25 April, 2013

Where did it all go?

I started this blog post by researching the rather gruesome topic of murder on the banks of the Barwon - a topic which I have addressed before and which continues to be one of my most popular posts: A Murder on the Barwon. However it wasn't long before I once again found myself reading about one of Victoria's pioneering families. This time it was the Roadknights - a familiar name to anyone acquainted with the coastline near Anglesea.
So who were the Roadknights?  Well, they certainly weren't convicted murderers - let's get that straight! But their name did crop up in association with some unfortunate events, one of which will form the basis of another post.
The founding father of the Roadknights in Victoria was William. Born in 1792 at Warwickshire, England, he and his brother Thomas migrated to Tasmania in 1820. They were accompanied on the voyage by their father - also named Thomas - who died at sea only a day from Hobart Town. With William was his first wife Harriet and their four children.
Upon their arrival in Tasmania, the brothers were each allotted 1,000 acres of land but soon moved away from farming, instead establishing themselves as persons of responsibility in the colony. By the late 1830s, William and his son Thomas were looking further afield to the opportunities presented by the opening up of land in the Port Phillip District and in 1836 William and his sons landed in the Port Phillip District with sheep from Tasmania.

I believe this photo to be Thomas Roadknight as captioned, however he would have been much
younger in 1836 than this photo appears. The photo is held by the Victorian State Library which
gives a publication date of 1896 for the photo - five years after Thomas' death.
Between them, the family proceeded to establish properties totalling almost 100,000 acres around the Barwon River and beyond. They held land at Yan Yan Gurt, Deans Marsh, Gerangamete, Cape Otway and at Ceres in the Barrabool Hills. Other stations belonging to the Roadknights included Cherry Tree Hill near Beeac, River Station and Stony Rises Station.
 Testament to the extent of their landholdings  are names such as Point Roadknight, Roadknight Street in Birregurra and Aireys Inlet as well as a street of that name in the township of Forrest and nearby Roadknight Creek.
However, in the early days after their arrival, the Roadknights took up land closer to Geelong in the Barrabool Hills "near the Ceres Bridge". In 1838 William returned briefly to Tasmania to marry for a second time, taking his new wife (Elizabeth nee Twamley) to live at Barrabool. Research for the National Trust names them as living at "Berromongo" where their son Zachariah was born in 1839. I believe this later became Berramongo Vineyard eventually owned by John Belperroud who from 1842 initially leased, then purchased the land from Charles Swanston to whom William sold it. John was one of a wave of Swiss immigrants who brought their wine-making skills to the region, encouraged by Governor LaTrobe and his Swiss wife.
The land taken up by Roadknight in 1836 was located on both sides of the Barwon very near the "Ceres Bridge". One contemporary map shows the bridge to be a few hundred metres upstream from today's Merrawarp Road bridge and the Victorian Heritage Database shows a house "Berramongo" located in this area on Crooks Road.
Merrawarp Road bridge today looking from somewhere near the probable
site of the old Ceres Bridge
That same year, as the land around Geelong was opened up for sale, William purchased 22 acres overlooking the Barwon River at Chilwell. His property was situated on the north bank, opposite and a little upstream from Kardinia House - the property of Dr Alexander Thomson - and just across Pakington Street from the house of Charles Sladen Esq. (Sladen House). The land stretched from the banks of the river, back to the government road which became known as West Fyans Street. Today, the site is occupied in part by the former Returned Sailors and Soldiers Mill buildings which date from 1922.
Initially, Roadknight built a small house known as Barwon Cottage, then in 1845 he built a larger home on the property which he called Barwon Crescent. It was constructed from locally made bricks and it is interesting to note that in 1849 land immediately north of his property was advertised as being "first rate brick earth". He also established an orchard garden on the land near the house and it was here that the family lived.
Meanwhile, his ambitions as a squatter saw him establish stations on land to the west of Geelong as mentioned above. However, this venture was not without controversy. Unsurprisingly, the spread of European settlement caused the displacement of the local indigenous tribes. In the 1840s with Governor LaTrobe realising the need to erect a lighthouse at Cape Otway to ensure the safety of the shipping routes, it became necessary to find a land route to the Cape - a task which LaTrobe himself eventually achieved.
The Cape Otway lighthouse was eventually built by 1848
However, during a subsequent surveying expedition in 1846 lead by George D Smythe, a white seaman named Conroy was killed by members of the Gadubanoot tribe. He was alleged to have raped several of the tribeswomen - a capital offence according to Aboriginal law.
Smythe returned to LaTrobe and requested a party be put together to make an arrest. Permission was quietly granted and Smythe - armed with a warrant and a group of trackers from the Barrabool tribe of the Wathaurong - returned. He was joined en route by a group of heavily armed men lead by William Roadknight. According to a 2007 publication by Bruce Pascoe (Convincing Ground: learning to fall in love with your country) a massacre resulted. Smythe claimed to have "lost control" of the Barrabool tribesmen, however surviving members of the Gadubanoot tribe said they were shot down by white men whilst a later report indicates that there was only a single Barrabool man with Smythe's party.
Pascoe also claims that this was not the first time Roadknight had used tribesmen from one district in an attack upon another and that there may have been as many as three more massacres between 1846 and 1848. Each was part of a wider campaign to ensure the safety of the few families who would come to the Cape to man the lighthouse when it was built. He also notes that Roadknight was running stock on the Cape prior to 1846, presumably without interference from the Gadubanoot. The implication is perhaps that he had already employed measures to protect his stock. Unsurprisingly, some descendants of the family have disputed this version of events and there is certainly ample evidence to show that in other parts of his life that William was a genial and kindly man.
Interestingly, with the centenary of the settlement of Melbourne approaching, the Hobart Mercury of 3rd October, 1934 reproduced in part an earlier article indicating that both Thomas and William were present at a meeting of Port Phillip settlers on 1st June, 1836. Amongst the unanimously carried proposals was one stating that:
"all subscribing parties pledge themselves to afford protection to the aborigines to the utmost of their power, and, further, that they will not teach them the use of firearms, or allow their servants to do so, nor on any account to allow he aborigines to be in possession of any firearms."
It was also unanimously carried that:
"all parties do bind themselves to communicate to the arbitrator any aggression committed upon, or by, the aborigines, that may come to their knowledge, by the earliest opportunity, and that he be empowered to proceed in the matter as he may think expedient."
Despite their early acquisitions and prominence in the settlement of the Port Phillip district, the Roadknights did not retain the majority of their acreage. Their holdings were significantly reduced as a result of bad business deals and a move by the government to reclaim a significant amount of land for a Wesleyan Mission to "maintain and civilize" the local Aboriginal population. Again, Pascoe states that Roadknight worked to thwart the intentions of the missionaries whose venture ultimately did not succeed. In the end, the land was sold off, but the Roadknights did not reacquire any of their forfeited acres and by 1870 little of their holdings remained.
Meanwhile, after the death of his second wife Elizabeth, in 1857, William married for a third time in 1860 to Helen Buchanan, however the marriage did not last long as William died on 25th November, 1862.
William Roadknight is buried in the Eastern Cemetery
with his second wife, Elizabeth
Barwon Crescent then passed to his son Thomas who with his son Alfred Hill Roadknight became a noted stock and land agent in Geelong. Thomas and his wife Caroline (nee Hill) lived at "The Crescent".
Their son and heir Alfred was also one of the earliest crop of students produced by the recently-established Geelong Grammar, by that time located in Maud Street, Geelong. Thomas died on 28th October, 1891, leaving the house to Alfred who leased the nearby property Barwon Grange for the next couple of years until his mother vacated Barwon Crescent.

Thomas and his wife Caroline are also buried in the Eastern Cemetery and their
headstone notes that Thomas died at "Barwon Crescent"
Alfred then lived at The Crescent until its eventual sale in 1907. Alfred himself lived a further 14 years. He died in 1931 and is also buried in the Eastern Cemetery with his wife (Emily Harriet Carr) like his parents and grandparents before him.
Grave of Alfred and Emily Roadknight in the Eastern Cemetery
Finding photographic material for this post has proven hard to come by. Whilst the Roadknights' holdings were extensive in the middle of the 19th century, it seems that nothing other than the odd place name here and there remains of their "empire". Barwon Crescent is long gone, demolished to make way for the woollen mills of the 1920s and I can find no (online) photos dating to that period, nor can I find their name on the early maps of Victoria.
There are however, quite a number of Roadknight descendants today and the Roadknight name did crop up fairly regularly in the national newspapers of the 19th century, usually with respect to appointments to committees and land transactions however, during Thomas' tenure at Barwon Crescent in the 1870s, the orchard was leased to a market gardener by the name of William Stenton and it was in 1876 that trouble arose....

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for a concise history my forbears There are books written on the Roadknight family and it is good to see that their place in the Barwon area's history is retold


    Bill Cameron