Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Ercildoune - a farm at Lyndhurst - the McNab family days

In the last post  we looked at the Ercildoune property in Hall Road, Lyndhurst, which was owned by the Hall family from around 1860 (read about them, here) until it was put up for sale in September, 1917. It was then purchased by William and Mary McNab, this post is about their time at Ercildoune.

William Henry Duncan McNab and Mary Elizabeth Maud Miller were married in 1896 and had six children -
1. Mary Ethel (birth registered at Trafalgar, 1896; died 1901)
2. Henrietta Robertson (birth registered at Trafalgar, 1898. Married Frank Knight in 1938; died 1997)
3. William Donald (known as Donald - birth registered at Trafalgar, 1900; died 1979)
4. Annie Alice (birth registered at Trafalgar, 1901;  died 1995)
5. Charles Malcolm (birth registered at Trafalgar, 1904. Married Mabel Florence McLellan in 1938; died 1991)
6. Muriel Maud (birth registered at Alexandra, 1910. Married John Henry Thorburn in 1935; died 2002)

William died in 1930 and Mary died in 1957. As you can see by the places of registration of the births of the children, the family lived in the Trafalgar and Alexandra area before they came to Lyndhurst.

In 1929, Donald and Charles were interviewed by the Weekly Times September 7, 1929 about the farm at Lyndhurst. Interesting, given that Fred Hall of Ercildoune also gave an extensive interview to  a newspaper about the farm, in 1893 (read it here). You can read the full McNab article here - the parts of the article relating to Ercildoune and Cranbourne are below


It is probably well within the mark to say that nowhere else in the State is dairying conducted with a larger measure of financial success than in the Cranbourne district, which lies about 30 miles from Melbourne on the South Gippsland line.

In that centre not only is there a generous realisation of the value of silage but many, if not most, of the farmers deem it to be essential to make some each season, and they state unhesitatingly that without it they certainly would not be able to carry on so satisfactorily as they do. Various classes of fodder are utilised or the purpose, and all of them, apparently meet requirements.

 Maize, however, appears to be most favored, not only because it produces a big bulk of fodder, but also because it has the capacity for maintaining the stock in excellent condition, thus enabling them to make the utmost use of whatever other materials may be supplied to them. Latterly a fodder which has aroused much interest and claimed considerable cultural attention is Imphee. This is one of the members of the useful family of Sorghums. It is a hardy fellow, thrives vigorously under the conditions which obtain in the neighborhood of Cranbourne, and furnishes a surprisingly large amount of stuff. Amongst those who have a high regard for Imphee are Mr Wm. H. A. McNab, of "Ercildoune," and his two enterprising, keen and capable sons, Donald and Charlie.

When I called at "Ercildoune" on a recent memorable Friday — a day of chilling wind and saturating rain — I found that Mr McNab was absent at Dandenong, convalescing after a serious Illness. His sons were at first somewhat chary about being interviewed on the subject of their operations, but an hour's earnest talk with them revealed that they had a complete grip of everything.

Up to 11 years ago, when "Ercildoune," containing 246 acres, was purchased, the family had been established on the Goulburn at Cathkin. Mr McNab, sen., however, had long had his eyes on Gippsland, particularly the country of which Cranbourne may be said to be the centre, and when the Cathkin property was disposed of he transferred to the present holding, which has been augmented by the rental of an additional 166 acres.

The soil, for the most part, is of black loamy character, with a sprinkling of clay through it, and there is a clay subsoil throughout. This is fairly near to the surface, as is exemplified by the fact that there is scarcely a paddock in which each time it is used the plough does not turn up a certain amount of clay. The paddocks are of varying sizes, but average approximately 20 acres. A good deal more than half of the farm is under crop each year, and the crops grown include oats (about 100 acres), wheat (just a little for feed for the fowls),  Maize and Imphee. Japanese millet was cultivated regularly at one time, but lately it has been replaced by Imphee, which occupied an area of 20 acres last season.

Messrs. McNab are dairy farmers, and they believe in feeding their cows on a liberal scale. In fact, they pointed out, that is the only way to ensure a maximum production of milk. They have a fine herd of highly developed Ayrshire-Jersey cross cattle numbering, roughly, 100 head, and the actual milkers average 75 head throughout the year. There are three pure-bred pedigree Ayrshire cows, and Ayrshire and Jersey bulls are used.

As the whole of the milk is marketed for consumption in the metropolitan area, it is found possible to rear only two or three of the most promising heifers each year. The milking is done by hand. It is an invariable practice to grow a substantial supply of early green feed, and an idea of the character of this season's stand is conveyed by the photograph reproduced on this page in which Messrs. Donald and Charles McNab appear. [below]

Donald and Charles McNab at Ercildoune
Weekly Times September 7, 1929   http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article224402265

The crop consists of a mixture of barley, oats and wheat, the first named predominating. The seeding was done in February, and at the same time from 80 to 100lb. of super and bone an acre was distributed. Cutting for feeding was begun about the middle of August, when the last of the Imphee silage had been used. The cutting, of course, could have been started earlier had there been any necessity to do so. This crop was the best I saw in the district, where the exceptionally heavy rains have proved more or less detrimental to the later sown stands, which, in numerous instances, are uneven and contain yellowish patches. Messrs McNab cannot speak too highly of Imphee as a cattle fodder and they are of the opinion that all round it is markedly superior to Japanese millet.

They made three sowings during November, the areas having been 9, 8 and 3 acres respectively. The ground was ploughed in September with the mould board to a depth of 6 inches. "Why the mould board?" I inquired, and was informed that "it turns the soil over more effectively, and tends to drain the land better than when the disc is used." A little later a stroke was given with the harrows. The next operation was to roll. That was followed by a second ploughing to a depth of 3 inches and another harrowing preceded the seeding. The seed allowance was 10lb. an acre and the manure applied was bone and super which was used at the rate of 80lb. an acre. The crop made excellent progress, and the harvesting operations were carried out toward the end of April. Had the weather not been so wet the work would have been done earlier.

The intention had been to place the great bulk of the produce in stack for ensilage, but owing to unfavorable conditions, it was possible to utilise only eight acres for that purpose, the remainder of the crop, which stood about 9ft. high, having been cut and fed to the cows in the form of green chaff in the bails. Altogether the 20 acres of Imphee provided sufficient greenstuff to permit of four months' continuous feeding.

The portion of the crop converted into stack ensilage was cut with the reaper and binder. Before the stacking was begun a layer of straw was placed on the ground, with a view to minimise the wastage. I asked Messrs McNab for particulars of the method of building the stack, which they gave as follows : — The plan is to build first from the two sides. The sheaves are laid with the heads pointing toward the centre, and the butts outward, and they overlap one another to the length of the twine band. A second layer is then laid across the first, beginning at the ends, and again working toward the centre. The third tier is laid on the same lines as the first. The fourth layer resembles the second, and so until all the sheaves have been dealt with. Because of the greater shrinkage or pressure there, and so that there shall be slopes toward the ends and the sides, it is necessary to see that the centre is kept higher throughout than the sides and ends. When completed the stack is covered with a layer of straw a foot deep. Pieces of timber are then placed along the sides on top of the straw, and they are kept in position by fastening them to lengths of wire stretched across the stack.

Bags filled with sand are next laid along the timbers to prevent the 6-inch layer of sand, which is ultimately placed over the top of the straw covering, from slipping or washing off. By building the stack in this manner a good, even compression is secured, and the loss of fodder on the outside extends in to a depth of only about six inches. The feeding of the silage is usualIy begun toward the end of June. The sheaves, which come out in beautiful order, are put through the cutter, mixed with oaten chaff, and fed in the bails. The silage is relished by the cattle, which milk splendidly on it.

Maize is deemed to be practically indispensable, and an area of 9 or 1.0 acres was devoted to the crop last season. At one time Hickory King was grown almost exclusively, but lately it has been almost entirely replaced by Red Hogan. which has proved the more successful. Seeding is begun toward the end of October, and continued until about Christmas, three or four separate sowings being made. The maize has been used for ensilage as well as for feeding in the green state.

Last season, when only two lots were sown, the fodder was chaffed and fed night and morning with oaten chaff in the bails. The seed is distributed through a maize drill, which places the rows about 2ft. 3in. apart, so that the scuffler can be used to keep the weeds down and conserve the soil moisture. About 1 cwt. Of No. 2 complete manure an acre is applied. On occasions the crop has attained a height of 12ft., but the average is approximately 8ft. The maize is harvested with a cornbinder, which is a fine labor-saving machine. Before it was introduced three men took half a day to cut sufficient maize to meet the needs of a day. With the binder, Messrs. McNab's informed me enough fodder can be cut in an hour to suffice for two days.

Last season the oats on "Ercildoune" did remarkably well, and the crop in one paddock aroused wide spread interest in the district, because of its exceptional growth and admirable quality. The average height exceeded 5 feet, and the chaff has been going 110 lb. to the new-bag. The paddock of 24 acres on which it was grown, has produced eight crops in 10 years. The variety favored is Algerian, and the sowing for the main crop is done from toward the end of March and into April, 2¼ bushels of seed and 80 to 1001b. of manure an acre being distributed. Hay cutting takes place usually about mid-November. The only concentrate fed to the cows is bran, which is supplied during about nine months of the year. Its use in spring is not considered to be necessary. Each member of the herd in milk receives a couple of large handfuls of bran in each feed.

All of the ploughing on "Ercildoune" is done with a tractor, which has no difficulty in hauling a four-furrow implement and gives a satisfactory service.

What else do we know about the family? The McNab family are written up in the book, 100 Years in Skye, 1850 – 1950 by Dot Morrison (Mornington Peninsula Family History Society, 2004) Mrs Morrison has this interesting anecdote about Donald – in 1910 he was badly bitten by bull ants and as a result of this his leg was amputated. Around 1920 he became an accountant after studying by correspondence.

Being of Scottish descent it is not surprising that the family was involved with the Presbyterian Church at Lyndhurst and Cranbourne – there are reports of Mrs McNab holding a ‘house party’ at Ercildoune to raise funds for the Church. I think 'house party' had a different meaning then than what it does now.  Charles’ marriage to Mabel McLellan united the family with another of Scottish descent, the McLellans.  Mable was the daughter of George and Margaret (nee Close) McLellan, who had a dairy farm at Taylors Road in Skye. Just before the wedding took place, the couple were entertained at a social gathering in the Lyndhurst Hall before their marriage. They received a tea set from the Lyndhurst Presbyterian congregation, and a chiming clock and silver fruit dish from Lyndhurst residents and the social club. (The Argus, March 17, 1938) Their marriage which was written up in various newspapers, took place at Scots' Church in Dandenong.

Mrs Morrison also writes that after William died the farm was divided between the two sons, Donald and Charles. Donald had the Ercildoune homestead block and Charles had other land which he named Strathlea.  Charles had a Guernsey stud on Strathlea and that was still in the McNab family until at least 2004.  In 1960,  Ercildoune was sold to Harold Grieves and Donald and his sister Annie, who were both unmarried, moved to Cranbourne.

I have created a list of newspaper articles on the Ercildoune property on Trove, you can access it here. All the articles referenced here are on the list.

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