Wednesday, 30 December 2015

A day in the Fen Country: Mr Lyall’s Breeding Stations by R. M'D.

The Leader newspaper of March 14, 1868 had a lengthy account of William Lyall's agricultural pursuits in the Fen Country. The Fens in England was a large area marshland which was reclaimed by drainage from around the 1650s to the 1800s. As Lyall's land bordered the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp it was logical name for the area. This article is of interest for  a number of reasons - it gives  a great description of the land between Cranbourne and Tooradin and Lang Lang before the Swamp was drained - it's a landscape that is much different from today when you drive doen the South Gippsland Highway. Secondly there is the total acceptance of aims of the Acclimatisation movement - where fauna from the United Kingdom was introduced into Australia  (the rabbit being the 'best' example of this). Thirdly, I like the rivalry between Cranbourne and Berwick displayed by 'mine host' at Cranbourne.

I have edited the article , you can read the full article on Trove here http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article197424726


It is once in seven years that I visit the fen country. That period I hold to be about the proper interval of time between one visit and another to a district that one is not intimately connected with by either birth or business. It is sufficiently long to note any progressive changes that have taken place in the scenes around one; and it is sufficiently short to enable the memory to recall the exact state of former things. My late visit has been superinduced in this way. Having occasion to penetrate into the County of Mornington the length of Cranbourne, not so much to refresh myself as the little nag that carried me thither,  I pulled up about midday at a respectable place of entertainment 'for man and beast.'
After the usual salutations, ‘and something more’ with mine host, this town, said I, inquiringly, is the capital of Mornington. 'It ought to be' said my sonsie [healthy, robust] friend but at present it is stripped of its dues.' 'How so?' said I. ' Not,' replied he ‘because it lacks any of the natural advantages that are essential to constitute a fine inland toon. We have around us the  finest agricultural land, plenty of wood, and water, honest men and bonny lasses; but that outlandish place, Berwick, has taken the agricultural show from us, for this season.' 'Is Berwick not equally suitable as a showground?' said I. 'Bless, you’ said my friend, 'will William Lyall, with his hares and pheasants and partridges; with his ponies and racers and Punches [type of draught horse] and with his enormous English sheep, and white-faced cattle, go there? Not he; it is too far away, and what can be the good of the show?'


I stood the whole of this lively recital with admirable composure, until mention was made of the ' white-faced cattle,' when former recollections of 'Old Star' and her offspring rushed in upon me, and the disposal of the morrow was very summarily' decided. A few more minutes and I was jogging on my way….. in the direction of- Tooradin, the nearest homestead or 'head station’ as we used to call such establishments, of the father of acclimatisation in Victoria - William Lyall.



This is the Acclimatisation Society's medal - which shows some of the animals introduced to Victoria - deer, ostrich, pheasant, swan, rabbit and  hare.
State Library of Victoria Image IAN20/06/68/8   


My way, for a considerable distance after leaving 'the toon o' Cranbourne,' lay through a track of country extremely dreary and suggestive of immediate action on the part of the Acclimatisation Society, in stocking its heathy hummocks with grouse and blackcock from the 'Land o' Cakes’ Then I wended on through a stunted forest of the unenviable sort of  timber commonly called ‘bastard box,' from which I at last emerged into a prairie of considerable extent, and, as far as I could judge perfectly level. This plain, through some agency that I do not here undertake to explain, is evidently year by year becoming larger.  The trees are decaying all around its margins, and stand there in thousands, branchless and bleached with the action of the weather. And here, as everywhere, else, where this decay of the forest sets in, the pasturage is very perceptibly improved. The surface soil,  in the first place, is being materially enriched with the deposit shed from dying timber; while the subsoil is not only spared the former exhaustion through the medium of the root, but is actually benefited by the presence of that root now in a state of decomposition. 

The improvement which  took place in this Plain of  Sherwood [Parish of Sherwood], since my former visit, may therefore be partly ascribed to this mysterious decay of the forest, partly to the present treatment of the pasturage (sheep grazing), and in a great measure to the free and fertilising action of the sun upon the surface. This plain, in fee simple, I am informed, is the property of an old and well known colonist, who is now for some years absent from the colon - Mr John Bakewell. It does not require the precision of prophecy to foretell that it will become, at some future day, a princely estate. It already, in natural richness and levelness, invites the presence of the steam plough; but while in a sort of reverie…. I arrived at my destination for the day, Tooradin.





This is William Lyall (1821 to 1888) on the left and John Mickle (1814 to 1885), taken in 1853. 
Photo from The Good Country: Cranbourne Shire by Niel Gunson

Mickle, Lyall and John Bakewell (1807 to 1888) were business partners who in 1851  acquired the Yallock Run (based on the Yallock Creek, south of Koo-Wee-Rup). In 1852 they acquired the Tooradin run and in 1854 they acquired the Great Swamp run and at one stage they occupied nearly all the land from Cranbourne to Lang Lang.  Lyall's sister Margaret was married to John Mickle. 


I had the good luck of finding the 'Laird' at home; but the day was too far gone to admit of seeing anything in the way of stock, beyond what some fashionable writers of  the day call 'the sires of the season'  The writer then goes on to describe the horses, including the redoubtable Dockin, famous in every show yard as the first prize Shetlander. He was supposed to be good when first purchased, in his native little island….twelve or thirteen years ago; but he is now known to be good, not wholly for winning so many fields, but for getting an innumerable race of crack animals.

The next day Lyall and the writer reviewed the sheep - These are exclusively of pure Romney Marsh blood, and spring from six or seven ewes and a ram of that breed imported  by Mr Lyall nine or ten years ago. He was induced, I believe, in a greater degree to try this breed on the Fen country from the adaptability its name indicated, than from any personal knowledge he has had of this variety of sheep; however that, maybe, the experiment has resulted to his satisfaction.  The little 'mob' now amounts to about seventy head and all of them, from the patriarch of the flock to the youngest lamb, are in fine blooming health.

They then go to view the white faced cattle and …there beamed the lovely countenances of 'Old Star' and her numerous offspring. There, the old cow stood, on the eve of bringing the thirteenth calf (her fourteenth, should she bring twins) within ten years. At the R.A.S show at Salisbury in 1857, where she stood first as the ‘best heifer in milk in calf’ she was probably as perfect a specimen of the Hereford breed as was ever seen.

The writer then has a number of paragraphs about Lyall’s cattle when they then went to see Lyall’s house, Harewood, which was under construction. Here tradesmen were busy in finishing a mansion, intended for the laird's residence. This is built of brick, on a sand hill, on the very shore of Western Port. We soon toddled up stairs to get a survey of the outlines of the district.  The dimensions of the windows were just sufficiently liberal herein to gratify my curiosity. These I found, when my surprise subsided a little to be somewhere about eighteen inches in breadth, and about four feet in height. 'What on earth' said I, 'induced you to have the windows so small?' 'This, my good fellow, in our climate, is the right sort,' replied the laird.' You never saw a more absurd or unprofitable thing' continued he ‘than first to make large windows to let in the whole blaze of day light and heat upon you, and then to send off the dray for a load of 'soft goods' to keep that light and heat out again’.



Harewood. Photographer: John T. Collins, taken April 1975. 
The photo clearly shows the windows that are about eighteen inches in breadth, and about four feet in height  that raised the curiosity of  the writer.  
State Library of Victoria  Image H97.250/1833 

My eye, by this time, was ranging to the far north, where the Dandenong mountains towered up to the clouds. Nearer to me, in that direction, not a feature was sufficiently prominent to attract my attention.  The whole expanse was one dead solitude….On turning to the south, there, away in the distance, gloomy and sombre, lay French Island and the whole bosom of the calm bay between us, thickly dotted with sea fowl and waterfowl of several varieties, whose names were as unknown to me as was their gabble, which, at moments of apparent excitement, became a perfect 'Babel.' In fact, the whole scene became too grand for a person of my temperament. I began to get a little melancholy.

Off we were again to Yallock, Mr Lyall's furthest away station. It is here the sheep are washed and shorn, for here is a running stream of fine soft water [Yallock Creek], and clean pasture to preserve the fleece, in the interval between washing and shearing, in a state of purity. The woolshed is here, too, but at the present juncture, it is converted into a stable for the colts which are undergoing a slight modicum of training, ere being brought to the hammer during the present month. ….. And, to be candid, I saw something else here that please me more than any sight of thorough-bred colts would. 'The man who makes two blades of grass grow where one grew before is a benefactor to his country.' But at Yallock, four blades are growing now to the one that grew there during my former visit. The various kinds of clovers sown around the swamp and on the sheepfolds are spreading fast and taking possession of every spot of broken surface. The close and cutting treading of the flocks too is polishing and consolidating the surface, and thus effecting a constant improvement. In fact so rapid, now-a-days, is the march of improvement in the Fen country that henceforth I see clearly, if I am , to keep myself properly posted up, I must reduce the period between my visits to one-half its former duration, that is, from seven to three and a-half years.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Mr Ablethorpe's orchard at Gembrook

The Leader newspaper of March 14 1903 had an interesting report on the Beaconsfield, Gembrook and Pakenham Horticultural and Fruit Growers' Association. The report said that it was one of the 'most progressive of  its kind in Victoria' and was one of the largest in the State. The article continues on describing some of the orchards in the area and finishes up with an interesting description of Mr Ablethorpe's farm at South Gembrook, which grew a veritable cornucopia of  fruits and berries.  You can read the full article here on Trove.

Charles and Emma Ablethorpe are listed in the 1903 Electoral Roll at Gembrook South. Charles died in 1904 at the age of 67 and is buried at Pakenham Cemetery. Emma is listed in the 1909 Electoral Roll and Emma is still at Gembrook South in the 1913 Rolls. Emma married Henry Lello in 1919, and they lived in Northcote and she died July 5, 1922 and Henry died three years later. We have met Emma before in this blog as she was one of 30,000 Victorian women who signed a petition agitating for female suffrage in 1891. You can read more about this here.

Here is the account of Mr Ablethorpe's orchard

Twelve years ago Mr. C. Ablethorpe established a 9-acre orchard at South Gembrook, and, in conjunction with his son-in-law, Mr. Warren, this small plantation has been worked without the aid of outside labor. There are some remarkable examples of the district's adaptability to fruit culture, as the trees and plants comprise apples, pears, peaches, oranges, lemons, plums, quinces, grapes, wineberries, tree tomatoes, chestnuts, white and red currants, gooseberries, Cape gooseberries,
raspberries, strawberries, figs, cherries, loquats and other fruits. Some apricot trees were chopped out, and black currants fail to set. Peaches and gooseberries form the leading fruits in this compact but prolific orchard, and the results are attained solely by means of hand cultivation. A vine hoe (a five pronged implement) is used. The orchard  being on a steep slope the soil is pulled over once a year by means of the long prongs, the only other implement used being an ordinary hoe. The growth of tree tomatoes here is remarkable, and as Mr. Ablethorpe often receives up to 14/ per case, and never less than 4/, it is surprising that more attention is not given by gardeners to this ornamental and profitable plant. There are 4000 gooseberry bushes, producing an annual average of 10 tons of fruit, the yield sometimes reaching as high as 15 tons. The fruit trees are planted at 24 feet distances with gooseberry bushes 8 feet apart in two rows between the trees. 

Mention might be made of the work carried on by several other growers in Gembrook and Beaconsfield, but at present Mr. Ablethorpe's orchard may be noted as a remarkable example of what can be done on a few acres in the Gembrook and Beaconsfield districts. Nine acres have practically supported two families for the past twelve years, and the limit of production is certainly not yet in sight.


Gathering gooseberries at Gembrook (c. 1882 to 1902)
Photographer: Charles Rudd  
State Library of Victoria Image H39358/73

Monday, 7 December 2015

Robinson's Grocery store at Pakenham

If you grew up in Pakenham or shopped at Pakenham in the 1950s to 1980s then chances are that you would have shopped at Robinsons Grocery shop or Robinson's 4 Square or Robinson's SSW -  so here is a look at the history of Robinsons in Pakenham.

Stanley Clarke Robinson was born in 1891 to Edward Walton and Emma (nee Basham) Robinson. In the 1914 Electoral Rolls they are listed at Leongatha - Edward is a ‘boot dealer’, Emma, home duties and Stanley is listed as a grocer. In 1914, Stanley married Mary Ellen Knox. As far as I can work out they had five children – Errol Gordon in  1916; Nancy Mary in 1918 (died age 5 in 1924); Joan died in 1922 (not sure when she was born); Jack Stanley in 1924 (died 1945) and Alan Edward  in 1927.
In 1924, they were still at Leongatha (according to the Electoral Rolls) - he was grocer and Mary Ellen’s occupation was Home duties. In the 1925 Electoral Rolls they are both listed at Main Street, Pakenham East (as it was known at the time)

We can fairly accurately pinpoint when they arrived in Pakenham in 1925 by a series of advertisements in the Pakenham Gazette.  


In the March 27, 1925 issue we have the McAfee Bros advertisement as usual.


The next week, April 3, 1925 we have this intriguing ad – ‘Watch this space’


One week later (April 10 1925)  we see that S.C Robinson has taken over McAfee Brothers and he is advertising ‘The House for Good Value’  - grocery, drapery, boots and shoes, produce and ironmongery. 


A small article from the Pakenham Gazette of April 3 1925 confirms the purchase, even though the information about Mr Robinson being ‘late of Sunbury’ does not tally with the Electoral Rolls, however is confirmed by his obituary in the Pakenham Gazette in 1957.


The Shire of  Berwick Rate Books (see above) show that Stanley Robinson leased a shop, grain store and house from David McAfee (or family members) from 1925 until 1949. In 1949 the properties were purchased in the names of Stanley, Mary Ellen and Errol Robinson.




S.C Robinson operated as a general store keeper until around 1953 when he started advertising his new gift shop (see the two advertisements, above)  At the same time (1953) E.G Robinson and A.E Robinson began advertising as General Merchants, so I presume that his sons took over the business and Stanley ‘retired’ to his gift shop. Around November 1958, E.G and A.E Robinson became a 4 Square Grocery Shop. They later became a SSW and then sold to Safeways.


Advertisement from the Pakenham Gazette 1953


Advertisement from the Pakenham Gazette November 1958


Stanley died on September 19, 1957. His obituary (reproduced left, from the Pakenham Gazette of September 20, 1957) confirms that he was an active member of the Presbyterian Church, as well as the Masonic Lodge. There is a  Memorial stained glass window at the Uniting Church in Pakenham, commemorating Mr Robinson, dated 1960, obviously placed there when the new Presbyterian Church was opened on October 1 1960. His son,  Errol, was the Session Clerk and Chairman of the Building Committee at the time of the construction of the new church. There is a report in the Pakenham Gazette of October 7 of the opening.  The dedication ceremony was on the Saturday and the furnishings were dedicated at the service the next day. The list in the Gazette includes the window in memory of Mr S.C Robinson and a pew in memory of Nancy Robinson. There is also a pew in memory of  Flight Sergeant Jack Robinson. 

Jack was the second of Stanley's sons to enlist to serve in World War two - Errol enlisted in the Air Force in August 1941 and was discharged in September 1945; Jack enlisted in February 1942 in the Army and then in 1943 he transferred to the Air Force. He died on January 19, 1945. He was a member of Beaufighter crew engaged in non-operational flight which crashed in a heavy snow storm in Lincoln in England. Alan enlisted in May 1945 and was discharged in January 1947.

Sadly, the day of the small owner operated grocery store is nearly over and this market segment has been taken over by the two big players, Coles and Woolworths, so there would be very few people who could these days list their occupation as 'grocer' like Stanley Robinson could.





This is Robinson's SSW store in Main Street, Pakenham - (circa late 1970s- early 1980s)  It was later taken over by Safeways and is now the IGA. Safeways (now Woolworths)  moved to its new building behind Main Street around 1984.