30 September, 2013

Branching out - Moranghurk

As mentioned in a recent post, I attended a book launch and plaque-unveiling at Moranghurk near Lethbridge a couple of weeks ago. I subsequently posted a little about the history of soldier settlement in the area through which the Barwon and its tributaries run. Because the two topics are so intertwined in local history, this then got me thinking about the squatters who were the first Europeans to live in the area. That then resulted in yesterday's rather lengthy post on the subject of the local "squattocracy".
Now, I intend to have a look at some of the estates mentioned in yesterday's post and hopefully over time this will build up a handy picture of the historic properties along the banks of the three rivers and beyond, showing what they were and what they have become today. Some are already the subject of previous posts so for the moment I will concentrate on some of the others.


The front gate
Whilst the history of Moranghurk as a squatting run and then as an estate only dates back to 1840, the name itself is much older. The property name was originally spelt Moranghourke but both spellings are believed to be derivatives of the Wathaurong word Murrangurk. One meaning given for the word is to describe someone returned from the grave and was the name given to the escaped convict William Buckley who was discovered by the Barrabool tribe. A slightly different version tells that Buckley was found at the grave of a famous warrior of that name and, not having seen a white man before, he was thought by the Wathaurong to be the reincarnation their hero. Why the name was chosen for the property is not clear.
Unlike many of the estates in the area, Moranghurk has always been in the hands of a partnership or a family. The first selection of 18,00 acres was taken up in 1840 by the Scottish settlers William Taylor and Dugald McPherson who held it until 1846. The property included land along both sides of the Moorabool River. To the west it was bounded by the Native Creek No 1 Estate, at that time occupied by Robert Sutherland for the Clyde Company, to the north by John McLeod's Bohoneyghurk and to the south by the Clyde Company's Tall Tree Estate . East of the Moorabool, Moranghurk shared a boundary with Durdiwarrah belonging to the Steiglitz family and a small section of its south eastern perimeter with the Anakie Estate of Frederick Griffin.
View south down the Moorabool Valley from Moranghurk.
The next to takes up the lease was Peter Sharp in 1846 who transferred it to his brother William in 1848. By 1849 the Squatters' Directory of that year showed the estate as 18,333 acres held by William Sharp.
In the earliest days, Taylor and McPherson built a small cottage on the property made of mud and stone. At some point in the 1840s the present house was constructed, possibly to a design by Thomas Albin Nuttal. Whether it was Taylor and McPherson who had the house built or the Sharps is unclear.
Moranghurk homestead
In 1853 Andrew Love (son of the Presbyterian minister) took over the leasehold before mortgaging the estate to one William Ross in 1854, however Love's subsequent insolvency saw the property once again return to William Sharp in 1856 who then sold the lease to John Matheson in 1857. This period saw a significant amount of legal wrangling with Ross mounting actions against various people including Love.

This land across the Moorabool Valley would originally have been part of the
Moranghurk Estate
Over the ensuing decades, Matheson consolidated his holdings. In 1870, the squatting licence for the estate was cancelled. Matheson took up the pre-emptive right to about 5,000 acres of the original run, but had to relinquish the land east of the Moorabool as pressure from disenchanted gold diggers on the Stieglitz side of the river pushed for farmland of their own. At some point he acquired the Native Hut No 1 Estate to the west as well as 3,000 acres of the Woodbourne No 2 Estate to the north (including the homestead - the subject of a subsequent post). Presumably prior to 1870 - his holdings totalled 26,000 acres, however ultimately he held around 19,000 acres of land, possibly including some reclaimed portions of the original estate west of the river.
The Moorabool Valley and Moranghurk land from the front lawn
During his time Matheson increased the stock on the run and made significant improvements. In 1862 he was running 8,943 head of sheep but by the time of his death in 1882 this had increased to 19,945.
In the early squatting days, property boundaries were often determined by natural features such as creeks and rivers, or by dirt ditches, dug to mark the line. By 1879 he had fenced the run and divided it into paddocks with a combination of stone, brush and post and rail fences.

Several of the Cyprus and a small bridge along the Moranghurk driveway
Between 1873 and 1875, Matheson turned his attention to the house and buildings, extending the former and building a number of outbuildings including shearers' quarters, woolshed, stables and dairy. Other buildings were also constructed during the 1860s. Ninety-seven of the Cyprus trees which line lengthy driveway were planted in 1879.
The house and gardens
Following his death in 1882, Matheson was succeeded by his son John Matheson Jnr. The younger John however died in 1893 at the age of 37, leaving two young sons. So for the next 18 years, the estate was run by his trustees who continued to make improvements including several further outbuildings until, in 1912 - having completed his education at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge - John Lee Matheson and his younger brother Norman McDonald Matheson returned to the property to live along with John L's wife Lynette. They were the first generation of the family to live permanently on the estate.
They suffered a setback not long after taking control of the property however, when a grassfire which was believed to have started when a man at the Larundel Estate near Elaine threw out a pan of hot ashes, burnt through several miles of their fencing, consumed a significant amount of pasture and killed a large number of sheep. None the less, they were able to make a success of the estate and their tenure saw a number of further improvements with a focus on fine quality Merino production. This youngest generation of Mathesons were also responsible for building the gate lodge, the garage, the men's quarters and also an ornate pump house on the river. All this activity was interrupted by a period of English service during the First World War for John during which Norman managed the estate.
The gate lodge at Moranghurk
They were however, the last generation of the family to own it. John died childless in 1953 and the property passed to his brother Norman. By this time however, it was much reduced as the Soldier Settlement Commission had resumed around 12,000 acres of Moranghurk land in 1952 - the distribution of which is the topic of the recent publication Moranghurk, soldier settlement at Meredith: this is their story compiled by Margaret Cooper.
The garage
Like his contemporary Janet Biddlecombe at Golf Hill, John L is believed to have been unhappy with the break up of the estate. Following John's death, Norman had hoped to run a model stud farm on much of the remaining land. The government however, were not prepared to cede more than the  homestead block of 2,183 acres, having already claimed the remaining acreage.
Norman felt he needed at least 5,000 acres to make the project work, so as a result he sold the last of the land along with the house to the Commission who then auctioned it to George "Dudley" Erwin and Jack East, mates from the air force.
Erwin and East were not however, long term occupants and changed little on the property. Erwin went into politics and the property was once again sold, this time in 1957 to Isaac Peter Ralton Scott. Like the Mathesons before him, Scott was keen to improve the property. In addition to another round of alterations to the house - including the demolition of a stone section of the building - land usage began to change. Paddocks were cleared, crops sewn and pastures improved. From being exclusively a grazing run, it now moved towards mixed farming producing not only sheep but cattle, grain and a variety of other crops.
The garden today with glimpses of the valley beyond
Isaac was helped on the property by his son Roger, however upon Isaac's death, the property once again changed hands. This time in about 1988 it was sold to the current owners Ross and Liz Wilkie who have done much to restore the garden and who now operate the former "men's quarters" (styled the shearer's quarters) as a group accommodation facility.
Additional details concerning the history of the property can also be found in Eric A. McGillivray's book The heritage of Lethbridge.

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