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Home > More Information > Wine History > Story of a Vineyard - Chateau Tahbilk > The Story Begins with the River
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Story of a Vineyard - Chateau Tahbilk
The Story Begins with the River
Man Makes a Vineyard
Chateau Tahbilk
The Second Hundred Years
The Story Begins with the River

Long before white men found the valley the river was at work cutting and shaping the land with strong probing waters, shearing through red clay, sifting fine sand and coarse sand and, in flood years, reaching out far beyond the confines of the high, curving banks which kept its flow within bounds in normal seasons to spread wide layers of rich brown mud over the valley slopes. Through the centuries swampy lagoons and curving billabongs along the valley filled and dried and were filled again. Here the wild duck bred and many other water birds. Platypus made homes along the river banks and clusters of black swans sailed up and down on the broad waters, undisturbed except when small parties of aborigines ferried them­selves across stream in their bark canoes on the way from one camp to another. The whole length of the valley was good hunting ground. There were big fish in the river and bronze-winged pigeon among the tall gums bordering the main stream. Kangaroos and emus ran in the forest; there was plenty of wood for campfires and water always, even in the dry seasons. There were good canoe-trees growing in the bush near the river, and hidden corroboree grounds lay among the islands standing in the billabongs.

Bayunga the aborigines called the river and they had names for the water holes and billabongs-Deegay, Tatura, Nagambie, Bon­tharambo.

Sometimes the tribal hunters set the bush burning or summer lightning lit great fires in the dry seasons that blackened the gum trees and eat up the tangled undergrowth. Winter storms felled many tall trees on the burnt-out slopes and good grass grew there when the rains came.

To the Major's men, when they set eyes on these park-like spaces in the tangled bushland, the valley looked fine country for flocks and herds. On this day, 7 October 1836, they had done fourteen miles. Now they were setting up camp for the night. Through the long valley, entered the day before, meandered a deeply cut stream-bed containing a chain of ponds. Near one of these the Major ordered Barrett, his overseer, to begin the unloading of the gear from the drays. As he stood watching a pair of cockatoos with scarlet and yellow top-knots flew screeching across the camp from the direction of the ponds. Piper, the Sydney blackfellow, came up soon afterwards with news that a party of aborigines was following in their tracks. Barrett went out with Piper to persuade them to come up to the camp. Seven aborigines soon appeared and the Major himself hastened to meet them for he did not want them to 'sit down' too near. Three of them carried neatly wrought baskets for which he gave them two tomahawks. He then returned to his tent, making signs that it was time to sleep but, before they moved off to rejoin their tribe, the 'old man' among them told Piper the creek watering the long valley was the Deegay. Nearby was the great Bayunga.

Since leaving Sydney in March, with a party of twenty-five men, his gear on drays and his two boats on their boat carriage, Major Mitchell, Surveyor-General to the Colony, had been more than two thousand miles, exploring mountains and streams and investigating the geological character of the land through which he passed. By this survey, he wrote in his journal, he hoped 'to develop those natural advantages certain to become of vast importance to a new people'.

When the Major's party camped overnight at the Deegay Ponds, their long overland expedition on its way to completion, the small settlement on Hobson's Bay, where John Pascoc Fawkner's party had arrived on 11 October 1835, was yet two days off its first anniversary, the city of Melbourne still scarcely more than a pioneer's dream.

On 9 October Mitchell's men crossed the Bayunga, which white men were to call the Goulburn, after meeting with a broad, dry channel or lagoon with lofty gum-trees of the 'yarra' species on its borders. A fine river they found it, somewhat larger than the Mur­rumbidgee. Mitchell recorded in his journal that, as it was nowhere fordable at that time, he 'sought an eligible place for swimming the cattle and horses across and immediately launched the boat. All the animals reached the opposite bank in safety; and by the evening every part of our equipment except the boat-carrier was also across.

At exactly 2 miles from the river the outer bank was reached and the straight course homewards resumed through level forest country grassy and good, open enough to give the men a prospect of about a mile around'.

The Major's journal recorded his thoughts on the land near the Goulburn being suitable for pastures and his visualisation of his and his men's footsteps 'soon being followed by men and animals'.

Those of his expedition going direct from Portland Bay in charge of Mr Staplyton actually met at Gundagai the first overlanders making for Port Phillip, droving stock from the Sydney side. By the time the Major's men reached Sydney on 3 November 1836, having covered 2,500 miles in seven months, the overlanders were well south on the track which soon came to be known as the Major's Line. While Major Mitchell was camping at the Deegay in October these first overlanders gathered by appointment at Howe's station on the Murrumbidgee where Mr Joseph Hawdon had mustered and brought in cattle for droving south. At that time land was taken up as squatting stations along both sides of the Murrumbidgee. Now, in the beginning of the dry weather, the overlanders began to follow the Major's tracks back to the Goulburn and, where the wheels of his drays had cut deep tracks in the wet season, theirs 'moderately loaded did not make a mark'.

John Hepburn, who accompanied Joseph Hawdon on his trip south found the huts of Batman's settlement at Port Phillip 'only slabs stuck in the ground forming a roof and covered with earth'. He counted 'several horses and but fifteen head of cattle there'. On his return to Sydney, however, he found Port Phillip was attracting so much attention that 'to keep up the excitement' he wrote a letter to the editor of the Colonist newspaper suggesting the possibility of running a post between Sydney and the new settlement in the south. In fact, he put forward plans for the first overland mail run from Sydney to Melbourne.

I laid down all the stages from the Murrumbidgee to the settle­ment, with estimated distances, and showing how easy it was to provide hay-grass was then so abundant at any point. The Governor Sir R. Bourke took up the matter. No questions were asked; tenders were issued and taken up by Joseph Hawdon, after much delay, so that the first overland mail, carried on horseback from Melbourne by John Conway Bourke, for Hawdon, left on 2 January 1838.

In the meantime, Hepburn had decided to go to Port Phillip himself to settle. On 15 January 1838, he left New South Wales 'with 1,400 ewes, 50 rams, 200 wethers, 2 drays, 18 bullocks, and 10 men, all prisoners of the Crown'. He took also '1 cart and horse, 1 saddle horse, 2 brood mares, private property and Mrs Hepburn and two children'. Following the tracks of those who had gone before them was not difficult and soon they came onto the Major's Line. Following it they reached the Goulburn and, passing through fine-looking country, crossed the river on 2 March 1838 'all safe without any molestation from the natives'. Here they overtook Mr John Harrison and Mr Hamilton who had pushed on to get the choice of the country. 'We assisted these gentlemen to cross their sheep. Hamilton advanced and we took a day's rest on this beautiful spot; to be known to the early settlers as Old Crossing Place.' 'No other shepherds crossed the Goulburn up to this date,' Hepburn later wrote to Governor Charles Joseph Latrobe, 'but the station-holders A. Mollison, C. H. Ebden, Captain Brown, Harrison, Coghill, Bowman and myself.'

Soon after this, John Clarke applied for a licence to establish a Public House on the Goulburn River. The licence for this, possibly the first outside Melbourne, was granted in a letter dated 4 June 1838 from the Colonial Secretary's Office in Sydney to the Police Magistrate at Melbourne. On 11 June this letter was followed by another stating that the Government was 'desirous of seeing Houses of Entertainment established on the road between Port Phillip and Yass; and that facilities will be afforded for this purpose by selling small lots of land (not more than five acres) in convenient situation', but no land was to be sold within four hundred yards of the bank of a river lest it interfere with the future establishment of a ferry or the building of a bridge.

Clarke's Inn was set about half way between Old Crossing Place, where Major Mitchell had sent his equipment across the Goulburn, and the crossing later to be used by the Sydney-Melbourne mail coach; directly opposite what was soon to be known as the Tabilk run.

By the end of June the Governor had considered a letter from the Deputy Surveyor-General suggesting that, in addition to such Houses of Entertainment, 'townships should be established with as little delay as possible at the several points where the Road (between Yass and Port Phillip) crosses the following streams-. The Murray 2. The Ovens 3. Violet Creek 4. The Goulburn'. The Police Magistrate's orders were 'to take measures for carrying this into effect in order that Post Houses, Police Stations and Houses of Public Entertainment, as well as Ferries if necessary be established at these several points'.

Chateau Tahbilk along side the Goulburn

The Colonel commanding Her Majesty's troops was also re­quested to 'co-operate in the Establishment of Military Posts on the roads'. Sixteen mounted police and eighteen infantry, it was sug­gested, would be required of which three troopers and eight infantry would be needed for the Goulburn area. Major Mitchell's country quickly began to take on a new pattern.

By 1837 Government plans for Aboriginal Protectorates were being made. The Goulburn Protectorate was set up a liftle below Old Crossing Place, quite near the Major's camping spot, by James W. Dredge, a schoolmaster from Salisbury in England who arrived in Melbourne in the barque Hope, out of Sydney, on 3 January 1839. On 21 May he wrote in his diary, 'A shepherd has been mur­dered by the blacks on the Goulburn so hope to be off tomorrow. His gear was loaded on a bullock dray and his men, two ex-convicts on parole, wore corduroy jackets, trousers, shirts, hats and shoes, which he supplied for £1.5.0 per man. On 22 May he wrote, 'Left Melbourne 2 p.m. on Billy lihis horse which had cost £50 in Port PhillipI. 26 May Pitched tent on bend of river a little above Clarkes'.

Here he built a hut, getting the blacks to cut bark for his roof as it leaked so badly. By Christmas he had peas, beans, cabbages, carrots and potatoes from his own garden, although it had been a hard summer in 1839 after a long drought of seven months. Though he quickly succeeded with his garden, James Dredge had so many other difficulties that he resigned and the protectorate was moved further down the river nearer to Murchison.

In the September of 1839 Charles Joseph Latrobe had arrived to take charge of affairs in Port Phillip. Now, in 1840, the Manton Brothers came north to take up land on the Goulburn in the area known as Carrick O'Shannassy, with a head station named Tabilk. Their first homestead here may have been the troopers' barracks- the quarters of the first six police to be stationed on the Goulburn, just opposite Clarke's Inn at Old Crossing Place. The line of red gums which were probably planted near these barracks by the first police troopers stationed on the Goulburn, and which still stand on Chateau Tahbilk land to this day, were very young trees when the Mantons came. In a letter written in 1853 Governor Latrobe was told that the Mantons 'occupied both sides of the river including almost the whole from there to the Murray'. They had the station known as Noorilim from 1840 to 1842, and Old Crossing Place from 1840 to 1846.

When this run was divided into two by the Mantons the Tabilk, or No. 1 run, was taken up by John Purcell and Henry Moore who applied to the Government for 8,500 acres at Old Crossing Place (Tabilk) in January 1848, claiming they had been in residence there for at least three years. On 8 August of that year Henry Moore wrote Latrobe stating they had in fact occupied the run since 1842.

By 1850 there were 71,000 people in the Port Phillip district and more than a million sheep. Country for nearly two hundred miles round Melbourne was under cultivation or used for pasture by station holders, especially along the line of road to Sydney. After the Colony of Victoria was proclaimed in 1851, 29,076 acres of Carrick O'Shannassy was among Crown Lands thrown open for selection, 'on or after September 1852.' This year Hugh Glass, an Irishman of wide interests and abilities, who had been in the Colony since 1840, joined John Purcell in leasing the Tabilk run.

Hugh Glass began his career in Port Phillip as a stock and station agent. He moved about the country and acquired properties in so many parts of the Colony that he was soon one of the largest land­owners and the richest men in Australia. He built himself a mansion at Flemington with its own private zoo in which he collected birds and animals native to Australia, he imported thoroughbred fillies from abroad, he became a member of the Legislative Assembly.

Soon after joining Purcell Hugh Glass applied for permission to purchase the Pre-Emptive Rights of 640 acres, or one square mile of the Tabilk lands, and this was granted on 13 October 1856.

Sheep and cattle continued to be run on his land as had been done ever since the first overlanders camped there on their way south from the Murrumbidgee but, as the result of the mysterious dis­appearance of Andrew Sinclair, a neighbouring squatter living on the Noorilim run, a vineyard was to be planted on the river valley slopes of the Tabilk run in 1860.

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