Passing of the Pioneers

August Passing of the Pioneers includes a member of the Victorian Parliament, a publican, and a school principal.  All of this month’s pioneers are now on the Western District Families Pioneer Obituary Index.

Robert HEANEY – Died 20 August, 1890 at Melbourne. Robert Heaney was born in Ireland around 1836.  He married Jane Armstrong and soon after they departed for Australia. The Heaneys arrived on the General Hewitt at Portland Harbour on 9 October 1856.  They spent the first ten years in Victoria at Heywood before moving to Condah Swap, later known as Wallacedale.

Mary Ann COUGHLAN – Died August 1917 at Caramut. Margaret Coughlan was born around 1833 and arrived at Portland on 21 January 1848 aboard the Sir Edward Parry with her siblings to meet up with their parents Jonathan Gordon Coughlan and Jane Richmond who settled in that town.  After some years, during a trip to Caramut, she met John Bendall and they married in 1864.  John was the manager of Hopkins Hill and The Gums, near Caramut for John Moffatt.  After the sale of The Gums, John Bendall operated a store and post office in Caramut until his death in 1887.  Mary Ann remained living at Caramut and was eighty-four at the time of her death.  She left two sons and two daughters.

John THOMSON – Died 3 August 1917 at Melbourne.  John Thomson was born at Warrambine Station near Shelford in 1853.  His parents were James Thomson and Christian Armstrong.  In 1870,  James Thomson purchased Monivae near Hamilton from the deceased estate of former Police Magistrate Acheson Ffrench.  The family resided in the original homestead built for Acheson Ffrench but a new homestead was completed in 1877.

MONIVAE 1966. Image Couresy of the J.T. Collins Collection, La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria. Image no. H97.250/44

MONIVAE 1966. Image Couresy of the J.T. Collins Collection, La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria. Image no. H97.250/44

John attended Scotch College in Melbourne where he was one of the college’s finest athletes.  After he completed his schooling, John returned to Monivae. Soon after he entered public life, first as a Dundas Shire Councillor.  In 1892 he contested the seat of Dundas in the Victorian State Parliament.  He held the seat from 1892 to 1900 and from 1902 to 1914.  At the age of fifty-six, in 1909 John married Christina Robertson.

Aside from his political life, John was on the management committee of the St Andrews Presbyterian Church and member and onetime president of the Hamilton Racing Club.  He was also a supporter of many of Hamilton’s community and sporting groups, including the P&A Society, the Hamilton Pipe Band and the fire brigade.  John Thomson was attending a public school football match in Melbourne on 3 August 1917, when he died suddenly.  He was buried at the Hamilton Old Cemetery.

In 1919, a fountain was unveiled in the Hamilton Botanic Gardens by the then Victorian Premier, Harry Lawson in memory of John Thomson




William DERHAM – Died 16 August 1918 at Port Fairy.  William Derharm was born in County Tyrone, Ireland and arrived in Victoria around 1863.  He first worked at Korongah Station at Rosebrook for Messers Lydiard and Knight. He then turned to onion growing and resided at Korongah Lodge. William left four daughters and two sons.

Robert FRASER – Died 4 August 1918 at Strathkellar.  Robert Fraser was born in Scotland in 1841 and arrived in Adelaide in 1854 on the Joseph Rowan with his parents Archibald and Helen Fraser and his four sisters.  They soon headed for Victoria and resided at Bochara.  In 1865, Robert married Jane Mason and they settled and farmed at Muddy Creek.  Robert died at the home of his daughter at Strathkellar and was buried at the Hamilton Old Cemetery.  Jane died only a few weeks before.

Francis Hazel WRIGHT – Died 18 August 1918 at Hamilton. Francis Wright was born at Broadwater around 1865.  He took up the running of the Grange Hotel (later called George Hotel) in Hamilton around 1914. He was involved with many Hamilton sporting clubs and the gun club.  For thirty years he was part of the Victorian Land’s Department rabbit extirpation branch and served as an inspector for the last five years of his life.  Three weeks before his death, Frank broke his kneecap while climbing into his buggy.  He then contracted pneumonia and died.

Christina Ross LINTON – Died August 1926 at Hamilton.  Born at Inverness, Scotland in 1848, Christina came to Victoria with her parents William Linton and Jean Sinclair and her younger brother John around 1851 aboard the Statesman.  William gave his occupation as shepherd.  In 1868, Christina married Thomas Laidlaw at Wickliffe.  Christina and Thomas moved around between properties, Thomas had interests in and their first stop was Lake Roy in South Australia.  They also lived at Glenburnie, Macarthur, South Wonwondah Station and finally Glencairn just south of Hamilton.

Christina was buried in the Laidlaw family plot at the Hamilton Old Cemetery.




Rose Hannah HANN – Died 18 August 1935 at Portland.  Rose Hann was born in Somersetshire in 1850 to Paul Hann and Asenath Pitman.  The family arrived at Melbourne in 1852 aboard the Priam and stayed in the area for a time, before travelling to Portland to settle.  Around 1871, Rose married John Marshall.  Early in their marriage, they spent some time at the Bendigo diggings but most of their lives, Rose and John lived at Portland.  They raised a family of eleven  children.

Clara Jex EDRICH – Died August 1937 at Portland.  Clara Edrich was born at Portland in 1855 to Richard Jex Edrich and Eliza Martin and was baptised at St Stephens Church.  In 1877, Clara married John Guy at St Stephens Church, Portland by the Reverend Allnutt.

St Stephens Church, Portland


After a year of marriage they took up residence in Barclay Street, Portland, the birthplace of eight of Clara and John’s nine children and where Clara died in 1937.  John passed away four years before Clara.

Mary Arabella “Minnie” HISCOCK – Died 29 August 1941 at Hotspur.  Mary Hiscock, born in 1859 at Hotspur, was the daughter of James Hiscock and Mary Cobb and was known as Minnie. After her birth, the Hiscocks moved to Lower Crawford and Minnie remained there until she was fifty-eight in 1917 when she returned to Hotspur.   In her younger years, Minnie was known as a fine horsewoman and would ride around the countryside to attend balls and other social gatherings.  When she was seven, she rode with her father from Hotspur to Birregurra east of Colac, a distance of around 235 kilometers which took three days. Minnie never married.

Florence Helena LAIDLAW – Died 26 August 1944 at Malvern.  Florence Laidlaw was born at Port Fairy in  1858 to David Laidlaw and Eliza Fraser.  Although Florence was born at Port Fairy, where her grandparents William and Agnes Laidlaw lived, David and Eliza Laidlaw resided in Hamilton where David was a saddler.  David Laidlaw quickly rose to prominence in the Hamilton district and went on to serve five terms as Mayor of the town.  In 1873, David laid the foundation stone for the Alexandra Ladies’ College in Hamilton, of which he was one of the founders.

"TELEGRAPHIC DESPATCHES." The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957) 11 Nov .

“TELEGRAPHIC DESPATCHES.” The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957) 11 Nov <;.

Florence Laidlaw attended Alexandra Ladies’ College and later became the headmistress.



On 29 December 1917, the Weekly Times reported on a trip Florence was making to Sydney to stay with her sister and mentioned she was the headmistress at Alexandra College.  However, she appears to have retired soon after.  On 25 July 1919, the Horsham Times reported that Florence was intending to visit Japan with Edith Lansell, daughter of George Lansell of Fortuna, Bendigo. After her return from overseas, Florence moved to South Yarra.

Passing of the Pioneers

March Passing of the Pioneers shares obituaries of well-known residents of Hamilton, Heywood and Portland. They include the surveyor of Camperdown and yet another man who was at Blue Lake, Mt. Gambier the day Adam Lindsay Gordon took his famed leap.

Thomas BROOKS Died 7 March 1888 at Hotspur. At the time of his death, Thomas Brooks was one of the oldest inhabitants of the Heywood district, having arrived in 1853. His death was a result of an accident after sixty-two-year-old Thomas delivered a coffin to Hotspur from Heywood for the funeral of Mr Fidler. After the funeral, he returned home, only to fall from his horse. He received head injuries, from which he died. A contract worker for the local shire, Thomas was known as an eccentric and was referred to as “Old Tom Brooks”  For more information about Thomas see the South-West Victoria Pioneers website.

John THOMSON Died 27 March 1894 at Melbourne.  Anyone who lived in Hamilton and district prior to the late 1980s, would know the name John Thomson as that was that name that adorned the front of one of Hamilton’s longest running department stores John Thomson & Co of Gray Street, locally known simply as Thomsons. John Thomson arrived in Victoria from Scotland at a young age and was educated at Scotch College, Geelong and the Hamilton Academy.  He joined his uncle and brothers, Alexander and William in the store, first established as an Iron store in 1866, and later became a partner. He had a strong association with the Hamilton Presbyterian Church and when he died, aged forty-six, he had attended  the Convention of the Presbyterian Fellowship Association.  He fell sick over the weekend and passed away.

Advertising. (1953, July 21). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 21. Retrieved March 27, 2014, from

Advertising. (1953, July 21). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 21. Retrieved March 27, 2014, from


Robert Dunbar SCOTT: Died 7 March 1898 at Surrey Hills. Robert Scott was born in Scotland and he and his wife arrived in Victoria around 1851. Robert was employed as a land surveyor, his first job to survey the western part of Port Phillip.  He set up camp near what would become the town of Camperdown and set about laying out a new township. He named the first streets, including Manifold Street after the Manifold brothers.  He selected land on the banks of Lake Gnotuk and established the property Gnotuk Park.  Robert was a member of the local P&A Society and the Freemasons. In the late 1890s, he sold Gnotuk Park and let a property at Craigieburn. He later moved to Melbourne establishing himself as a commission agent but lost money in the crash after the land boom. A further account of Robert Scott is on this link – A Link With The Past – Interview with David Scott.

Mercy ERRI: Died 26 March 1932 at Cobrico. Mercy Erri was born in England and arrived in Victoria with her parents in 1857. Her father started in business in Camperdown, one of the early pioneers of that town. Mercy trained as a nurse and was a Sunday School teacher. In her later years, she became an invalid, confined to her bed, but she continued to produce beautiful needlework, even with failing sight. Mercy was eighty-eight years old when she died. She never married.

James MOLLOY: Died 25 March 1937 at Portland. James Molloy arrived in Portland with his parents aboard the British Empire when he was eleven. He went to school at All Saints school in Portland and during those years spent time with William Dutton extracting oil from whale blubber. He was then employed by Edward Henty at Narrawong. His next job was for the Bell’s at Heywood, training racehorses, his greatest success winning the Great Western Steeplechase at Coleraine.  Apparently he was with Adam Lindsay Gordon on the day Gordon took his leap at Blue Lake, Mt Gambier. He later returned to Portland, working as a storeman and a waterside worker.James married Mary Beglen and they had three sons and two daughters.

David Edmund BATES: Died 5 March 1938 at Casterton. David Bates was born at Narracorte before moving to Casterton with his parents when six. He was educated at the Casterton school before becoming an apprentice draper with Mr Mills.  David was an athlete and once ran second in the Stawell Gift. He took a great interest in the public affairs of Casterton and served as secretary on the Casterton Hospital board.

Eliza MOORE: Died 24 March 1939 at Colac. Eliza Moore was born in Ireland in 1854 and travelled to Victoria as a child aboard the Chance. Her parents settled at Port Fairy and later at Woodford. Eliza married Alexander Russell at Warrnambool and they farmed at Dennington. They then moved to Colac where they remained until Eliza’s death. In her younger years, Eliza was an excellent horsewoman and was devoted to the Church throughout her life.

Daniel FENTON: Died 17 March 1943 at Camperdown. Daniel Fenton was born in Camperdown in 1860 and was the first child baptised at the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in the same year. Educated at Camperdown State School, he spent his entire working life as a dairy farmer. He married Mary Ann Shenfield of Cobden and five children were living at the time of Daniel’s death.


Passing of the Pioneers

The Portland Guardian was mindful of the contribution made by the early pioneers toward developing the south-west.  They offered regular items titled “Passing of the Pioneers” or “Passing Pioneers” and often mentioned in obituaries that “…one by one are old pioneers are passing”.  As early as 1889, they were lamenting the loss of the links to the early settlers and suggesting that the efforts of those who passed be recognised.

The Portland Guardian,. (1889, January 16). Portland Guardian (Vic. : 1876-1953), p. 2 Edition: EVENING. Retrieved July 18, 2011, from

Established August 1842. The Portland Guardian,. (1899, July 7). Portland Guardian (Vic. : 1876-1953), p. 2 Edition: EVENING. Retrieved July 19, 2011, from MLA citation

In 1921, the paper spoke of the many unwritten histories that had gone before, but  now we can see The Portland Guardian lived up to its charter of 1889,  successfully recording the histories of many of the local pioneers.  By doing so, they are now helping us learn more of our families and gain a sense of life in the early days of the Western District.  Of course, The Guardian was not alone.  References to the “passing pioneers” are found in most of the papers on the Trove website.

Obituaries are a secondary source with the information coming from the knowledge of those still living and I have noticed errors in obituaries of my family.  But they can offer  leads to look in places you may never have thought of such as Masonic lodge records and local council records. Whatever you do or don’t get out of an obituary, no-one can deny they are often a good read.

July was a month when many “Passing of the Pioneers” columns appeared.  Cold winters in the south-west saw many of the older residents “cross the Great Divide” as the Guardian would put it.

Some of the more notable passing pioneers in the month of July were:

James PARKER:  Died 6 July1889 at Heywood. James PARKER’S obituary is an interesting read.  Born in Tasmania, he came to the mainland as a whaler. Later he had some luck at the Creswick goldfields only to have an encounter with bushranger Captain Moonlight.

William TULLOH: Died 19 July 1889 at Portland.  This is a lengthy obituary of a Portland resident of nearly fifty years, whose death saw half closed shutters on homes around the town.  Born in Scotland in 1812, he left a wife, four sons and a daughter at the time of his passing.  I have  found a site with more detail of William and his wife Eliza Mary KEARTON.

James BARNETT: Died 18 July 1892 at Portland.  James was known as “Old Barney” around Portland and while the Guardian credit him as a pioneer, they make judgement in saying that he did not make the most of his opportunities as other early settlers had done.

Alexander THOMSON: Died July 1897 at Hamilton. Scottish born Alex THOMSON was prominent around the Hamilton area as a Shire of Dundas Councillor for twenty-one years.  At the time of his death, he was the owner of Pierrepoint Estate near Hamilton and was also an active member of the Pastoral and Agricultural society.

Thomas Webb SMITH:  Died 29 July 1914 at Branxholme.  Thomas served on the Borough of Portland council and was mayor from November 1871-November 1873.  He was also a member of the Goodfellows and Freemasons.

Annie Maria HENTY: Died 2 July 1921 at Hamilton.  Annie was from the most famous south-west pioneering family of them all, the Henty’s. The daughter of Stephen HENTY, Annie married Hamilton stock and station agent Robert STAPLYTON BREE in 1874.  The Bree name is preserved in Hamilton with a much used road of the same name in the town.

Ann Eliza KEEPING: Died 9 July 1921 at Portland.  Annie Eliza KEEPING arrived in Australia aboard the Eliza and married John FINNIGAN in 1857.  She was eighty-two at the time of her death.

Joseph Bell PEARSON:  Died 7 July 1922 at Portland. Yet another interesting character.  According to his obituary, Joseph was born on the voyage from England to Tasmania.  His family moved to the Retreat Estate near Casterton in 1844.  He was a noted horseman, with several good racehorses which he would ride himself.  One of his jumps racing rivals was Adam Lindsay Gordon.

Sarah MARSHALL:  Died 7 July 1923 at Gorae West. Sarah was the wife of the late Richard BEAUGHLEHOLE and she died at seventy-three. Richard selected land at Gorae West and transformed swampland into flourishing orchards.  Sarah and Richard had twelve children.

Mary Thurza HEDDITCH: Died 1 July 1930 at Drik Drik. Mary HEDDITCH was born in Portland in 1844 and moved with her family to Bridgewater in 1846.  Her elder brother drowned when she was a teenager leaving her to take on some of his duties.  As a result, she became an accomplished horsewoman, helping her father with the cattle.  She married James MALSEED and together they had seven children.

Phillipa JOHNS: July 1931 at Portland.  Phillipa JOHNS, the daughter of a doctor, was herself something of a substitute doctor for those living in the Willenbrina area, near Warracknabeal.  Later she and her husband William DELLAR moved to the Portland district.  They had nine children.