28 August, 2017

Seidel's Farm

Last year, I looked at a number of the works of the 19th century landscape artist Eugene von Guerard who sketched and painted a number of locations along the Barwon River. With assistance, I was able to identify the locations from which von Guerard produced a number of his pieces. In addition to those drawings we studied, von Guerard also sketched another scene overlooking the Barwon, this time upstream from Geelong not too far from Ceres.
The scene which caught his eye on the 18th March, 1854 was a vineyard in the Barrabool Hills, owned by German immigrants Alwin and Bernard Seidel, vignerons who arrived in the district on a wave of Swiss chain migration which saw members of extended families settle on the fertile banks of the creeks and rivers around Geelong. The Swiss vine-growers were encouraged to come to Australia by Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe whose wife Sophie de Montmollin was Swiss. La Trobe had spent time in Switzerland prior to their 1835 marriage and subsequent arrival in New South Wales in 1839 and would have been well-acquainted with Swiss wine production.
The Seidels it seems, were also acquainted with von Guerard as he mentions in the diary he kept of his time on the gold fields that he was travelling with "Seidel" - possibly one of the brothers. Clearly, he spent time visiting with them at the farm after his return from his gold-seeking adventures.
The Seidel's vineyard, was established in about 1849 (Geelong Advertiser, 2nd February, 1861) around a kilometre east of Ceres on Barrabool Road. Facing north east, it was situated high above the Barwon, looking out across both the Moorabool and Barwon Valleys. Today, the site lies just to the west of the Ceres/Highton exit from the Geelong Ring Road and whilst much has changed, the view is still commanding.
Looking towards the You Yangs from a position a little to the
east of Seidel's Vineyard
Initially known as the Ceres Nursery (later the Ceres Vineyard), the Seidels grew fruit trees - plums, apples, apricots and peaches are all mentioned - as well as grapes. A report in the Geelong Advertiser of 2nd February, 1861 indicates that the brothers may have farmed side by side rather than together. It states that "the Ceres Vineyard and nursery [is] the property of Alwin and Bernard Seidel, of which the former brother cultivates seven acres of vines and six of orchard and the latter six acres of either."
That they were there at all however is a testament to their determination. Ten years earlier, their fledgling nursery was completely destroyed when on 6th February, 1851 the Black Thursday bushfires struck the district. The family were lucky to escape with their lives but - undeterred - rebuilt their home and replanted their orchard and vineyard. After the outbreak of the Victorian gold rush in August, 1851, much of their fruit was taken to Ballarat for sale.
1854 Sketch of "Seidel's farm" by Eugene von Guerard. Click to enlarge
The Seidels retained ownership of the vineyard until 1863 when Alwin was declared insolvent and the property sold to Mr Louis Kitz for £1,356 (Geelong Advertiser, 5th March, 1863). Despite this setback, Alwin remained on the property as manager for some years.
In what is perhaps a testament to the vineyard's success - or perhaps just its proximity to Geelong - the vineyard was visited by the Governor of Victoria Sir Charles Darling, on his first tour of the district following his appointment. The governor spent over an hour on the property whilst Louis Kitz showed him sights and elaborated on the finer points of wine-making before inviting him to sample the produce (Geelong Advertiser, 9th December, 1863).
 By 1870 however, Kitz in turn had moved on and the property was sold to another pioneering vigneron - Alexander Belperroud, originally the owner of the Berramonga Vineyard located further upstream near today's Merrawarp Road. Belperroud renamed the property Sebastopol and began getting things in shape. The Geelong Advertiser of 7th June, 1871 reported that:
Mr Alexander Belperroud from seven acres has made 25 hhds, as against 4 hhds last year, when his vineyard was in a neglected condition he having only just taken possession.
His tenure however was also short-lived. Barely more than a month after the above article was penned, Belperroud's wife Mary died and by 1874 with his own health beginning to fail, he sold the vineyard and retired to a cottage at nearby Ceres where he died in July the following year.
Alwin Seidel died on 13th September, 1910 at the age of 88 and was buried with his wife Augusta (died 1895), in the Old Methodist section of Geelong's Eastern Cemetery the following day. His burial details record his name as Gustuv Alwin Seidel.
I am uncertain what became of Bernard, however an elderly man of that name died after he was involved in an accident with a police officer on a bike in Melbourne in 1903.
Today, little remains of the original farm buildings which are privately owned. The Victorian Heritage Database describes the remnant structures thus:
Intact cellar. There are also a concrete lined dam/water storage pond, a brick-lined cistern and an area of ruins. The cellar is rectangular, measuring approx 9.5 x 5m. It is entered through a standing sandstone porch, through double timber doors, of which one side remains in situ. Ten steps lead down into the cellar, which is of sandstone construction, with a barrel vaulted roof. There are two roof windows opening to the north. A further two windows in the south side of the vault are blocked but may once have been open. They are now covered on the outside by a stone pavement. There is a shallow niche in the west wall and what may have been another roof window, or a vent, above this. This window/vent is also blocked. A very old ivy bush is growing on the north corner of the porch. There may also have been a structure above the cellar but, if so, it has been removed. There is an area of stone pavement and a concrete slab to the south of the cellar. To the north are the cistern and an area of scattered building stone, bricks and concrete. The dam is located to the south, between the cellar and the road.

One final point of interest is to note that almost a year to the day after the date on von Guerard's sketch of Seidel's farm, he made another two drawings. Like the earlier sketch, these works took in the Barrabool Hills and were the subject of one of my earlier posts. The photo below was taken from a similar position to that from which von Guerard sketched the view looking south along the Barwon. The site of Seidel's farm - which cannot be seen for the intervening hills -  lies over the hill a mile south of the power line seen to the right of the photo.
The view close to the location on the Barwon from which von Guerard
sketched the southerly aspect of the hills.
When compared to the above sketch of Seidel's farm, the central hill in the above photograph is most likely the north face of the dark shaded hilltop to the left of the farmhouse.


  1. I have included your blog in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at


    Thank you, Chris

  2. Hello I was wondering if you might be able to email me the location of the former Seidel Vineyard on Google Maps. Bernhard Seidel was my GG Grand Father and I was hoping to make a trip over Christmas to view the old ruins at Ceres or at least the old farm. My email is camseidel1@bigpond.com

    Thanks Cameron