Friday, 11 June 2021

George and Margaret McLellan's farm, Ellerslie, at Lyndhurst

On August 8, 1908 The Leader newspaper had an article on Dairying in the Lyndhurst district. This was the start of the first paragraph - At Dandenong the two Gippsland railways diverge. The next station on the South Gippsland line is Lyndhurst, distant twenty-three, miles from Melbourne. Conveniently situated with regard to the metropolis, it is only to be expected that the district would be dotted with dairy farms. From the local station a considerable quantity of whole milk is daily railed direct to Melbourne. In this connection a Sunday railway service proves of great value to the suppliers (1)

One of these dairy farms dotted around Lyndhurst, was owned by George and Margaret McLellan. Their farming operations were reported on in newspapers in 1908  and 1912 and give us a general  insight into the life of a farmer and a specific insight into their farm management.  The farmer's life is often romanticised, but in reality it is a life of long hours all year round, coping with the vagaries of the weather, the high cost of feed if it is needed to be bought in and the cost of labour. The McLellans supplied milk to the Melbourne market which as the 1908 article pointed out in this connection it is well to remember that a supplier to a city milk distributing firm is bound to supply a certain minimum quantity all the year through. He cannot, like the butter factory supplier, let his cows go dry when the feed fails, but must, in one form or an other, provide them with the wherewithal to produce a normal yield of milk during every day in the year (2).

Mr G. A. McLellan's Ayrshire Herd, at Lyndhurst
 Weekly Times September 29, 1917

The two articles basically cover the same ground, so I transcribed only the 1912 article, which is below. Of interest is the fact that this article actually mentions George's wife. The reality is that on family farms the wife played just a large as role as the husband, but she is rarely mentioned in any other articles I have come across. 

Before we look at the McLellan's farm, we will have a look at the McLellan family. George's father Donald, a Scotsman, took up land in Lyndhurst around 1853. In 1857 he married Catherine  McMillan and they had seven children - Dugald (1859), John (1859), Margaret Ann (1862), Alexander Malcolm (1863), Archibald (1865-1868), George Archibald (1872) and Mary Flora (1870). They were all raised on the farm, called Ellerslie, Taylor's Road, Lyndhurst. It is George Archibald who is the subject of this story. George married Margaret Close in 1905. She was the daughter of James Close and his wife Louise Hall. They were both locals, the Close family owned Willowdale, on Cranbourne Frankston Road (read about Willowdale  here). Louise was a Hall from Ercildoune in Hall Road, Lyndhurst (read about Ercildoune, here). (3).

George and Margaret had three children, Gladys (born 1907, married Keith Bedwell in 1935); Mabel (born 1910, married Charles McNab in 1938. The McNabs owned Ercildoune after the Hall family, read about this here) and George Archibald (born 1916, married Barbara Perry in 1945). George had taken over the family farm, Ellerslie, and in turn it was taken over by his son, George, who was still on the farm in 2004 (4). George snr died on December 2, 1958, aged 87. Margaret, died on September 14, 1958, aged 85.  They were both cremated at the Necropolis at Springvale. (5).

The 1908 article was in The Leader, on August 8, 1908 (read it here) The article, below, was in the South Bourke and Mornington Journal of March 21, 1912 (see here)

Mr. Geo. McLellan's Dairy Farm. The Economics of Dairying.
 Dairymen engaged in the supply of whole milk for the metropolitan area find that the season is entirely unfavorable. The heavy rains of winter rendered the land so boggy that the sowing of the usual crops was rendered more or less impossible. In the few cases where Algerian oats were sown the yield was extremely poor. In many instances not more than a ton of hay to the acre was harvested. Immediately on the heels of this excessively wet period set in a spring notably lacking in rain. The sodden ground soon set hard, and again almost defied ploughing. Where such fodder crops as maize, sorghum and millet were sown the results have been extremely unsatisfactory. October and November were remarkably deficient in moisture. There was a fair precipitation in December. Since then there has been an abnormally rainless interval. 

About the end of January the pastures began to dry up to almost incredible extent. Contemporaneously the milk yield of the cows has fallen to unpayably low averages. This is a general consensus of opinion amongst dairymen that the manner in which the flow of milk from the cows has dwindled is almost without precedent. It is now tolerably certain that all the fodder crops are failures. With good hay at drought prices, and bran costing about £6 a ton on the farm, hand feeding is necessarily a costly item. It is claimed by some of our most capable dairymen that even with milk selling at 1/ a gallon it is not possible just now to do more than cover working expenses. There is no profit for the producer.

One of Mr McLellan's best milkers

A Typical Case
Mr. George McLellan, of Lyndhurst, is a well-known dairyman engaged mainly in the production of whole milk for the metropolitan area. He is one of the leading Ayrshire breeders of the State, and his fine representatives are frequent prize winners at many of our important agricultural shows. His cows are bred largely on utilitarian lines, and the Ayrshires from this farm are an unusually good lot of milkers. The figures of such a farmer are therefore instructive, since there can be no question as to the good dairy character of his milking herd. The animals are also well fed-almost too well fed, one is inclined to suggest, having regard to the heavy cost of concentrates at the present time. 

The fodder supplied to three good milkers. 
The pumpkin was a soft skinned American pumpkin named the Mammoth is successfully grown, and is found of great value. It has the special quality of not requiring to be cut up before being fed to the cows. As its name suggests, it grows to a large size, is a heavy yielder, and provides a wholesome, succulent fodder at a time when other green feed is scarce (6). 
Image: The Leader August 8, 1908

The farm consists of 320 acres, of  which about 50 acres is under crop each year. About 30 acres of Algerian oats are sown in autumn, while some 20 acres are seeded with Hickory King maize at the first convenient opportunity in spring. At the present time 44 cows are being milked. They consume each week 134 bushels of bran and 2 tons of chaff. In addition to the continuous service of Mr. McLellan and his wife the dairying absorbs hired labour costing £4 10/ per week. Fixed charges, such as rent or interest on the value of the land, interest on the capital sunk in stock and working plant, depreciation and rates and taxes, amount to £5 per week. 

So far, the milk is selling at 11d. per gallon. The weekly expenditure (7) is therefore as follows:
134 bushels of bran at £6 per ton.. £  8  0  0
2 tons of chaff at £3 ... .................. £  6  0  0
Wages ... ... ... .... .......................... .£  4 10 0
Fixed charges ... ............................ £  5  0 0
Railway freights..............................£  1 0  0
Total expenditure............................£24 10 0
Sale of 525 gallons at 11d.............  £24 1  3
Profit on sale of stock . ..................£ 2  0  0
                                                               £26 1 3

Lyndhurst Railway Station - the milk from the McLellan farm was sent
 to Melbourne from this Station.
Image: The Great Southern Railway: the illustrated history of the building of the line in South Gippsland by Keith Macrae Bowden. (Australian Railway Historical Association, 1970)

Charges that are ignored
According to this statement, Mr M'Lellan and his wife work hard all through the week, and at the end of it are, strictly speaking, less than two pounds in pocket. This is an accurate review of the financial position of a capable dairyman under the conditions that have obtained during the last months, and which are likely to continue for several months longer. 

The question not unnaturally arises, why does the dairyman continue at such a poorly remunerative industry? There are two answers. One is that it is not always an easy matter to get out of a going concern. The other is that, like many other men on the land, this farmer ignores several charges which are essentially a part of the cost of production. For instance, the farm itself is worth from £3300 to £3500. At four and half per cent. this represents £156 per annum. Plant, including implements, horses, vehicles, engines, cans, etc., represents an outlay of £675. As the wear and tear is heavy, depreciation of at least eight per cent. should be allowed for by the owner. In other words, he is content to make a fair return over actual working expenses without paying due regard to those fixed charges which are always a recognised item in any correct balance sheet.

Labor Problems
It may be argued that Mr McLellan could have reduced his cost of feeding by growing fodder crops on the farm. To some extent this claim would appear to have a sound basis. As a matter of fact, a good area is placed under maize each year, and a portion of the crop is converted into ensilage. But when this point was submitted to Mr. M'Lellan he pointed out that it was impossible to go in for much cultivation nowadays. The labor problem, he avers, will not only prevent the dairyman from extending his cultivation as he would like, but will actually compel him to restrict it. The growing of fodder crops on right lines, their cutting, storing and hand feeding, are all operations calling for a large supply of
reasonable cheap and efficient labor. At the present time this seems to be out of the question; therefore the dairyman will be able to produce less fodder for the regular nutrition of his cows. 

It is pointed out that the claims of the Rural Workers' Union will represent on an average farm a weekly payment of from 70/ to 80/to each adult worker. If the eight hours' principle is cancelled, and overtime and other concessions are allowed-according to the scale formulated by the union-it is pretty safe to say that the average dairyman will have to pay £4 a week for each man he employs. A scrutiny of Mr. M'Lellan's balance sheet will show how impossible it is that his wages should be thus doubled.
(South Bourke and Mornington Journal March 21, 1912, see here.  The article was originally published in The Leader)

Trove list - I have created a list of articles connected to the McLellan family on Trove, access it here.

(1) The Leader, August 8 1908, see here.
(2) The Leader, August 8 1908, see here.
(3) Information in this paragraph comes from 100 Years in Skye 1850-1890, by Dot Morrison (Mornington Family History Society, 2004) 
(4) This information is from 100 Years in Skye 1850-1890, by Dot Morrison, as above and reports on the family in the local papers, see my Trove list, here.
(5) Margaret's death and funeral notice were in The Age, September 15, 1958 and George's death and funeral  notice in The Age of December 3, 1958.

Margaret's funeral notice in The Age September 15, 1958

George's death notice in The Age December 3, 1958

(6) The Leader, August 8 1908, see here.
(7) It is hard to get the columns to line up. The figures show pounds, shillings and pence - hence total expenditure is 24 pounds, ten shillings and no pence and total income is 26 pounds, one shilling and three pence.

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