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Early Whittlesea

July 11, 2017

My great great grandparents John and Martha Taylor, and their two small boys, James and John, arrived in Australia from Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, Wales, in 1841/1842.

So far I haven’t been able to find their immigration records, but do know that they left Wales after the census in June 1841, and were living in Diamond Creek in October 1842, at the time of the birth of their third son William, my great grandfather

John started out his life in Australia as a shepherd at Diamond Creek. I was interested to read in this article that white settlement began in this area in 1837/38. So this was a very new settlement at the time of John and Martha’s arrival 1841/42

They had 12 children, eight boys and four girls, born between 1839 and 1859.   All except two, lived long lives into old age, which is an exceptional result for the times.  The family moved to Whittlesea in about 1850.

The following article gives a picture of Whittlesea in those early years.

from: The Advertiser (Hurstbridge, Vic: 1922-1939), 8 October 1937 page 3

Whittlesea early years


In view of the approach of the Whittlesea Centenary Celebrations, the following article will be of interest. It has been written from material supplied by the Rev. J. H. Duffy, who has conducted a painstaking research into the early days of the district.

Nestling cosily at the foot of the Plenty Ranges, the site of the present township of Whittlesea must have appealed to the early pioneers of Victoria, for settlement began very soon after Batman pitched his tent on the banks of the Yarra. It has been difficult to find the exact time of the first settlement, but it is known it took place about the end of 1837 or the beginning of 1838.

The first settlers took up land to the east and north of the Yan Yean reservoir, then known as Ryder’s Swamp. This was the home of the Yan Yean tribe of aborigines, an aggressive and warlike race, who resented the intrusion of the whites, and many battles were fought in the vicinity of Ryder’s Swamp.

Lives were lost on both sides, and the remains of a burying ground may be seen on the north-east of the reservoir, not far from Bear’s Castle. Even when the settlers and aborigines were not at war, the natives could not resist the temptation of spearing cattle and sheep, and threatening the lives of those who tried to prevent them from decimating the flocks. This was the reason for the erection of the old castle as a place of refuge for the shepherds when danger threatened.

Among the earliest settlers was Mr. Bear, who took up land adjacent to Ryder’s Swamp, and extending to the northward. His holding included Bear’s vineyard, the wine cellars of which are remembered by some of our old residents, but they no longer exist. The greater part of Bear’s original holding is now embraced in the Metropolitan Board of Works reserve. The spacious old homestead has disappeared, but the home of Mr. Babbington stands on the exact spot.

About the same time, Dr. Ronald took up an area of land, slightly to the west of the reservoir, and this property remained in the hands of the family until quite recently. Captain MacPherson took up the property known as “Strathnoon” and this was successively occupied by Mr. Geo. Sherwin, JP., Mr. Alex Serrell, Cr. James Morris, and the late Major R. G. Tyilson. The homestead was burned down in 1904.

“Rosley Vale” the adjoining property was originally taken up by Mr. Thomas Morley, who sold out to Mr. T. Boadle. Mr. Boadle built the Rosley Vale flour mill on the main road, which was a familiar sight to coach travellers for many years.

Mr. T. Wills settled on the adjoining property, which embraced the hills to the west of the Whittlesea township, some land to the north, and also part of the present township site. It is believed that Mr. Wills was responsible for bestowing the name of “Whittlesea” on the spot, where the people from the surrounding district met to exchange gossip and goods.

The first market-place and show ground was situated on the corner opposite the State school, and it extended into the present railway reserve. It was first known as the Whittlesea Fair. From this modest beginning, it has continued without a break through times of prosperity and of deep and dark depression, until the present day.

The first post-office, and the office of the registrar of births and deaths was situated in Beech street, to the west of the old Willow Tree Hotel, on the spot where a galvanised iron shed now stands.

Always having been keen sportsmen, it was not long before the. residents of Whittlesea established a racecourse. The original course encircled the town, the starting point being near the present police station, and the finish near Mrs. Gibbs’ store.

The first school was opened in 1854, the ruins of which are still standing near the railway station. A son of the first master (Mr. Cookson) is still living at Alexandra, while a son of his successor (Mr. Stubbs) is now a member of the State Parliament of Western Australia, and was last year Mayor of West Perth.

When the authorities of Melbourne began to look, for a place from which to supply the growing city with water, they fixed on the Plenty river, and this served until the Yan Yean Reservoir was constructed. (This will be dealt with more fully in a later article).

Late in 1889 the Melbourne-Whittlesea railway was opened, this being the outcome of a movement which had been energetically carried on for many years. The records show that the agitation for a railway was being carried on at least ten years earlier.


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