Pioneers of the Plains

PIONEERS OF THE PLAINS
(Werribee and Keilor)

By Archibald James Campbell * 1853 -1929

Early History

Australia lay in a sunny sleep until the time of her awakening came. In the good Providence of God she is an integral part of the Empire upon which the sun never sets.

Captain Cook sighted the goodly land of Victoria 19th April 1770

The plains of Port Phillip, in part, were probably seen by Matthew Flinders, who on 27th April 1802 ascended and named Station Peak (the You Yangs). From this coign of advantage, towards the distant Mount Macedon northward, he would get an extended panoramic view of the expansive and fertile plains, as yet untrodden by white men.

Early in 1803 Charles Grimes, Surveyor General of New South Wales walked round and surveyed Port Phillip Bay. His report of the country was not very encouraging: - "grassy plains to the mountains, no trees, and the soil very bad and stony."

On the 29th December, the same year, William Buckley (with three other convicts) absconded from the settlement near Sorrento at the Heads. He lived for thirty years with a tribe of blacks and saw much of the Plains. One of Buckley's mates repented and returned to the settlement; the other two perished in the Bush.

 

In 1824 Hume and Hovell travelled overland from Sydney to Port Phillip Bay and crossing the plains struck the shore near Geelong. (or "Jillong" of the local tribe).

In 1835 John Batman and party landed. ** He arrived at Port Phillip 26th May. He got a birds eye view of the Plains from Station Peak, which he called Mount Collicott, after one of the party. On the 2nd June he moored his vessel ("Rebecca", 30 tons) near the mouth of the Yarra Yarra having touched at the Werribee on the way up. Batman was probably at Mount Cotterell (named after another of his party) on the 4th June. However he crossed the Keilor Plains and also ascended the Saltwater River for 20 miles. He bartered at Merri Merri Creek with the Blacks (Chief Jika Jika) for the Plains (Iramoo) and country, which extended from that creek to Geelong. Batman leaving his party including John Helder Wedge in camp, at Indented Head returned to Launceston 14th June. William Buckley the 'wild white man' "rolled up at the camp" 12 July (1835). Wedge taking with him James Gunn, two Sydney Blacks and a Port Phillip aboriginal boy, left on a trip of exploration. After examining the country round Geelong the party passed to the west of Station Peak and crossing Werribee Creek a little south of Mount Cotterell again reached the Yarra Yarra and on 2nd September, when the wattles were in bloom and where Wedge found that John Pascoe Fawkner had arrived from Launceston in the schooner "Enterprise" only a few days previously (29.8.35). ***

* Son of Archibald Campbell & grandson of James Pinkerton, both mentioned herein.

** He arrived in Port Phillip 26th May.

*** Batman returned shortly with his wife and seven daughters, and died at Melbourne
6th May, 1839, aged 39.

In the course of his Victorian exploration Major Mitchell viewed the landscape o'er (and consequently the plains) from Mount Macedon during 1836. In contra distinction to Surveyor Grimes report Mitchell well - named the country "Australia Felix".

During the same year stations were formed by Charles Franks at Mount Cottrell. Messrs Simpson and Wedge on the Werribee (or Exe), John Aitken on Deep Creek and at Mount Aitken.

Melbourne had been founded in 1837 and pastoral pursuits were proceeding apace when James Pinkerton and family arrived in Port Phillip, 4th December 1839 and the following year he settled on the Kororoit Creek to the west. The early settlers were naturally attracted to the luxuriantly grassed plains rather than to the wild wooded tracts, backed by the Dandenong Ranges, to the east of the Port.

And, how beautiful were the plains in their delightful primitive state! There were acres upon acres, far-folded, of waving purplish brown, so called, kangaroo grass and other succulent herbage, brightened in the Spring time with yellow "buttercups" and big "bachelor-button" flowers, and variegated with "blue bells" and native scarlet runners (Kennedya), bush peas (Pultenoea) and a host of other kinds. Gnarled and bulky Red gums brooded over the water tracks and ancient soaks or swamps. Between the plains and the forest were the ever-sighing sheoks (Casuarina) singly or in groups. And on the forest fringe, yellow-box and other fine foliaged gums, sheltered wattles and many garden like plants, climbing clematis, purple coral pea, or sarsaparilla, golden Grevillia.

While the virgin valley of the Werribee was a perfect picture with here and there beautiful bluish leafed and umbrageous "red-box" Eucalypt, bushy blackwoods stood amongst the red-gums which protected the banks bordered with blue berried Hymanthera and scented tea tree (Leptospermum) and Callistemons with yellowish ("bottle brush") flowers and other pleasant plants reflected in the pellucid pools of water. These pools were the home of fine fish. Although some were called "black" their flesh was as white as snow; eels were numerous too and the delicate "cucumber fish" skipped the surface of the stream in summer, after flies.

Not withstanding nomadic tribes of blacks the region of the plains abounded with game – ducks in crowds splashed on the river water holes and on swamps; plovers were in flocks of hundreds in the open, where wild turkeys proudly paced, quails were thick in the season about the tussock grass and the bronze-wing pigeons flashed there burnished feathers in the forest. Wild dogs and native cats and eagle hawks, however were troublesome at times.

Such were the serene surroundings of the Pinkertons and the 'Pioneers of the Plains', except when direful days of drought came and fire, or of flood and spread devastation everywhere; or epidemic in human life that brought bitter mourning in its train.

Why were not all the plucky 'Pioneers of the Plains' prosperous? 'Mismanagement', perhaps - lack of experience in the new country conditions. More than likely it was 'misfortune' with many (amongst them James Pinkerton), circumstances over which they had no control; a unique and cruel 'land grab' by a big and pushing man and with the connivance of a parental Government, with its headquarters at Sydney and time and distance preventing appeals.

So far as can be gathered from 'Old Time Memories' of the Werribee and Keilor Plains, kindly communicated to the writer, by Isaac Batey of Sunbury, the following are correct items in local history which by analogy may be taken as the experience of many other on the plains. The pity is that a complete history of the Pioneers of the Plains has not been authoritively written up.

Old Time Memories

According to Martin Batey, father of Isaac Batey (above mentioned) under New South Wales rule, what is now Victoria was made into three divisions, namely: -

Firstly. ' The Settled district', a circle the diameter of which was 50 miles, the centre
being the Melbourne Post Office.
Secondly. 'The Intermediate District', an outer ring 15 miles in breadth.
Thirdly. 'The Unsettled District', which comprised all country outside the Intermediate area.

Seemingly New South Wales was prejudiced against the District of Port Phillip, therefore in order to extract the last copper from it she granted a 'Special Survey' of 31,000 acres to William John Turner Clark in two blocks. (Claimed under Act of 1850).

This great land-grab would not have affected, Edward and John Page of Glencoe, Flintoff and Batey of Bald Stone Hill or James Pinkerton of Yaloke * on the Werribee, for Clarke's purchase did not touch their runs. But 'Big' Clarke's acquisition cornered the above mentioned persons with his three acres to one 'grass right'. Hence until such time on the new Government sold his grass rights Clarke had command over 93,000 acres of Crown Lands. The 'Special Survey', added to the foregoing, in all totalled 124,000 acres, or in round numbers 193 - 640 acre blocks. Had it not been for Clarke's 'Grass- right', Pinkerton, the Pages and Flintoff and Batey's runs would have remained intact until they were put up for sale by the Victorian Government.

What became Clarke's Rockbank run (which included 'Yaloke' – Pinkerton's) seemingly was part acquired by Crown auction purchase, other parts in buying the original purchasers. Clarke, about 1854, bought 5000 acres evidently in the Rockbank area, the prices for several Blocks averaging ?2.1.0 per acre.

William Taylor of Overnewton, Keilor owned a big strip of land not far from Rockbank homestead (which was on Kororoit Creek) and one Montgomery had a large block on that creek on which he erected a fine stone residence which was never finished on the inside. He sold out to 'Big' Clarke who rented Taylor's block and probably Clarke's people finally bought it. These items are mentioned to show that Clarke's Rockbank estate was not compromised within the limits of the 'Special Survey' but that the country was swept with the grazing right.

Isaac Batey has a vague recollection that Bloxhams occupied a portion of Rockbank, most probably on the Melbourne side of Kororoit Creek – but higher up on the Werribee side was William Cross Yuille's homestead. But what Martin Batey stated was that Yuille's station fell into the hands of Gray and Nimmo who held it until Clarke's 'Grass-right' shifted them. William and George Pyke also lost some of their place under the same conditions, likewise Greenhills with Mount Aitken would be similarly encroached upon.

With respect to the 'Grass-right' drag-net, it may be explained that Clarke could not go outside of the 'Settled District' i.e. 25 miles from the Melbourne Post Office and as far as is known the grazing right territory had to lands adjoining the 'Special Survey'

However during the fifties Clarke's Rockbank estate was rented by John and Donald Mc Lean and it was understood the 'Big' Clarke put the 'screw' on by selling off the brothers.

Doubtless James Pinkerton took up his pre-emptive section in the same manner as George Evans, the Pages and Flintoff and Batey. Evidently Pinkerton bought out the previous and original Crown Lessee, John Sherwin of Yaloke in 1848. That was the same year, which Pinkerton was most unfortunately burnt out of the house and effects at Kororoit Creek.

William Tulloh owned land on Pinkertons side of the river but higher upstream. Simon Staughton, who was described as 'rough as hemp' left two loads of wool on Tulloh's land, let to a tenant who failed to pay the rent, the landlord seized both the wool and the dray. Staughton went to law; the verdict went against him. Then he appealed to the Privy Council in Britain, the decision was in favour of Tulloh. All this has nothing to do with Pinkerton (the writer's grandfather), still it goes to show who were his neighbours in the early days of the Plains.

After the death of Martin Batey ( Sunbury) amongst his papers was found what seemed to be a copy of a petition in his handwriting. This document amongst other names had that of Pinkerton. It appears that there was an intention, due probably to the restriction of N. S. Wales to limit homestead areas to 30 acres only. It is not known if the memorial was ever forwarded asking for a 640 acre homestead.

Concluding his 'Old Time Memories' Isaac Batey writes: - "I have alluded to Taylor who owned land at Rockbank. There were others who acquired land by Crown purchase, to wit the Moylands one of whom got a big strip that takes in Mt Misery, now designated Mt Kororoit. Contiguous to Mt Atkinson was Cropley; beyond him towards Werribee and convenient to Mt Cotterell, were William Dalrymple, Keating and others.

"You will perceive by my statement that none of Clarke's 'Special Survey' took in any portiont of Rockbank, because as far as I am aware, he secured the bulk of it at Crown Sales and moreover he bought out other private owners. No doubt, he held no small part of that run by the 'grass right' a very bad thing for the diverse Crown Tenants. Because, as already stated for every acre acquired by Clarke under his 'Special Survey' he claimed 'grass right' over three more. That right held good until the Crown sold the 'grass right' land. But the displaced squatters were allotted pre-emptive right to 640 acres; on receipt of their months notice it gave them time to act. But apparently they could not pass the bound of their Crown leasehold land. How that difficulty arose cannot be accurately stated.

"In addition to his pre-emptive selection James Pinkerton should have acquired three selections out of Clarke's 'grass- grab'. Instead of which Pinkerton in association with Archibald Campbell (your father) had to lease land from Clarke, with the result from whatever cause, most probably outbreak of scab and having to pay high rent, both were ruined materially."

"So (finally) you are going to compile a family history, a project that has my approval, the more so that it will perpetuate the memory of your grandfather, James Pinkerton*, for if fortune went against him he led an honourable life which is more than can be said for 'Big' Clarke".

(When in 1892 with my Uncle, William Campbell, I visited the scene of my boyhood's
home at Yaloke on the Werribee, signs of solitude – effects of the 'land grab' were still in evidence. Save for sheep walks owned by the descendants of the 'Big Man' who swept all before him, the land lay desolate. And, there brooded over the remains of the Pinkerton old home immense Pseudo-Acacias (planted in 1852 by Margaret Pinkerton wife of the aforesaid William Campbell) while nearby were almond trees that budded and blossomed as they did in the days long ago –A.J.C.).

*James Pinkerton removed to Bacchus Marsh, 1862, where he lived with his married daughter, Mrs. James Kissock, until the day of his death. A.J.C.

Great Storm
On the 27th November 1840 a great storm occurred, evidently a violent Antarctic disturbance. Martin Batey (Sunbury) has recorded - Forty sheep drowned wading, sheep driven from the Werribee, a distance of over 20 miles, the stampeders from thence, would bolt perhaps from as low down as Wedge's. On the evening of the 26th Pages had 7,000 sheep of their own Glencoe, next morning there were 35,000 - an influx of 28,000 strangers! Owners followed, carts arrived with 'tucker' and all hands were drafting. The work of separation lasted a week

Glencoe station was one of the converging points above Keilor. Very probably James Pinkerton was amongst those who sustained loss of sheep through the chilling character of the tempest, which came from the Southwestern direction. The flocks were just off the shears, hurdles were blown down, the animals driven by the fierce gale with its pelting rain galloped till the exhausted ones fell and died from exposure.

A person named Holmes, whom Isaac Batey met in 1869 stated that he was in the employ of Wm. Cross Yuille, at that time and that there were places where the bolters could be traced by the dead sheep along the flight path. What intensified the disaster was that flocks escaped at night, those on Pinkerton's side of the Werribee would cross Kororoit Creek before it rose, but at Jackson's Creek pulled then up and where not looked after the silly sheep remained on flats till rising water swept them away. The actual loss was never known: doubtless it was heavy.

Time of Drought
Many people are unaware of the fact that a severe drought was experienced during 1850, South of Mount Macedon. Sheep began to die of starvation according to Martin Batey's statement in January 1851. It is not stated how the drought affected Yaloke.

Disastrous Grass-Fire
Isaac Batey's father made mention of a flock of young ewes owned by James Pinkerton, being destroyed by a grass fire, also that those not killed by the fire had to be put down because they were blinded by the fire. (If not at this fire, at another one, my grandfather had a shepherd who died from burns the effect of grass fire while tending a flock. * A.J.C.)

Murder near Mount Cottrell
Charles Franks' sheep were lambing (sometime between May and July 1836) and two blackfellows were employed to assist. One was with the shepherd and the other was with Franks. When the white men were far enough apart not to hear each other's cries for assistance each of the blacks fell upon his man and killed him.

Another account (Sexton's in "Victorian Place Names") states the Franks ** was murdered by the blacks while serving them with food and was buried in the Flagstaff Gardens in 1836. Franks was one of the first, if not the first, white man to be buried at these Gardens.

L. W. Page informed Batey that on one occasion when near Jacksons Creek he noticed a mob of about 200 blacks coming through the she-oaks straight for the hut. Stepping inside he quickly loaded his double-barrelled gun, stuck a big knife in his belt and took a position in the doorway. Presently the mob - all men, naked and fully armed with fighting weapons arrived. They yabbered and gesticulated wildly, but the white versus blacks could not understand one another, so turning about, the blacks departed much to the relief of Page who was then only about 17 years of age. Where the lubras and children were, could be conjectured only. They were probably the Bacchus Marsh tribe - the native name of the Marsh was "Merrimu". This incident also occurred in 1836.

* "Old John", as the shepherd was called, was a faithful servant. Once he had to proceed
to Sydney for some money; he went by boat, but returned overland, walking all the way.

** Frankston, the popular resort on Port Phillip Bay, was named after Franks.

Memorable Flood
During the third week of May 1852 it rained incessantly for three days and caused the greatest flood ever known on Jackson's Creek, as well as on the Werribee. The effect of the great rain-storm must have been widespread, because newspapers reported the flooding of Wagga Wagga and Gundagai, N. S. Wales, when the Murrumbidgee came down as a wall of water causing loss of life, besides destruction of property.

There was a fatality on the Werribee below Pinkertons (which itself was flooded the waters coming up to the mantle-shelf of the fireplace.) when three lives were lost.

The rising waters drove the family on to the house roof. The building collapsed and the roof with those on it rapidly drifted downstream and crashed against a tree, probably a red gum. One, a woman, exclaimed " the tree, the tree" and certain members of the Wedge family scrambled into the branches, but Charles Wedge and his wife being aged folk failed to escape into the tree and were drowned with a third person - a daughter. It is reported that the bodies were eventually recovered and brought in coffins by bullock dray to Williamstown and were buried in 'Gods Acre' there.

Pen –picture of "Big" Clarke
(My first sight of William John Turner Clark)
by Isaac Batey

"In my description of his adornments I shall begin with his feet. These were encased in strong hobnailed watertight boots, while his trousers, of the moleskin type, looked as though they had not come into contact with soap and water for twelve months.

"Clarke was one of the old squatters who went into hard graft and apparently that morning he had been hand-drafting 'jumbucks', for his breeks were plentifully stained with the slush of the sheep yard. Over the moleskins he wore an immense blue serge shirt reaching halfway down his thighs. This garment from its appearance was an old servant. It was unbuttoned in front according to the old fashion, but was not worn with a belt. Under the shirt he sported an old vest and common strong scotch twill shirt with its collar attached, none too clean. Round his neck was a knotted, frowsy, ancient triangular satin neckerchief. His headgear was the universal Cabbage-tree-hat, a venerable relic that seemed to carry the dust and grease of half a century. A slender band of ribbon encircled it. The brim on one side for about six inches, had parted from the crown, while the broad circular commencement on the top had sailed away - goodness knows when.

"Now for his horse, a strong sturdy nag with the tail cut in flounces - a dodge that Clarke resorted to, in the days of the diggings it was used to prevent the animal being stolen. The saddle was the 'light of other days', ragged, scratched, torn and battered, and quite in keeping with the rotten old bridle, which presented the appearance of being buried in a rubbish heap for a lifetime. Chin-strap there was none - a strip of black bombarzeen rag served instead of leather. If the furnishing of the steed was entitled to the distinction of being termed unique, it had a just claim on the score of hoary rotten antiquity. There are some thieves in the world, but I don't think one could be found mean enough to appropriate that saddle and bridle".

These pages were copied from the original 17 hand-written pages in the possession of Dorothy J. Stitt, (g.g. grandaughter of James Pinkerton) of 16/58 Wrights Road, Drummoyne , Sydney 2047) , November, 1989