05 May, 2015

Wormbete Estate

After looking at Wormbete Creek and the associated Wensley Brae coal mine, I thought it might be time to add to the list of squatting runs I've looked at for this blog by seeing what I could discover about the history of Wormbete Station.
As European settlement stretched out beyond the shores of Port Phillip Bay in the late 1830s, large squatting runs were taken up, often along the region's watercourses. Many runs were selected along the Barwon River and its tributaries, including Wormbete Station which was first established as a sheep run by Henry Hopkin who it is believed took the word from a local indigenous term meaning "lake with a black fellow's mound".
Henry Hopkins c1860s, Image held by the
Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts
Hopkins was a business man and wool buyer, born in Deptford, Kent, England in 1787 who had migrated to Tasmania in 1822 with his wife (also his first cousin) Sarah Rout where he was responsible for that colony's first wool exports in that same year. Over the following years, he continued to prosper, travelling to the Port Phillip District from Tasmania in 1836 before returning to Tasmania to buy Merino sheep which he then sent to stock his newly-acquired Wormbete run.
Despite his pastoral interests on the mainland, Henry spent little if any time there. In 1840 he travelled with his entire family to England where they stayed until 1842 before returning to Tasmania. By 1845 it appears that Hopkins had retired from most forms of business, spending the remainder of his life in Tasmania, leaving his second son John Rout Hopkins to take over his Victorian interest.
John Rout Hopkins c1890, Image held by the State Library of Victoria
Having served his apprenticeship as it were, learning the wool trade in Tasmania John was well-positioned to step into his father's shoes. He arrived in the Port Phillip District in 1845 and spent a period of time as manager - as far as I can tell - of St Stephen's Station, the licence for which was held at that time by John Stephens.
In August, 1851 Henry formally transferred Warmbete Station to John, at which point it was estimated at 31,000 acres and capable of carrying 3,000 head of sheep. The bluestone homestead which still stands today had been erected in the 1840s, with other outbuildings added in the two decades following. The Victorian Heritage Database notes that the property is laid out as a farm court, a formal style typical of the early years of settlement in New South Wales and Tasmania and English in style. The building's north-facing aspect is considered unusual for the period as are other features of its construction.

Wormbete homestead 1985, image copyright held by the Department of the Environment
John made a success of his pastoral activities. During the 1850s he acquired the pre-emptive right to 1,000 acres of Wormbete land as well as 640 acres of the neighbouring St Stephen's Estate to which he also took up the lease in 1857. Later he also acquired the lease to River Station which adjoined Wormbete and St Stephen's to the north west.
Out building at Wormbete Estate 1970, image from the J.T. Collins Collection,
La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria
In addition to his pastoral pursuits, John was closely involved with his local community. An active sportsman and supporter of his church, he spent many years as a councillor with the Winchelsea Shire (and its predecessor the Winchelsea Roads Board), serving several terms as shire president as well as becoming the first shire president of Barrabool Shire. In addition to local politics, John was also a member of the Victorian parliament, holding the seat of South Grant in the legislative assembly (lower house) from 1864-1867 and then again from 1871-1877. In 1892 he was elected to the lower house seat of Geelong, also taking up the position of mayor of the town in the same year.
John married three times during his life but his first - and longest marriage - was to Eliza Ann Armytage, the daughter of his squatting neighbour George Armytage from Ingleby Estate to the south west of Wormbete. The couple were married in 1850 and before Eliza's death in 1885 raised a family of seven daughters and six sons at Wormbete.
John died on 20th December, 1897 and was interred the following day at Geelong's Eastern Cemetery with his first wife Eliza, two of their young children and a number of her relatives in the Armytage family mausoleum.

The Armytage family mausoleum, Eastern Cemetery, Geelong
Neighbours in life and death. The Austin family vault (back left) and the
Armytage family mausoleum at Geelong's Eastern Cemetery
Upon his death, Wormbete passed to his eldest son Walter who married Margaret Were, grand daughter of Victoria's longest-standing businessman Jonathan Binns Were in 1904. The couple raised the next generation of the Hopkins family on the estate, however life however was not always rosy. In 1896 Walter was declared insolvent due to a fall in cattle prices in Queensland and his inability to get a release from a mortgage held on the property. In 1901 a small bushfire broke out on the property, burning 100 acres of pasture land and some fencing.
The property and the Hopkins family however survived. Walter died in 1944 and is buried at the Winchelsea Cemetery. Following his death, the property was divided between his sons Henry - who retained Wormbete - and John whose portion of the estate was named Burong Station.
The end of an era came for Wormbete during the 1980s when the property was put on the market. The purchaser was millionaire businessman Alan Bond, however the property was soon returned to the ownership of the Hopkins family, only to be sold once again in 1997. The current owners of Wormbete are the Blakely family who run sheep, cattle and thoroughbred horses on the property.
The property is often host to a variety of community events including the Barwon Hunt Club who hosted children's day at Wormbete in 2014 whilst in a rather modern twist, Wormbete Station featured on a 2014 episode of Channel Ten's MasterChef with the contestants competing in a challenge.
*The name JW Rout later appeared listed as property manager of Wormbete Station in 1867 when he gave evidence before a parliamentary select committee, inquiring into the best route for the proposed train line from Geelong to Colac. History indicates that the "Black Line" - supported by Mr Rout and very  favourably aligned to service Wormbete Station, was eventually chosen. In fact, an 18km Wensleydale branch line with four stations (including Wormbete) was eventually opened in 1890 to further service the area.

1 comment:

  1. I have a pamphlet from 1976 given to visitors of Wormbete station at the time!