Friday, 19 February 2021

Farming at Berwick - 1876

This account of farming at Berwick was published in the Melbourne Leader of March 25, 1876 (see here). It talks about three farmers, James Gibb (spelt in this article as Gibbs), Robert Buchanan and James Buchanan. James Gibb (1843 - 1919) was a farmer, Shire of Berwick Councillor and politician. He owned Melville Park (later called Edrington).  You can read his obituary in the Weekly Times, March 8 1919, here. Robert Buchanan, who died in 1899 at the age of 74, owned Burnbank at Berwick. His brother James (1827-1914) owned Ardblair. You can read James' Australian Dictionary of Biography entry, here. The brothers were born in Scotland and arrived in Victoria in 1849. It is interesting that the article considers that the special feature of the district is, however the manufacture of cheese by what is known as the Cheddar process.


Berwick in 1877, the year after the article was written. 
Wood engraving published in The Australasian Sketcher, October 27, 1877.

Farming at Berwick - From our travelling reporter
The prosperous-looking little township of Berwick is situated twenty-eight miles east ward from Melbourne, and is passed through by the main Gippsland-road at the point where it crosses the southern extremity of the Dandenong range. The district by which the township is surrounded formed originally the squatting station of Captain Gardiner, who purchased the best of the run from the Crown by auction and cut it up in farms, and resold it about twenty years since. Most of the original purchasers are still in possession of their holdings. The farming country much resembles that of the Kangaroo Ground and the Lower Plenty, being hilly, heavily timbered, and composed of dark basaltic soil, which is for the most part richest and deepest on the tops of the rises. The district, in soil and general appearance, resembles also that of Drysdale, and judging from a sample exhibited at the show held during my visit it appears to possess a similar adaptability for onion growing. Its capabilities in this direction are however yet undeveloped, the sample being an isolated one. 

The opening of the Gippsland railway, one of whose stations is to be at Berwick, will probably have the effect of directing attention to this profitable crop, and in the way that the opening of the Creswick railway has developed potato-growing in the Bullarook district will likely produce a similar result here. The Berwick district used to produce potatoes largely during its earlier career, when the work of clearing the farms from timber was being carried on, and when the high prices ruling for potatoes  handsomely repaid the carriage. During their career the settlers of the district have had their experiences of the unprofitableness of attempting cereal farming alone with harvests of wheat and other grain have been obtained, but these have been alternated with seasons of thin crops, and rust, which  while diminishing the profits of the farmer pointed out to him the necessity for a rotation of crops, combined with stock and cultivated grasses. 

The special feature of the district is, however the manufacture of cheese by what is known as the Cheddar process. So rapidly has this industry spread in the district that there are few farms which are not engaged in it. Amongst the few exceptions is the farm of Mr. Jas Gibbs, the president of the local agricultural society. This farm comprises Captain Gardiner's original pre-emptive selection, with a half section afterwards added, making the total holding now 960 acres. Mr. Gibbs devotes his attention to draught stock breeding, his stud comprising a very superior selection of brood mares, and the recently imported stallion King of the Valley, purchased, by his present proprietor at a cost of 1000 guineas. In addition to what he requires for his own stock, Mr. Gibbs grows a large quantity of oaten hay for the supply of Cobb and Co's. Gippsland line of mail horses. The cropped portion of the farm is worked in rotation, with cultivated pasture, on which some good long-woolled sheep are kept. The hay is stacked with the latest labor-saving derrick appliances and put into marketable form by means of handy chaff-cutting and bagging arrangements. Mr. Gibbs's barn and stabling accommodation is roomy and substantial, and the farm generally presents a most creditable air of trimness and order.

To Messrs. Jas. and Robert Buchanan the district is chiefly indebted for the introduction of cheese-making, an industry that is spoken of by all who have tried it as the most remunerative branch of husbandry they have yet had experience of. The Messrs.Buchanan are among the earliest of the Berwick settlers, having settled upon a 640 acre section which they purchased and worked at first in partnership. They now occupy the section in two separate farms of 320 acres each, which have been cleared, subdivided, partially sown down, and furnished with all the buildings and appliances necessary for carrying on the business to the best advantage. About 100 head of superior  Ayrshire  cattle are kept on each farm, and the number of cows in milk usually average about forty all the year round. The milking-house on both establishments is made with separate stalls and feeding places for each cow, and large sheds adjoining contain an abundant supply of hay for winter use; while mangels,  maize, and other green fodder crops receive due attention in the field. From the large area of roofing a full supply of water is obtained, conserved in tanks, and conveyed to the cheese houses as required. 

The distinguishing feature in the new, or Cheddar, system of cheese making consists in the application of heat to separate the whey from the curd, by which such a uniformity of quality is ensured as could not be calculated upon under the old method. All the various details of the process being reduced to a  system, and the labor connected with it being reduced to a minimum by means of the machinery and appliances used, the drudgery connected with the old method is obviated. The application of the necessary heat is obtained on each of the Messrs. Buchanan's establishments by means of steam apparatus and the processes as conducted on each farm are so similar that a description of one will do for both. 

Selecting Mr. Jas. Buchanan's the day's proceedings are briefly as follows : - The herd is milked twice a day, the evening's milk being kept over till the morning. Both milkings are then passed through the strainer into the milk tub, a large copper vessel of 200 gallons capacity, occupying the centre of the manufacturing room, this milk-tub has a double bottom and sides, into the space between which a jet of steam is introduced from the boiler sufficient to raise the milk to 84 deg., the temperature at which it is 'set' for coagulation. Cold water pipes also communicate with the milk vessel, so that the steam can be shut off and water turned on should the temperature be unduly raised. Annatto, for coloring, and rennet for coagulating, is now introduced, and the whole is completely mixed. Coagulation is completed from fifty to sixty minutes. As soon as the curd becomes moderately firm the process of breaking it up commences, which is done by implements made for the purpose, the temperature being raised meanwhile to 102 deg. This process, which is called "cooking" the curd, is carried on until a peculiar degree of firmness and consistency, known to the practical cheese-maker by handling, is attained, after which the whey is drawn off by a pipe communicating with the piggeries. The curd is then cooled, salted, packed into the cheese vats and placed under the presses, after which the cheeses are removed to the shelves of the store-room. 

The various processes, from the milking in the morning to the pressing, are got over generally not later than noon of the same day, and the cheeses remain on an average about two and a-half days in the  press-room and three months in the store-room, at the end of which period they are sent to market. The portable nature of the commodity is not its least feature of merit, a considerable amount of value going into small bulk. The Messrs. Buchanan produce a superior article which always commands the top price, and they are known in the district as always having shown the utmost readiness to teach their neighbors how to attain similar excellence. They believe that the greater the quantity of cheese produced in the colony (providing it is of first-class quality), the better will be the price and the more steady the demand, this effect following as a direct result of our present export trade being largely increased. 

Mr. James Buchanan's books show the following wholesale prices per lb., received for each month's produce during 1875 :- January, 10d.; February, 10¼d.; March, 10d.; April, 10d.; May, 10d.; June, 10d.; July, 10d.; August, 10d.; September, 10d.; October, 10½d.; November, 11¾d.; December, 10½d. The total quantity sold from the farm amounts to on average of ten tons per annum; and there is a considerable return from pigs and other sources. The animal yield of milk has been reduced to some extent during the past year or two by the pastures being rather badly overrun with what is known as the yellow weed (Hypoch√¶ris radiata). Mr. Buchanan seldom employs more than two hands, who, together with his own personal superintendence, and occasional assistance from one or two of his family, are found sufficient to carry on all the operations.
SourceMelbourne Leader of March 25, 1876 (see here)

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