The Portland Guardian of 26 May 1927 reports the death of Mrs. Hugh Kittson. The obituary gives much information about Mrs. Kittson’s early life including her arrival in Australia and her marriage. She was 94 years old and had been in Victoria for 82 years and had many memories of those early times. As I read her story, I wanted to know more about Mrs. Hugh Kittson. The obituary, as was often the way, did not mention her first or maiden names. It did say she had travelled to Victoria on the Intrinsic with her parents and two brothers in 1840.
After searching death records and Trove, I found that Mrs Kittson was Margaret Jennings, daughter of Cook Abraham Jennings and Hannah Birchall. She was born in Manchester in about 1833. Her brothers were Samuel and Robert Jennings and the “Intrinsic” had in fact arrived in 1841. I then discovered stories about two pioneering families of the southern Western District I had not heard of before, the Jennings and the Kittsons who were both in the Portland and Bridgewater areas before 1850. I particularly enjoyed a Letter to the Editor from the Portland Guardian of 23 January 1877 by Cook Jennings which painted a picture of the 1840s.
Cook Abraham Jennings’ letter gives an insight into life in the early days of Western Victoria. He refutes a claim by Thomas Fairburn to be the first person to find freestone at Mount Abrupt near Dunkeld suggesting it was he instead who made the first discovery. He describes a journey from Portland to Mt Sturgeon and Mt Abrupt almost 30 years earlier. As a stonemason in Portland, he was keen to source some freestone and after a tip-off, headed to the southern end of the Grampians in 1848 with his travelling companions, son Robert, and an indigenous boy raised by Jennings’ wife.
Jennings describes the return journey when “there was no Hamilton…save Mr. Beath’s store and Blastock’s public house”. After difficulty crossing the Grange and Violet Creek he eventually reached Portland and sold off the stone, which was still being used as grindstones 30 years later.
The letter also shows that overseas travel was not out of the question for those early pioneers. Cook Jennings travelled to Richmond, Virginia in 1858 to lodge a claim on a relative’s will. Although Cook did come across as somewhat of an opportunist!
Margaret Jennings’s husband Hugh Kittson was himself some sort of trailblazer. The Irish-born son of James and Catherine Kittson, was reported as the first white person to ride overland from Portland to Melbourne. Hugh and Margaret had seven children and surnames of their descendants include Johnson, White, and Hodgetts.