14 September, 2016

From ford to food bowl

My previous post looked at the early history of the land east of the Moorabool River which is fast shaping up as Gen Fyansford. European settlement began in 1837 with the arrival of Police Magistrate Foster Fyans and his men. Following their departure, there was little in the way of permanent settlement at the ford, however various Europeans did spend time in the district.
From November, 1838 Charles Wightman Sievwright, Assistant-protector of Aborigines made his home near Fyan's Ford until his dismissal from the post in 1842. By implication, like Fyans, he and his family lived in huts near the ford ("they crossed Fyans' Ford by Mr. Severight's huts" - Port Phillip Gazette, 30th October, 1841) where, during his short time in the role, he struggled to bring to the notice of the authorities, the problems caused for the indigenous peoples by the loss of traditional food sources. Sievwright also strove unsuccessfully, to have mass murders of Aboriginals prosecuted. Eventually, he was suspended and then dismissed from his post amidst allegations of incompetence. Attempts to establish a full inquiry were thwarted by the government as were his attempts in England from 1845 to clear his name (Australian Dictionary of Biography). He died there, penniless in 1855. His wife had died in Australia the previous year, leaving their seven children orphaned.
Miniature portrait of Charles Wrightman Sievwright c1825,
reproduction rights held by the State Library of Victoria
Next, in 1842 John Atkins opened the Fyans Ford Inn on the west bank of the river on land leased by the Mercers. The following year, races and stock sales were held at Fyans' Ford and settlers began to view the area as a desirable place to be. However, whilst I found reference to an area for a village reserve at Fyans' Ford as early as 1840 (Port Phillip Patriot and Melbourne Advertiser, 12th October, 1840), I found no mention of the township being officially gazetted. According to survey maps, the first land sales occurred on 21st July, 1847. On this date, James Williamson and Thomas B Payne respectively purchased blocks 1 and 2 of section XIV in the Parish of Moorpanyal.
The map below shows a section of the parish survey map overlaid on Google Earth, including the two blocks which today are Gen Fyansford land. The red line indicates the boundaries of Gen Fyansford east of the Moorabool River.
Moorpanyal Parish survey map overlaid on Google Earth
As I described previously, block 2 became the site of the Fair View Hotel during the 1850s but I am unsure what use Payne may have made of the land prior to its becoming the hotel grounds. Nor can I find mention of Williamson occupying his land.
The following year on 15th December, 1848, the track to the top of Fyansford Hill (now Hyland St) was officially gazetted as a road (Port Phillip Government Gazette, No 52, 27 December 1848, p577). It passed through blocks 1 and 2 of Section XIV, however this may not have been a significant change as early paintings already show the track winding up Fyansford Hill from the river below.
Charles Norton's 1846 view of Fyansford Hill, showing the track running
from the Moorabool River to the top of the hill, Image held by the
State Library of Victoria
The land immediately to the south of Williamson's block up to today's Atkin's St also forms part of Gen Fyansford. At the time of the original survey, this land fell within the Fyansford town reserve and was mostly subdivided into quarter acre residential blocks which were sold at public auction on 23rd June, 1854, some seven years after the sale of the larger blocks to the north. Early photos show some houses and other buildings on the land by the late 1850s, but also many open, unfenced spaces.
 And there things stood until 20th November, 1867 when Edwin Hopton purchased two blocks of land along the river, totalling about 1 and 1/4 acres. Edwin was a noted local who lived for a time at 'Swanville', the original inn built by John Atkins on the west bank of the Moorabool, before moving to another Fyansford property which he called 'Woodlands' where he was a fruit-grower and vigneron. What use he made of the land on the east bank of the Moorabool or how long he owned it, I am unsure.
The next parcel of land to be purchased on the flats overlooking the river and also now part of Gen Fyansford, was an area of about 2 acres which was purchased on 29th May, 1877 by Henry King who with his father George, developed the property into one of the best-known plant nurseries and vineyards in the district: 'Fairview Gardens'. This small land purchase in 1877 appears to be a later acquisition as The Australasian (15th December, 1877) reported that the Kings had held their 26 acre property for around eight years, placing them in the district as early as 1869, although I found other newspaper articles suggesting the Kings' presence as fruit-growers at Fyansford as early as 1863.
Henry King in later life. Image provided courtesy
of the Bellarine Historical Society
By 1880 the Kings were in possession of 46 acres (including river frontage) and were advertising apple trees for sale, boasting many new strains recently introduced from America. The land included the sloping ground above the river with the vines planted on the fertile river flats below.
At this point, I am unable to determine exactly what land was incorporated in the 46 acres held by the Kings, however can only assume that it included some or all of the land originally purchased by James Williamson in 1847 and perhaps some of that originally owned by Thomas Payne and which became the grounds of the Fair View Hotel. Incidentally, I have no idea if the name of the gardens was in anyway connected to, or inspired by the name of the hotel, however the earliest mention I found of the gardens using the name was in 1876, the same year in which Margaret Greenwood - the last owner of the hotel - died.
Advert: Geelong Advertiser 21st August, 1880
In September, 1880, disaster struck when the Moorabool suffered one of the largest floods on record. Upstream, Hope's Flour Mill below Batesford was washed away as was the almost complete Sharp's Crossing bridge near Sheoaks. A number of other structures along the river were also damaged. At Fyansford, of 40 acres under cultivation by the Kings, 20 acres were inundated. Valuable topsoil was carried off and losses were estimated at £500. In addition to a large number of cherry trees, 10,000 apple trees, 500 elms, 600 mulberry trees and a number of gooseberry trees were also destroyed. Despite this setback, the Kings were still able to supply cherries, plums, apricots, apples, and strawberries to the fruit market that season along with trees and seedlings for the nurseries (Geelong Advertiser, 6th December, 1880).
Flooding was not the only setback suffered by the Kings. Initially, in addition to the trees, fruit, vegetables and seedlings, they also planted grapes and it was claimed that their vineyard was one of the best-kept and most productive in the colony. That was, until 1878 when the 'Fairview Gardens' was one of the first properties to be struck by the tiny, sap-sucking insect known as phylloxera. According to the Geelong Advertiser of 16th July, 1878 the pest spread from Charles Wyatt's Frogmore Nursery, located less than 2 miles away on the Barwon River to the Kings' property on the Moorabool. Presumably the Kings had purchased infected stock from Mr Wyatt. As became standard practise, all vines on the property were dug up (April, 1878) and as far as possible, even the smallest rootlets removed to eradicate the pest. From this point, the Kings focused on their other growing interests.
Looking north west across the site of the 'Fairview Gardens', June, 2016
In these early years, water for the gardens was supplied from the Geelong water mains at a rate of £10 per year, however the supply was expensive and often inadequate so in1880 the Kings erected a windmill which would pump water from the river up to three 400 gallon tanks on higher ground (Geelong Advertiser, 6th December, 1880). Conveniently, Alfred King - Henry's brother - was a plumber with works located in Ryrie St. It was he who built the windmill erected at 'Fairview Gardens'. An 1882 reference in the same paper to "Mr King's windmill" suggests that the windmill was in place by that year. 
(NOTE: in both the 1926 image below and the image "dated" 1939 in the post to follow this one, two large holes which I think may be two of the 400 gallon tanks can be seen at the bend near the top of Hyland St. If so, then much of the 'Fairview Gardens' was located on the blocks of land originally owned by James Williamson and Thomas Payne.)
Over the following years, advertisements for the gardens appeared regularly in the newspapers until 1889 when the Kings decided to sell up. The property was sold on a boom market to a group of local investors whose initial intention was to subdivide and sell the land. Instead, they decided to continue the operation, retaining Henry King as manager and on 8th July, 1889 their business was registered under the name of the Fairview Gardens Company Ltd.
One of their first moves after taking possession of the property was to apply to establish a pump capable of taking 8,000 gallons of water per hour from the river. The intention was to carry the water through an 8 inch mains pipe to a 30,000 gallon cement and brick-lined reservoir further up the riverbank which would be refilled with river water every four days. From here, 6 inch pipes would distribute water to the gardens. Unsurprisingly, various community members were unhappy with this plan, fearing that during the summer months they would be left without enough water for their own purposes.
A group headed by local vintner and businessman Edwin Hopton took their complaint to parliament, suggesting instead, that the government should build a plant which would be controlled by a trust for the benefit of the entire community. Their complaint however did not receive a sympathetic hearing. Damming the river was also ruled out as it was feared this would create issues with flooding along the river flats upstream. The Fairview Gardens Co it seemed would have its water.
From this point onwards, the company successfully traded until 1904 when it was unanimously decided at an extraordinary general meeting of the company to go into liquidation. The property was placed on the market and on 17th September 1904 the following advertisement was placed in the Geelong Advertiser:
 Fairview Gardens for sale:
comprising 45 acres or thereabouts of rich river flats, about 10 acres, planted with the choices of fruit trees, and the remainder now under growing crop, has a large frontage to the river Moorabool and main road. The improvements comprise three capital good 4 and 6-roomed cottages, and all necessary outbuildings, stabling, etc., also an extensive irrigation plant, with engine, piping and windmills; besides a supply commanding about 9 acres from the Geelong water main. Extensive marl pit on the property.
Whilst the property did not sell at auction, it was purchased only a month or so later by John Ince, a local businessman and politician who after a short stint in the Victorian Legislative Assembly (December, 1877-January, 1880) served as councillor and mayor of Geelong West between 1875 and 1890.
,John Ince, Mayor of Geelong West and owner of
'Fairview Gardens'. Image held by the State Library
of Victoria
Ince's tenure at 'Fairview Gardens' was somewhat shorter than previous owners and by November, 1915 the property was on the market. In March the following year, by now listed for lease by the trustees of Ince's deceased estate and given the title 'Fairview Farm'.
The King family meanwhile, did not move too far from their Fyansford gardens. In retirement George King and his wife Elizabeth lived at a property in Marshall St, Chilwell and it was there on 21st November, 1894 that George died. He was described by The Age as "a colonist of 40 years". His wife Elizabeth survived him by a further six years, dying at Marshall St in 1900.
Graves of George and Elizabeth King (left) and Henry and Ruth King (right)
at the Western General Cemetery, Herne Hill, September, 2016
Henry meanwhile, after the sale of the property, was invited to take up the role of Inspector of Fruit for the Geelong region, a position for which he was well qualified. At the time of Henry's death on 19th September, 1913 at the age of 76 he and his wife - Ruth - were living not far from 'Fairview Gardens' in Upper Skene St, Newtown. Henry was buried beside his parents at the Western General Cemetery in Herne Hill. Ruth died at the age of 79 in 1921 and was buried with her husband.
Ruth King (neƩ Wise). Image provided courtesy of
the Bellarine Historical Society
As for the 'Fairview Gardens' their days were also numbered. In 1925, the Australian Portland Cement Company (or the Fyansford Cement Works as they are locally known) purchased the the gardens along with other neighbouring properties, thus spelling the end of what was by all accounts a very productive and attractive part of Fyansford's history.
Image by Charles Daniel Pratt dated 1939, however the photo is clearly pre-
1925 as the cement works railway and new plant are yet to be built
(see below), however here is also little (if any) sign of 'Fairview Gardens'.
Image held by the Victorian State Library


  1. Jo, I truly appreciate your attention to detail, critical use of available resources, acknowledgement of sources and ability to ferret out and document pertinent facts. Above all, thanks for providing us all with an interesting, easy-to-read insight into Fyansford's rich history.