Passing of the Pioneers

February Passing of the Pioneers has obituaries from some of the Western District’s early colonists.  They include Fanny Fisher and John Kelly, both born in Tasmania. They each lived in Victoria for 79 years by the time of their deaths.

Alexander LEARMONTH:  Died 8 February 1874 at Hamilton. The Learmonths were one of Hamilton’s most noted families. Alexander was the eldest of four brothers to immigrate to Australia and in time their paths led to Hamilton.  Alexander arrived in 1857 and immediately took an interest in the town’s affairs. He  founded the Hamilton municipality and was the first Mayor of the Borough, holding the office for six years. The contribution Alex Learmonth made to Hamilton in those early days was immense.

OBITUARY. (1874, February 24). Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser (Vic. : 1842 - 1876), p. 6 Edition: EVENING. Retrieved February 20, 2013, from

OBITUARY. (1874, February 24). Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser (Vic. : 1842 – 1876), p. 6 Edition: EVENING. Retrieved February 20, 2013, from

Alexander was a trustee of the Hamilton Mechanics Institute.  After his death, funds raised built an extra room named the Learmonth Memorial Hall. He also served as a territorial Magistrate, Coroner, Government Auditor and many other offices, too many to list, but all are in his full obituary.



John KELLY:  Died 7 February 1914 at St Helens. John Kelly, born in Tasmania, was one of the oldest residents in the Port Fairy and Yambuk district when he died in 1914. He had been in Victoria for seventy-nine years, having arrived aged three.  He first resided at Casterton, then near Port Fairy and later he ran a general store at Yambuk. His wife passed away forty-one years before him and he left seven children.

John Wishart GIBSON: Died 10 February 1914 at Colac. John Gibson was a Geelong importer before purchasing a large amount of land in and around Colac. He was a keen golfer and enjoyed playing the Port Fairy Golf Links on his summer holidays. John’s wife Grace signed the 1891  Women’s Suffrage Petition at Highton. They had five children.

Fanny Mercer FISHER:  Died 25 February 1914 at Dobie. Fanny Richardson was the oldest resident in the Ararat district at the time of her death, aged eighty-one. She had been in Victoria for seventy-nine years and that was also thought to qualify her as the oldest lady colonist in the state. Apparently she shared the title with a Mrs Pearman and a Mrs Creswick until they both passed away. Fanny, born in Tasmania, was the daughter of David Fisher. He took up the position of manager for the Derwent Company bringing him, and later his family, to Geelong in 1837. A letter from David appears in Letters from Victorian Pioneers.  In 1850, Fanny married James Richardson.

John Henry JACKSON: Died 2 February 1915 at Casterton. John Jackson was born in Longford, Tasmania in 1829.  At fourteen, he travelled to Victoria to work for his uncles Samuel and William Jackson near Sunbury. When his uncles purchased Sandford Estate from John Henty in 1847, John rode from Sunbury to Sandford by himself aged eighteen. He remained there for the rest of his life. John married Marianne Bowtell in 1855 and they had two sons and three daughters.  John was one of the earliest J.P.s in the area and was a Honourary Magistrate.

John HOWELL: Died 17 February 1915 at Orford. John Howell was born in the Port Fairy district around 1843 to Irish parents.  He selected land at Orford in 1867 and remained there until his death. He never married, and due to his thrift was a donor to many worthy causes. He left three brothers and five sisters.

Reverend Mother Mary Josephine CLANCY:  Died February, 1915 at sea. The Reverend Mother Josephine was one of the founding members of the Brigidine Convent in Ararat, arriving around 1888 from Ireland. With guidance from the much admired Mother Josephine, the convent school, was highly regarded. Marian College still operates today. Sadly, after a trip home to Ireland, Mother Josephine passed away on the ship during the return voyage.

Hugh CAMERON:  Died February 1934 at Drumborg. Born in Portland around 1855, Hugh Cameron moved around the Western District for several years, finally settling at Drumborg. He lived at Condah, Willaura, Telangatuk and Branxholme.  He married Mary Cameron of Toorak and they had five boys and two girls.

Ellen McDONALD:  Died 4 February 1937 at Moonee Ponds. Ellen McDonald lived in Portland for most of her 76 years but moved to Moonee Ponds for the last thirteen years of her life. During her time in Portland, where her husband Thomas Hickey ran a livery stable, Ellen attended All Saints Church. After the move to Melbourne, Ellen enjoyed returning to Portland for her annual holiday.  She left Thomas, five sons and two daughters.  A son John, a veteran of the Boer War, predeceased her.

Samuel ARTIS: Died February 1938 at Port Fairy. Samuel Artis was born around 1858 and worked for the Belfast and Koroit Steam Navigation Company for many years and was at one time, foreman of the wharf. Samuel was also an expert on the history of Port Fairy.

Frederick H. BEST: Died 29 February 1940 at Winslow. Frederick was born in England in 1849 and arrived in Portland with his parents, in 1852.  He began work as a tanner at fifteen and work around Australia and New Zealand for the following ten years.  He married Louise Cardinal at Woolsthorpe in 1875 and set up a tannery business at Winslow.  It became the biggest tannery outside the larger cities.

William McKENZIE:  Died 2 February 1949 at Newfields. Born at Carranballac Station in 1868, William McKenzie was the youngest of thirteen children. He worked as a shearer through the Western District and N.S.W. before taking up dairy farming around the turn of the century. William married Augusta Schmidt in 1896.

Trove Tuesday – A Whale of a Time

I stumbled across this little gem only because it shared a page with an article I believe is about the sister of my ggg grandmother Ellen Barry.  That article from The Argus of June 1, 1849,  mentions a Mary Walker, the married name of Mary Barry.  Why do I think it is about my Mary Walker?  Aside from the fact she was living in Melbourne then, the article is under the heading “Police Office” with Mary and another woman described as “two notorious termagants”.  My Mary Walker caused an immigration agent to lose his bounty on her, thanks to her disruptive behavior on the voyage from Ireland to Port Phillip.

As I rolled my eyes at possibly another discovery of a misdemeanor by one of the Barry girls, I noticed this little snippet two columns over.

Domestic Intelligence. (1849, June 1). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1956), p. 1 Supplement: Supplement to the Argus.. Retrieved September 23, 2012, from

Great news for the whales! At last their winter home in the seas off the south-west of Victoria was safe to visit again.  Whaling was a huge industry at  both Portland and Port Fairy with Portland’s first whaling station established in 1833 and  Port Fairy’s  in 1835. By the 1840s, few whales existed and whaling was no longer considered commercially viable and the whaling stations closed.

As the article notes, by the end of the 1840s, whales where appearing again.  Today,their descendants visit the waters of Warrnambool, Port Fairy and Portland and have become a huge boost to tourism during the colder months.  Warrnambool particularly has benefited from  whale watching, however this year the main attractions have made only brief visits, preferring Port Fairy, with daily sightings close to shore of up to 13 whales.   Portland too has had whales and over the past few days a whale and her calf have been off the breakwater, oblivious to the slaughters over 170 years ago.

False Alarm

Reading the list of newspapers waiting to be released by the NLA’s  Trove,  I noticed the Port Fairy Gazette would not be far away.  Out of interest, I ran a search for “Port Fairy” and bingo many “coming soon” articles came up.  As my Harman and Bishop families lived in Port Fairy at various times, I went straight for a search on “Harman”.  Eleven matches came up with nine  relevant to my Harmans.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw one of the article previews:

Mr James Harman, Byaduk, aged 85, died last week. He landed in Port Fairy in 1853 and…..

It looked like it could be my ggg grandfathers obituary.  I search for his obituary every time Trove releases a new paper.  To date all I have found is the following snippet from The Argus:

COUNTRY NEWS. (1916, August 22). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1956), p. 8. Retrieved August 29, 2012, from

Brothers Walt, George and Jonathan all had lengthy obituaries why not my ggg grandfather.  Even the shadow dweller, brother Alfred had a Family Notice when he died!.  It did seem that my only chance was to search the microfilmed Hamilton Spectators at the Hamilton History Centre .  The hard part about that is getting to Hamilton.

Trove’s release of the Port Fairy Gazette (1914-1918) happened today and yes, the much-anticipated article was available.  I clicked on the link.  This is it, I thought.  What did I find?

Personal. (1916, August 24). Port Fairy Gazette (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), p. 2 Edition: EVENING.. Retrieved August 29, 2012, from

Twelve more words than the preview.  Only 12 words.  How can I expect any more in The Hamilton Spectator?  How I can ever expect to find any mention of the death of my ggg grandmother Susan Read, wife of James, who died in the same year?

On the bright side I found a couple of good Bishop related articles and a nice article about my gg uncle Charles James Harman prior to his departure for Egypt during WW1. So far, only 1916 is available but  based on the results so far, I think I’m bound to find more when the other years become available.

It was a big day for Trove today with 13Victorian titles released and another Western District paper,  the Portland Observer and Normanby Advertiser (1914-1918) was among them.

Also of interest to me are the Flemington Spectator (1914-1918) and the Wangaratta Chronicle (1914-1918)Sarah Harman and her husband George Adams lived in Flemington and so far I have found plenty of “Adams” matches in the Spectator but none for Sarah or George yet.  Herbert George Harman, nephew of James Harman was a reporter for the Wangaratta Chronicle for over 50 years and I have found matches for both him and his father George, mostly to do with their Masonic activities.

In The News – June 1, 1928

For those of you who have not visited the south-west of Victoria, the following article gives a wonderful description from Camperdown through to Port Fairy.   Published on June 1, 1928 in the Hurstbridge  Advertiser, the correspondent, “Mernda”  journeys by bus to Port Fairy.  There are descriptions of some of the towns and their industries as well as the volcanic countryside.

The former Bank of Australasia (below) was a highlight for “Mernda” in Port Fairy.


Of interest is the Glaxo works in Port Fairy, considered by “Mernda” as a “great success”.  Glaxo produced high quantities of milk powder, from milk sourced from the local area.  In the 1940s, the company name changed to Glaxo Laboratories and still exists today in Port Fairy as GlaxoSmithKline.

Nestle at Dennington, just outside Warrnambool, was another milk powder manufacturer that caught “Mernda’s” eye.  Nestle operated from 1911 until 2005 when Fonterra bought the factory. To read a history of the Nestle factory at Dennington, follow the link

MY TRIP TO THE WESTERN DISTRICT. (1928, June 1). Advertiser (Hurstbridge, Vic. : 1922 – 1939), p. 4 Edition: AFTERNOON.. Retrieved May 31, 2012, from

New Year’s Day in the Western District

Less than a week on from Boxing Day, a popular day on the calendar for sports and racing, the Western District pioneers were back at it on New Year’s Day.  Most towns had a sports carnival or race meeting or both and the townsfolk flocked to them.

The Turf Inn, just north of Ballarat, had a busy day on New Year’s Day 1858 with sports and pony races held in the vicinity.

THE TURF INN. (1858, January 2). The Star (Ballarat, Vic. : 1855 - 1864), p. 3. Retrieved December 29, 2011, from

At Warrnambool, New Year’s Day 1859 was celebrated with games on Flagstaff Hill, including rounders.  A game of shinty, a Scottish game like hockey, was also enjoyed.

DOMESTIC INTELLIGENCE. (1859, January 3). Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser (Vic. : 1842 - 1876), p. 2 Edition: EVENINGS.. Retrieved December 29, 2011, from

The Caledonian games were a popular New Years Day outing for the people of Ballarat in 1861.  I can relate to the poor shop assistants watching the passing parade of happy people enjoying the public holiday.  I have worked more public holidays than I care to remember, in fact I am working today.  I must say while it is annoying at times, I don’t find myself  thinking as the 1860s employees did “wishing all manner of ills to the exacting master whose behests precluded them from mixing in the throng of light hearts and merry faces that swept past the doors…”

NEW YEAR'S DAY. (1861, January 2). The Star (Ballarat, Vic. : 1855 - 1864), p. 2. Retrieved December 30, 2011, from

Smythesdale, just out of Ballarat, managed to attract three to four hundred people to their sports day in 1862, despite many other activities threatening to draw people away.  Some of the more interesting sports were catching the pig with the greasy tail and treacle and bread eating competitions.

SMYTHESDALE. (1862, January 3). The Star (Ballarat, Vic. : 1855 - 1864), p. 2. Retrieved December 30, 2011, from

At Digby in 1863, the local school children held their annual festival and indulged in many cakes and other sweet treats.

DIGBY. (1863, January 6). Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser (Vic. : 1842 - 1876), p. 3 Edition: EVENING. Retrieved December 30, 2011, from

I could not imagine a government today, state or federal, holding an election between Christmas and New Year.  On December 30, 1865, a general election was held in Victoria, but the timing was not tactical, but due to the dissolution of the fourth government of Victoria on December 11.  New Year’s Day 1866 was spent enjoying the local cricket match and waiting for election results.

NEW YEAR'S DAY. (1866, January 4). Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser (Vic. : 1842 - 1876), p. 2 Edition: EVENING. Retrieved December 30, 2011, from

The church bells rang out over Portland at midnight on New Year’s eve 1866, with local boys out on the streets singing “Old John Brown”.  The first day of the new year was hot and outdoor activities were again popular.

NEW YEAR'S DAY. (1867, January 3). Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser (Vic. : 1842 - 1876), p. 2 Edition: EVENING. Retrieved December 30, 2011, from

In 1869, New Year’s Day saw al fresco dining at Bridgewater and Narrawong.  The correspondent reported he had not seen so many picnics on one day, including one held for the Baptist Sunday school children and a large gathering at Mr Henty’s paddock.

THE NEW YEAR. (1869, January 4). Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser (Vic. : 1842 - 1876), p. 2 Edition: EVENINGS. Retrieved December 30, 2011, from

The Australian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil ran a picture of Portarlington on New Years Day, 1879.

(1879, January 18). The Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil (Melbourne, Vic. : 1873 - 1889), p. 172. Retrieved December 30, 2011, from

Finally an article from Port Fairy, a popular holiday place then and now for people of the Western District and a place I have celebrated New Year’s Eve on several occasions.  In 1927, visitors to the town had swelled, including a party of several hundred Koroit residents on their annual excursion.  Beaches, fishing, cricket and boat trips to Julia Percy Island kept the holiday makers entertained.

HOLIDAY RESORTS. (1927, January 8). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 23. Retrieved December 30, 2011, from

Happy New Year!

Not Such an Odd Fellow

George Hall Harman, born in Melbourn, Cambridgeshire in 1835, was the fifth child of Joseph Harman and Sarah Mulbury.  His middle name “Hall”  came from the maiden name of his paternal grandmother, Keiza Hall.  The 1851 English Census shows 16 year old George working as an errand boy and living at the home of  local publican and farmer, William Dearman.  The following year he saw his older brother James leave for Australia and two years later in 1854, he had his own opportunity to travel to Australia.  With his two younger brothers, Jonathan and Reuben, they boarded the “Kate” at Southampton on August 3, 1854 bound for Sydney, arriving on November 7.

I lose track of George for several years until 1859 when he and  brother James advertised land for sale, Boodcarra Farm at Port Fairy, then known as Belfast. The advertisement is listed in the Port Fairy/Belfast News Index 1859 .  In 1860, George married Rebecca Graham, the daughter of  Thomas Graham and Margaret Paterson.

Compared to his brothers, George & Rebecca had a relatively small family of five children:

Walter Graham – Birth: 1862 in Port Fairy; Marriage:  1887 to Ann GRAY; Death: 1930 in Kyneton, Victoria.

Edith – Birth: 1865 in Byaduk;  Death: 1866 in Byaduk

Thomas Charles – Birth: 1867 in Port Fairy; Marriage:  1900 to Elizabeth Margaret BUDGE; Death: 1954 in Victoria

Mary Helena – Birth: 1870 in Port Fairy; Marriage:  1911 to Samuel ROGERS;  Death: 1920 in Sale, Victoria

Herbert George – Birth: 1878 in Port Fairy; Marriage: 1905 to Aimee Elizabeth HEAD; Death: 1955 in Wangaratta, Victoria

George and Rebecca began their married life in Port Fairy but moved to Byaduk with the other members of the Harman family around 1863.  It appears that George preferred the seaside town and they returned to Port Fairy by 1867.

On a visit to Port Fairy, I called in at the Port Fairy Historical Society in the town’s former Court House.   I noticed old portraits on a wall.  Amongst the faces were George and Rebecca Harman.  The Society have a copying service and I was able to arrange for copies to be sent.

George Hall HARMAN, Original held by Port Fairy Historical Society

Rebecca GRAHAM, Original held by Port Fairy Historical Society
















From the photo of George it is obvious he was a Mason.  Turning to Trove, I was able to establish George was a member of the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Odd Fellows(M.U.I.O.O.F.).  I also found a lead to the possible origin of George’s photograph:

(1907, June 24). Portland Guardian (Vic. : 1876 - 1953), p. 3 Edition: EVENING. Retrieved November 9, 2011, from

After Rebecca’s death in 1902, George remained in Port Fairy living in James, Gipps and Sackville Streets.   His occupation varied from “gardener” to “independent means”.  He also spent time with his family as the 1914 Australian Electoral Roll shows, with him residing at the home of his daughter Mary and her husband Samuel Rogers in Wodonga.  He also spent time with his son, Herbert in Wangaratta as this article about the Wangaratta Odd Fellows Lodge in The Argus suggests:

COUNTRY NEWS. (1923, August 29). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 23. Retrieved November 9, 2011, from

George passed away on September 14, 1931 at the ripe old age of 96.  Only two of his children, Thomas and Herbert,  were living at the time of his death.

Family Notices. (1931, September 16). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 1. Retrieved November 9, 2011, from

George was buried at the Port Fairy Cemetery with Rebecca and baby Edith.

Grave of George, Rebecca and Edith Harman, Port Fairy Cemetery

Headstone of George, Rebecca and Edith Harman, Port Fairy Cemetery















I often think of George and the 29 years after Rebecca’s death until his own.  He saw the passing of his daughter and son and two granddaughters.  Was it a lonely time or did his activities with the Odd Fellows and the visits to the homes of family members fill the void?  I hope so, because George was just a normal fellow who happened to be an Odd Fellow.

In Search of the Extraordinary Monster

The cold snap this week has given me a chance to revisit the book by James Bonwick Western Victoria, It’s Geography, Geology and Social Conditions: The Narrative of an Educational Tour in 1857 .  Although I have read the book several times, I still enjoy flicking through to my favourite parts.  One of those is the description of the Belfast (Port Fairy) Methodist Church

“…this building has come in for it’s share of carvings, in the shape of wreaths, flowers, vases, etc.  There is John Wesley’s benignant countenance regarding his incoming followers, and  a noble shell expands over the front doorway.  An extraordinary monster is beheld crouching beneath the shell.  What he is, and what he does there, is a solemn mystery, known only to the artist.  Guesses as to character and description seem to run into one line, that it (is) neither more no less than the representation of the Arch One, who certainly looks uncomfortable with the shell and John Wesley over his head.   The mason may have intended it to exorcise the neighborhood, or to terrify little children into good behavior at chapel” (p84)

When I first read this book I penciled in a visit to the church when next in Port Fairy.  The fishing port town of Port Fairy is one of my favourite places in Victoria and is a summer playground for many in the Western District.  I  didn’t know on my many visits to Port Fairy in the 1980s, that I had a link with the town.  The Harman family had lived there in the 1850s and as Wesleyan Methodists would have no doubt attended sermons in the church.

While spending a few days there a couple of years ago, my small research assistant and I, walked to the church.    I was keen to see the carvings as described by Bonwick and I was pleased to see they lived up to his description. 

It is a little difficult to make out in the photo, but the “extraordinary monster” is in the bottom centre of the shell, its mouth is most easily seen.  John Wesley is depicted in the stone above the shell.  The carving directly above the door cannot be clearly seen here.   Wire netting has been placed over the carvings in attempt to protect them.

We were lucky enough to run into a church volunteer doing  repairs and he allowed us to go inside the church.  The interior is still in its original condition.  I allowed myself to imagine the sermons of the 19th century with a  preacher placing the fear of God into his parishioners with talk of fire and brimstone.

  The church was new when Bonwick visited.   On September 5, 1855, The Argus ran an article from the Belfast Gazette.  It was reporting the laying of the foundation stone for the Wesleyan church on August 21.  Many townspeople gathered for the occasion, with the Reverend Hart beginning proceedings with prayer, scripture reading and song.  The ceremony then proceeded to a laying of a time capsule.  This honour was given to William Witton a long-term resident of the colony.  Witton was about 45 at the time and had been a builder in Melbourne before taking up the life of a grazier in the Western District.  His obituary credits him as the builder of the first Melbourne offices of the Bank of Australasia and for being one of the driving forces behind the foundation of Wesleyan churches throughout the colony.   

According to the Gazette, a bottle containing “the  Belfast Gazette and Banner of the week, and an inscription, of which the following is a copy :   “The foundation stone of James street Wesleyan Church, Belfast, laid by William Witton, Esq., on Tuesday, August 21,1855. Minister, Rev. R. Hart; chairman of the district, Rev. D. J. Draper; president of the Conference; Rev. W. B. Boyce: building committee, Messrs. Tillotson, McMahon, Bellett, Cole, and Scott; treasurer, W. W. Watson, Esq. ; secretary, W. N. Hosking, Esq. ; contractors, Messrs. Barnes, McGut, and Trevaskis.”  I thought it was unusual that local sculptor Walter McGill was not mentioned among the contractors, but I now believe that Mr McGut is in fact Mr McGill.  McGill was an interesting character who was not only a sculptor and stone mason but also a phrenologist and has been credited for making the death mask of Captain Moonlight.

Next time I visit the church I am going to look for the foundation stone, and hopefully get some better photos!  The church is now classified by the National Trust, who describe it as “one of Port Fairy’s finest buildings”.  I would have to agree with them.

ENDNOTE:  My small research assistant, now seven, has since resigned from his position.