26 October, 2013

Branching out - Bungeeltap

In my previous post I mentioned two of the earliest squatters to settle near Geelong, overlooking the Moorabool River at Bell Post Hill - John Anthony Cowie and David Vere Stead. David Stead, born in 1797, was a Quaker from Falmouth in England. Cowie, also from England was born on 13th April, 1806. He was the youngest son of George Cowie, a bookseller from Hackney, London and Rachel Buxton. Cowie arrived in Tasmania in 1828 in a good financial position and took up land near Avoca. Soon he was expanding his holdings.

John Anthony Cowie, image on display at Osbourne House,
North Geelong
No doubt having heard of the potential wealth of "Australia Felix" as the unclaimed land across Bass Strait was known, both Cowie and Stead travelled to the Port Phillip district in November, 1835 from Tasmania with John Batman's party of settlers on the ship Norval, bringing stock for Dr Alexander Thomson. By March, 1836 the pair had taken up a run at Bell Post Hill overlooking Corio Bay and began to ship over their own stock.
According to the 1836 census of the Port Phillip district, Stead arrived there in February, 1836 which I am guessing may indicate that he returned to Tasmania after his initial landing to gather stock for the run he and Stead intended to select. In July, their colleague John von Steiglitz landed stock at Point Henry, presumably also for the Bell Post Hill run.
Their stay in the Geelong region however, was relatively brief. By 1838 Cowie, Stead and two of the von Steiglitz brothers were on the move again, taking their stock with them in search of greener pastures. These they found above the confluence of east and west branches of the Moorabool River. According to one story, after drawing straws it was decided that Stead should take up land on the east bank of the East Moorabool River, presumably leaving the west bank for Cowie. The von Steiglitz brothers moved on a little further still. Their properties will be the subject of a future post.
Together, the land held by Cowie and Stead covered some 30,000 acres. In 1850 the original run was officially divided. Stead's run to the east of the Moorabool East Branch was known as Bungeeltap East whilst Cowie's run was Bungeeltap West.

Looking towards Bungeeltap East from west of the river
Cowie settled into his new run by cementing family ties when on 14th September, 1842 he married Charlotte Christine von Steiglitz, the youngest daughter of the von Steiglitz family, sister to John, Robert and Charles von Steiglitz. The marriage took place at Ballanee, the squatting run of John von Steiglitz, located on the Werribee River.
Some years later, on 25th April, 1848 David Stead married Mary Jane Belcher, the daughter of Joseph William Belcher and Elizabeth Austin. The marriage took place on the run at Bungeeltap. The year following their marriage or soon thereafter, the Steads built a comfortable house known as Emly Park - no doubt named for his home in Falmouth, England on the eastern section of the run, overlooking the river. The original house still stands (with additions) today on the Egerton-Bungeeltap Road near the corner of the Ballan-Meredith Road. It is described as a colonial style house constructed from local sandstone and is open to the public as a guesthouse.
The front gates to Emly Park
David and his wife Mary Jane remained in Victoria for some years (although possibly not on the property), then, somewhere between 1858 and 1861, like many of the other Victorian pioneers, they returned to the United Kingdom. Their second son - named for his father - was born at Studley, Rostrevor, Ireland in 1861. Stead may none-the-less have maintained his licence at Bungeeltap for some time as he is listed as holding the property as late as 1861. This despite Thomas Montague Hammond described as being "of Emly Park" as early as 1854. David and Mary returned to Melbourne on at least one occasion from the UK, their names appearing in the shipping records in 1868.
Their fourth daughter Lillian Brooke Vere Stead (born 1863), further strengthened ties between the Stead, Cowie and von Steiglitz families, when she married John Charles von Steiglitz on 22nd September, 1886 at Bayswater, London. John was the nephew of John Cowie's wife Charlotte Christine von Steiglitz. The couple returned to Australia where they settled in Tasmania.
Sadly, less than two weeks after his daughter's wedding, Stead died in London on 5th October, 1886.
David Vere Stead, image held by the State Library of Victoria
The Cowies chose not to remain at Bungeeltap for quite so many years and in 1854 Cowie's portion of the run was taken over by another familiar name - Dugald McPherson - who with William Taylor held the original lease for Moranghurk from 1840 to 1846. McPherson (born c1820) was a Scottish immigrant who arrived in 1840 and built up large land holdings across Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.
During his tenure at Bungeeltap West, McPherson built a two storey, gothic style house which has been dated to about 1862. Over the years the house underwent significant renovation. In 1922, the top storey was removed and the house almost entirely rebuilt. It sits on the west bank of the river, less than a kilometre as the crow flies from Emly Park.

Bungeeltap homestead in the 1960s. Image:  J.T. Collins collection,
La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria
After giving up the Bungeeltap lease, Cowie meanwhile left Australia for the United Kingdom where he lived at  Rostrevor, County Down, Ireland. He died there on 7th January, 1875. His wife Charlotte survived her husband by four years, she died on 3rd April, 1879 at "The Willows" Rostrevor, Ireland. There were no children born to the marriage.
The squatting licence for Bungeeltap West, still held by Dugald McPherson was listed in the Victorian Government Gazette as up for renewal in April, 1880 however, I believe the lease was cancelled in 1880.
Moorabool East Branch, Egerton-Bungeeltap Road, boundary of Bungeeltap
East and West runs looking toward Bungeeltap West.

Both the Bungeeltap and Emly Park homesteads have changed hands numerous times over the ensuing century and a half and the squatters are long gone, however both houses remain as tangible links to Victoria's colonial past.


  1. Hi, we loved at bungeeltap in the 90s. the spot on the river is so beautiful. we have photos of bungeeltap in an old album of it bwhen it was two storey. let me know if you would like a copy. Someone tracked us down at bungeeltap as they bought the album from the ?20s? at a flea market. Also Emly Park and Bungeeltap were mentioned in Clean Straw for Nothing - follow up to the book My Brother Jack. Ruth

  2. Hi Ruth,
    I would love a copy of any photos you think would suit the blog post. I haven't seen any of it as a 2 storey structure and it would be great to show it during that era.
    thanks heaps!

  3. Slight Correction John Anthony Cowie was not the eldest but the youngest son of George Cowie (my 4 X great grandfather) Printer and publisher of Hackney (he actually published a book on emigration to Van Diemen's land for Edward Curr) John's elder brother Robert had taken up land in Tasmania and a number of the family joined him including, John, his sisters and eventually his widowed mother.

  4. Hi Anonymous,
    I am a COWIE who is trying to trace the tree... would be interested in anything you have from John Alexander Cowie's family. I know he had no children, but am interested in his forbears as one could be related. You can email me at jeffon1403@gmail.com

  5. It may have been that David Stead was resident in Falmouth, Cornwall before he travelled out to Australia but he was almost certainly born in Yorkshire.

    David Stead was born in 1797 to Benjamin Stead and Mary Brook, Quakers, of Siver Ing, Emley Park, Emley in Yorkshire. He was active in the Pontefract quaker meeting until 1820 when it his recorded that he moved in Hinckley, Leicestershire.

    You comment that he named his house Emley Park. His youngest daughter Alberta also named her home Siver-Ings according to the probate record for her death in Crowthorne, Berkshire. These facts clearly link the David Stead of Bungeeltap to Yorkshire.

    Benjamin and Mary Stead of Emley are some of my ancestors, I am researching their family history.

    DJ, Yorkshire, England