05 June, 2011

Women of Substance

Boronggoop? Sounds rather like the name of a frog - or perhaps an Aboriginal term? Well, the latter as it happens is true. The name Boronggoop comes from the Aboriginal name "Porrong Goop" meaning "Place of Quails". So, what and where is (or was) it? Boronggoop was a 10,000 acre  squatting run on the Barwon River, located in the vicinity of what is now the Geelong suburb of St.Albans Park.
In 1840, two pioneering women by the name of Anne Drysdale and Caroline Newcomb (anything sounding familiar about those names?) took up the lease for the run from the government and built  a four-bedroom cottage on the property where they lived and worked the lease as a sheep run.
Boronggoop extended from the Barwon in a north easterly direction across to Point Henry on Corio Bay.
Anne and Caroline were extrodinary women for their generation. Anne was a Scottish gentlewoman who, having farmed in her home country, moved to the Port Phillip District for her health in 1837, with the intention of farming in the region. Soon after arriving, she went to stay at Kardinia House (see previous blog) with Dr. Alexander Thompson. Here she met his young English governess Caroline Newcomb who had been with him since 1837 and the two formed a very close friendship which was to last the rest of Anne's life.
Caroline, herself a woman of pioneering spirit, but less financial means than Anne had arrived in the colony in 1836 as governess to John Batman - the founder of Melbourne - having migrated to Tasmania some three years earlier.
With Thompson's help, the two acquired the lease of Boronggoop, built a cottage and took up residence on the property. Their home was described in flattering terms by the Presbyterian minister John Dunmore Lang, himself responsible for the immigration of many of Australia's earliest settlers, who found "a rare domestic character". The grounds had gravelled paths and a well established garden which Anne populated with flora transplanted from the surrounding bushland. Their first home - long since gone - was situated between the banks of the Barwon and the site of St. Albans Stud, to which estate some of the Boronggoop land eventually passed. As their venture prospered, a sheepwash was set up in the river and some of the marshy land adjoining the banks of the river was ploughed to plant potatoes.
Lang was also no doubt impressed with the women's piety. Anne was a member of the Presbyterian Church whilst Caroline followed the Wesleyan faith and was active in the establishment of the Women's Benevolent Association of Geelong after Anne's death. This was no doubt an appropriate endeavour for a woman who achieved so much as a woman in 19th century society.
The shore of Reedy Lake at Coppards Road - probably
part of Boronggoop Station
The pair's endeavours met with enough success that they were able to extend their property to "Leep Leep" (also an Aboriginal term meaning "Place of the Water Bird" - specifically Lewin's Rail) on the shores of Reedy Lake, but their main aim was own their own land. This was achieved when they acquired the leasehold for Coriyule Station near the present town of Drysdale on the Bellarine Peninsula in 1843. In 1847 their dream was realised when they purchased the freehold for the land and by 1849 they had built a homestead overlooking Port Phillip Bay. The mansion was made from locally quarried basalt for the foundations, limestone, quartzite and ironstone for the walls and Barrabool Hills sandstone for the chimneys. They lived here, running the properties until Anne's death in 1853. Such was Anne's admiration for her partner and friend that she remarked in a diary entry that "Miss Newcombe who is my partner, I hope, for life is the best & most clever person I have ever met with. There seems to be magic in her touch, everything she does is done so well & so quickly."
After Anne's death, Caroline continued to run the Coriyule property, often stating in her later years "Tell me what a man can do that I cannot!" Despite her fiery temper and this fierce statement of independence, in 1861 she married the local Wesleyan minister - Rev. James Davey Dodgson. The remainder of her life until her death in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick in 1874, was spent following her husband around his circuit, ministering to the faithful.
Tellingly perhaps, Caroline was buried not with her husband (who lived until 1892) or in church surrounds, but with her partner Anne, on the station at Coriyule. In later years, their remains were removed to the Eastern Cemetery in Geelong.
The Coriyule Mansion still stands today and is held in private hands. It has been suggested that the ghost of Anne Drysdale can sometimes be heard playing the piano in the house.
The original Boronggoop run on the Barwon, held by the pair when they first formed their partnership was reclaimed by the government in 1852 and subdivided.
A meat processing works was set up on part of the Boronggoop land which by the 1860s was owned by John Lowe, MLC. Lowe died in 1867 and passed the land to his son Edwin who set about building a boiling down works on the site.
The Barwon River at Wilson's Road, once part of Boronggoop
Station and later part of St. Albans Stud
In 1871, a further subdivision occured when 200 acres of Lowe's land were purchased for the purpose of establishing a meat preserving company. It was joined by a bone mill in 1872 which operated until 1877 when it was offered for sale. The preserving company had been put on the market the previous year. The eventual purchaser of this 200 acres, as mentioned in a previous post, was the noted horse trainer James Wilson who cleared the land and added it to his St. Albans Stud where he trained many of the finest horses to run in this country.
Included in the buildings to be cleared was the original cottage built by Anne and Caroline when they lived at Boronggoop. Wilson replaced their modest home with a substantial brick villa which still stands today.
Also present as a reminder of the contribution made to the colony by these two pioneering women are the town of Drysdale, near their property of Coriyule and the Geelong suburb of Newcomb.

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