29 December, 2016


In November, 2016 the Meredith History Group held its monthly meeting at 'Ballark', home of the Molesworth family for more than a century. Today's 'Ballark' is the remnant of one of the original squatting runs established on the east branch of the Moorabool River in the earliest days of European settlement.
The original license for the property was taken up in 1838 by John Wallace. Wallace was born at Nairn in Scotland and as a boy, travelled to van Diemen's Land in the 1820s to live with his uncle. Like many during the late 1830s, he crossed Bass Strait from van Diemen's Land, bringing stock to graze the thousands of acres of grassland they found along the creeks and rivers of the region. Initially he camped near Anakie, but dry weather encouraged him to move north in search of some protection in the form of more heavily timbered country and he eventually settled upon a site on the east bank of the Moorabool East Branch.
Looking north up the Moorabool Valley with 'Ballark' land to the east
According to Victorian Squatters (Spreadborough & Anderson, 1983), the Ballark run was originally gazetted at 17,000 acres, however as was often the case, this was divided into two smaller properties in 1853. Wallace retained the lease for 'Ballark No. 1' whilst that for 'Ballark No. 2' was taken up by squatters by the name of  Cuthbert and Hammond . Their tenure however was short-lived and by 1861 this lease was also in Wallace's name. Both licenses were forfeited in 1872, by which time in addition to the pre-emptive right for the run, he had purchased the freehold to several thousand acres surrounding his homestead.
In 1843 John married Elizabeth Smith. With the exception of a few years during which he resided in Geelong at Rannoch House, the property remained the family home until John's death on 24th October, 1882 at the age of 71 suffering a bout of pneumonia. Accompanied by a substantial cortège, he was buried with Elizabeth (died 1862) in the family's private cemetery on the property, overlooking the Moorabool River.
Wallace is also remembered in his native Nairn where a bandstand was erected overlooking the coastline. A plaque at the site reads: "Erected to the memory of John Wallace a native of Nairn who died at Ballark Australia, 1882. A pioneer who became on of the most successful and respected pastoralists in the Colony of Victoria. Ballan Shire Historical Society 1991."
Memorial to John Wallace at Nairn, Scotland. Image taken by Allan Maciver,
23rd February, 2012
According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 6, 1976, upon the death of his father, John's eldest son Donald Smith Wallace (1844-1900) inherited the pre-emptive right to 'Ballark' and later purchased the remainder of the estate. The year following Wallace's death, an auction notice appeared in the Ballarat Star of 13th September, 1883 announcing the sale of 'Ballark', the size of which at that time was estimated at 7743 acres. Presumably Donald was the purchaser.
Like his father, Donald was a grazier. Educated in Melbourne, he gained experience in the industry before taking up significant pastoral holdings in Queensland. In 1878 he returned to Victoria where he made an unsuccessful attempt to enter politics at the 1880 election before returning to Queensland where he held the Seat of Cleremont in the legislative assembly of that state from 1883 until 1888. Despite this, he spent little time in the state, instead returning to Victoria where he held a seat on the legislative council from 1889 to 1894.
Despite his involvement in politics, Donald's real interest was horse racing and during the period from 1881 to 1898 he was involved as a committee member of the Victorian Racing Club. Whilst he owned several thoroughbreds and achieved success in a number of high-profile races, without doubt his most successful horse was Carbine - winner of the 1890 Melbourne Cup. A New Zealand bred stallion, from 43 races run, Carbine won 33, ran second in six races and third in a further three, failing to place only once due to injury. His Melbourne Cup win saw him carry a weight of 66kg - 24kg more than his nearest rival.
Carbine prior to his departure for England, 1895. Image held by the
State Library of Victoria
Injury forced Carbine into retirement in 1891 and he was put out to stud, first at 'Ballark' before being sold in 1895 and taken to England. His success as a sire was as outstanding as his racing career with over half the Melbourne Cup winners between the years of 1914 and 1978 being descendants of Carbine. Amongst the most famous horses to trace their lineage back to Carbine are Phar Lap and Makybe Diva.
Despite his racing success and his vast business interests, falling wool prices and several poor seasons led to mounting debts which forced Wallace to sell off first his Queensland and then most of his Victorian interests. Donald died at 'Ballark' on 27th May, 1900. He was survived by his son John Vivian Wallace, born in 1880 in Victoria to Donald and his wife Ida Australia (nèe Thorn) who had married in Queensland in 1877. Like his parents and wife, he was buried in the little cemetery overlooking the Moorabool River.
The Wallace family cemetery at 'Ballark', November, 2016
Following Donald's death, the property remained in the hands of his trustees before finally in 1915 it was put on the market. The purchaser was a Mr Phil Lock who almost immediately placed the 2,500 acre estate back on the market. This time, the purchaser was Mr John Molesworth of St Kilda, formerly of Mount Napier (Ballarat Star, 28th September, 1915). The Molesworths undertook significant renovations to the original homestead in order to fit the property out as their family home.
The Molesworth family trace their origins to England and count amongst their descendants some members of the British Royal Family. John was the great-grandfather of the current occupant - also John - who continues to work the property, lives at the homestead to the present day and will be followed in due course by his own son - James.
Ballark homestead November, 2016
Like the Wallaces, the Molesworths bred sheep and also found success as horse breeders producing, according to John, 100 winners of their own. The original John was succeeded at 'Ballark' by his son John Robert Nassau 'Bob' Molesworth, born 30th April, 1910. Details of Bob's life including his training as a jackaroo in Outback Western Australia, a distinguished military career as a pilot and a lifelong involvement with the local community, serving on committees and as a member of the Ballan Hospital, Ballan Racing Club, Ballarat Show Society and the CFA at Morrison's, can be found in the obituary written by his son-in-law Barry Lazarus and published in The Age, 27th July, 2006. Bob died on the 1st July, 2006.
 Today as with many of the old properties in the district, the focus has moved to rehabilitating the land which has served the family for so many generations. To this end, over 100,000 trees have been planted at 'Ballark' in the last 13 years. Another initiative is fundraising in the form of shooting parties held on the property, with the money raised going to help local sporting clubs, continuing Ballark's ongoing interest in sport and the local community.


  1. I am forever being amazed, but not entirely surprised, at the extent of your interests and the depth of your research. Another great year of blogs, Jo! Cheers ~ to the new year. May it be filled with even more adventures and fun times.

    1. Thanks as always for your support John! Happy New Year!

  2. Hello. Does this property have a large amount of bluestone ruins on it at all?

  3. I'm a direct descendant of John Wallace. This is a great read. Thanks!