that on breaking through a thin flag of limestone, access to an inexhaustible supply or flowing subterranean stream was attained, and such water was always deliciously cool, sparklingly clear and fresh, but hard. In sinking to the level of these supplies it was often deemed prudent for the well-sinkers to work in rope slings, for the stone slabs sunk through proved occasionally to be only the roof of a vast cave. North-westerly were the wide areas occupied by Leake Brothers, settlers, originally from Western Australia. Their location was on Lake Leake ; south of them we had Glen and Davenport, and towards Guichen Bay a jovial, good-hearted gentleman, Mr Ormerod, from Shropshire, whose favorite form of asseveration was "By Shrewsbury Top." Southerly, towards the coast, was Mount Shanck sheep station, held, I think, by an aged settler named MacIntyre, and afterwards purchased by Captain Gardiner. The coast, from mouth of the Glenelg to Cape Northumberland, was held by the late Neil Black, whose hospitable homestead at Glen Ormiston, on Black river, east of the river Hopkins, was one of the then many places of very pleasant stay for the night for us, then young squatters, when travelling. Soon after I settled I showed Charles MacKinnon, brother of the late "Argus" proprietor, space for a sheep station near Lake Munday. Then David Power, uncle of Robert and Herbert Power, of Powers, Rutherford and Co., Melbourne, came with his stock to take up my Strathdownie area; and finding he was forestalled, he went on north westerly to the Avenue Station. The Hunter Brothers, of early Port Phillip equestrian renown, sons of Hunter, of Beechwood, near Edinburgh, a well-known Writer to the Signet there, and agent for the Marquis of Ailsa, who had invested largely in pastoral properties here, settled also to the north-west. One of the Hunter Brothers, Frank, was killed in the muster yard by a young bull while I was in the vicinity, prior to 1850.

The mode of taking up and securing possession as by priority of occupation of waste lands as runs on the then undefined boundary with South Australia was to mark the names of the claimants by cutting out or painting these on smooth bark gum trees of adequate calibre at the corners claimed, and blazing lines of trees between these points. Lang Brothers, previously holding a rather poorly grassed run on the coast, between the Glenelg River and the ocean, in conjunction with Dr Dickson, my early neighbor, whose stockman was killed by the blacks in 1841 on the Darebin Creek, had heard of the rich pastures I and others had discovered and occupied west of the Glenelg, and they also journeyed thither, and look up a run north of Lake Munday ; but their claim was disputed, and it was amusing to see the words on many of their carefully marked trees, "Lang Brothers," with the added words underneath of "and many others." But Dickson got a magnificent run for his herd at Maaahooop in the Penola district, and all the then comers got in some where, until even the heaths and mere swamps were occupied by small settlers' stocks.
My overseer, Roderick Urquhart, look up land adjacent to me, extending to the Lower Glenelg, joining Neil Black's, calling it Killeen [siv Kinkell]. His wages for self, and wife, as my housekeeper, were L40 a year, half in cash, half in picked yearling heifers at L1 each. This was the nucleus of his herd and of his lucrative dairy station, which he sold later on to become a land-owner near Mount Rouse, and ultimately thus became an opulent land and cattle station holder, now long since passed away.

Northeast of Strathdownie was Springbank Station, held then by stockkeepers for John M'Pherson, a very worthy old settler from the Sydney side, resident then, on as renting Lachlan M'Kinnon's station, at Mount Fyans. He was the paternal ancestor of the hon. John M'Pherson, an early Chief Secretary of Victoria. Then came Casterton, with only a public house and a blacksmith's shop. A little higher up the Glenelg was William Macpherson, resident, but whether as owner or manager for a relative of the same name, I forget now. He was the kindest and cheeriest genial friend to me, and enlivened evenings spent with him by Scotch songs. He met with a broken arm by some accident, and for a small wager, which he won, with scarcely a quaver in his voice, he sang Annie Laurie while his broken limb was being set ! In the heath at the back of his sheep run there were some huge granite or other boulders standing upright, much as Druidical stones are found in Europe, and quite as isolated from rocks of same character. I have never seen any recent account of these stones.

Northwards was Robert Savage's sheep station. That gentleman had been my neighbor, when, in 1844, I was in charge of the now named Flowerdale Station, on the King Parrot Creek, for Captain Charles Hutton, of Melbourne. Mr Savage, with his amiable and accomplished wife, then held a station well up on the Muddy Creek, above the then hamlet, but now important rising town of Yea. Mr Savage was afterwards an able writer on the staff of the "Argus," and may be so still, as living retired for many years inland few ever meet now.

Across the Glenelg from him were Willis and Swanston, large sheepholders from Tasmania. Then following the Glenelg River downwards, there was Rich Man Robertson, so named in distinction from rising men of same name westward, a small-sized man with a valuable little station at the junction of the Wando Creek with the Glenelg ; and having a most productive orchard, though the trees in it seemed unpruned, with their branches interlacing as in a thicket hedge. Then came the magnificently grassed-downs of Muntham ; the hospitable home of Mr Edward Henty, whose graphic details of his early adventures as one of the first settlers of Portland Bay, their conflicts with natives, stirring capture of whales, which even then were often witnessed within Portland Bay, sealing expeditions, cattle mustering dangers, from inter mixture of wild escapees, wild dog and emu hunting, etc., enlivened many a pleasant evening spent with him. Then there was Francis Henty's Merino Downs Station, south of the Wannon River, and up its lovely and fertile banks, and foliage sheltered lagoons, we had a talented scion of the Press, Alfred Arden, and farther up the river the M'Leods, Cecil Pybus Cook--afterwards of Lake Condam, to the south--and Samuel, George and Trevor Winter, Young and Turnbull, Major Mercer and others all genially hospitable to a roaming brother squatter.

Back southward from the River Wannon, two amiable and thorough gentlemen, John and George Coldham, sons of an English rector, held a beautifully sheltered hill and dale station on my route from Strathdownie to the Grange, now Hamilton, on way towards Geelong, and many a pleasant evening I enjoyed with them. They had been longer resident there than most of us new settlers farther to the west, and had surrounded themselves with not only ordinary comforts, but refinements, carrying one in imagination to the elegancies of their English home. They were indefatigable workers, like the rest of us young squatters then. They built their outstation huts, went for materials into distant forests ; split slabs and rails and stripped sheets of bark ; yoked up bullocks and got in dray loads of timber and firewood ; made sheep hurdles and shifted the hurdled sheep yards daily--in fact did all the station work but shepherding and watching the sheep at night. When sundown came, and their motherly, English housekeeper set their evening meal, they were again as polished and refined as if in their English home, and well-supplied from it with magazines and reviews. George died, I believe, soon after I left the district, in 1850. John attained celebrity as an after breeder of a racing stud, the parent mares of which he bought from me. They were bred by Dutton, Simpson, and Darlot, early settlers in South Australia. He called their offspring by names such as "Early Dawn," "Morning Light," but though I used to breed thorough-breds, I never was a lover of racing, and do not know how far these stock distinguished themselves and their owners and breeders. I have heard that John Coldham contributed an eminent barrister to the Victorian Bar, however.

There was a race meeting held at Belfast, Port Fairy in 1848 or '49, which was the most fascinating topic of conversation among the Mount Gambier squatters for months before the gathering took place, and many of them attended it. Rolf Bolderwood, I think, inimitably describes his part in it, as where he met the Mount Gambier squatters, whom he afterwards visited and portraits. I may have some early notices of them to allude to later on. About the time of this race meeting I had had a fall from an inadequately broken-in colt, and had the small bone of my right arm dislocated at the elbow. The arm swelled greatly, so that when I reached the nearest resident surgeon, Dr Macdonald, at his station, Glenanlin [sic Glenaulin], on the Crawford river, on horseback, about a thirty miles ride, he could not decide if it was broken or not, and only gave me a lotion to reduce inflammation, with which I was fain to return and hope for recovery. I got safely home, but though I got better as to abatement of pain, I did not recover the use of my arm. Weeks passed, and one day I was assisting at a cattle muster on Dr James Dickson's station, near Penola, some six weeks after the accident. Besides Dr Dickson, Dr Thomas Lang, a well known early colonist, brother of Gideon and Matthew Lang, was present, and the dislocation was examined and discussed, and my consent to its attempted reduction there obtained. In the evening a posse of men was introduced, and I was strapped back to the wall of the log hut we were in, a sheet tied round my wrist, and the strength of several men used to extend the arm. I did not sing Annie Laurie, however, for the skin of my hand threatened to crack and tear off, and they had to stop the effort to reduce the dislocation thus. It was decided I must go to Melbourne for best surgical aid available. In those days we were none of us flush of money. To procure it in quantity for stay in town and doctors' fees meant driving to market, then only at Geelong or Melbourne, a draft of fat cattle. However, in a week or two thereafter, I started with a stockman and some forty fat oxen for the considerable journey of some 280 miles, anticipating ten days or a fortnight's riding, and several campings out en route. First night, with able help of other riders, my nearest neighbor, Mr Scott, of Woodford's yard, was reached ; next night station of James Crawford, Rifle Downs, with, on opposite bank, the station of Peter Snodgrass, then just married--how time flies, to be sure, when the grandchildren grow up ! -- to Agnes, the daughter of Mr Cotton, an early neighbor of mine at Doogalook, on the Goulburn River, who had her sister, afterwards Mrs Charles Ryan, senior, of Ryan and Hammond, of Melbourne, staying with her. They were all early and genial acquaintances in those days. Poor Crawford died of a broken heart as a disconsolate lover soon after this period, and I had the melancholy satisfaction of nursing him to the end, and reading the English burial service over his grave at his homestead. Peter Snodgrass and wife were parents of Lady Clarke, etc. But this is premising.

The next stage was the Coldhams, at Grassdale, and it was the last for that draft, for being rather crowded in the small stockyard, only suited for yoking up a team of bullocks in, something frightened the animals, a crash in the night was heard, one side of the yard was levelled and the cattle off for home. Nothing could be done in the darkness to check their furious stampede, but before break of day the stockman and I were in the saddle, and running their tracks. For miles they had kept together, but hours before we were able to see to follow them, they had reached the dense forest lands then around Digby and the Rifle Ranges and there scattered to feed. They were sure to be deteriorated in condition in consequence. There was nothing for it but to return home for another small draft for Melbourne market. As this next journey introduced me to several of our earliest colonists when seeking their homesteads, to obtain safe yardage for my cattle, and for this purpose another route from that I had usually travelled on horseback to Geelong was adopted, I must leave its narration to a future paper. Everywhere, except for the few limited paddocks around homesteads, the country was open then to steer through by compass, and at every homestead there was ever an open-handed and hearty hospitality, while here and there the refining influences of ladies as wives and daughters revived the memories of our homes in the fatherland, of our gentle lady kindred there.

Links to Pioneer Names at...

Carapook & Muntham : Casterton : Chetwynd : Dartmoor : Digby : Harrow & Balmoral : Hotspur :

Merino & Henty : Sandford : Strathdownie : Wando Vale

Daryl Povey

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