The Centenary of Catumnal 1912-2012

AuthorHilda Blainey, Enid Fulton (nee Westcott), and Mary Westcott
EditorMary Westcott
Time12 min read

Isaac Westcott was born at Taunton, Somerset in 1818. He sailed for Australia, at the age of twenty-two years, from Plymouth in 1840 on the Barque Orient at a cost of 19 pounds! Nine out of ten migrants to Australia in its first 100 years travelled steerage. On the trip he met and became engaged to one, Mary Ann Maynard.

Mary Ann had come from Wexford, Ireland, to escape the hard times at home. Although they married in 1843, this relationship managed to get off to a rocky start. Before the journey ended, they had quarrelled about religion, and Isaac landed in Geelong, while Mary Ann continued on to Melbourne. Geelong was founded in 1838. By 1841, when Isaac arrived, it had a population of 454 inhabitants. In those early days, Australian property owner were desperate for honest labour, and waited in droves on the wharf to sign up the arriving new free settlers for work. We are told that Isaac was snapped up to look after a sheep property, before he took up land for himself. This is interesting as he had never had any experience of sheep.

It seems that Isaac settled early at Barrabool Hills. He had followed the trade of stonemason in Somerset, and the quarry at Ceres might have afforded him the opportunity to use this skill. In 1842 or 1843, the owners of larger holdings began subletting small holdings to farmer tenants. Isaac was one of the first tenants. The name WESTCOTT on his home has persisted since 1843.

On the 17th July, 1843, Isaac married Mary Ann Maynard. Mary Ann had been in living in Melbourne, which was still only 5 years old, all this time. He took her to his home called WESTCOTT in the Barrabool Hills.

Isaac with his partners (Smith & Wilkinson) built the first building of The Geelong Grammar School. He also had the contract to build St Paul’s Church of England in Latrobe St., Geelong.

In July 1851, the discovery of gold came to Ballarat. The men working on the Church were eager to go, so tarpaulins covered their work, until later when work was resumed. The church was later completed and the first service was held in 1854.

Isaac & his partners had gone to the gold fields too, and he evidently did quite well there running a store at Black Lead, near Buninyong. The storekeeper was paid in gold or gold dust, by those who had more of that commodity than money.

When Duffy’s Land Act of 1862 unlocked the lands to those who wanted to own them, Isaac Westcott secured 30 acres of Bullarook Forest, which later became known as Lal Lal Gardens, Millbrook. He tried to produce many things – had 150 pigs until his orchard came into production. Rhubarb, gooseberries, cherries and currants, cabbages, turnips, peas and corn. At the height of the season 50 people were employed harvesting the crops, and taking them to the markets in Ballarat. Jams were made, and Geelong Grammar bought all their jams from him. There was a flock of sheep on the farm, and oats & barley were grown. Lombardy Poplars and Walnut trees were planted by Isaac in 1863 and are still visible from the Ballarat/Melbourne road. ( There is a Lal Lal Estate which lies east of Ballarat, the home of the Fisken family for over a century….now a 5,000 acre sheep & cattle station, and tourist attraction.)

Isaac selected land at the "Catumnal" district near Boort in 1874 for his family. With selections, there was a clause requiring residence on the block, so it meant a pilgrimage of 150 miles, a three day journey in a spring wagonette over rough tracks, from Millbrook, for some of the family. They had a family of twelve children, some of whom had died.

Mary Ann died on 11th July, 1895, a year after her husband Isaac. As descendants we are proud of the example that they have set….faithful supporters of the Wesleyan Church, hospitable, and generous. Isaac was variously a farmer, who has left behind his jam factory for his descendants to see, the churches and buildings he built which are now in the National Trust and in particular the church and church hall at Black Lead near Ballarat which still house the photos of him and his wife and children, who were stalwarts of the church which he also built.

The eldest child of Isaac & Mary Ann was Thomas Westcott. He was born on 30th April, 1844. He married Priscilla Moyle on 6th August 1869. It is from this man and marriage that our family is descended. Thomas had been on a selection at "Catumnal" near Boort in 1876. Thomas died at the age of 41 years, leaving a family of six children. The youngest Herbert Spencer Westcott (Bert) a frail baby, only a fortnight old at the time of his father’s death. In the last year of his life Thomas Westcott (Bert and Lew’s father) had become Shire Clerk of Kerang, when he had been unable to continue work on the family wheat farm.

After Thomas’s death, Isaac bought Priscilla a large house at Mt Waverley in Melbourne, which she was able to use as a boarding house, and here five of her children were brought up. The sixth, Lewis was taken in by her sister Mary, who had married Willie Westcott. He lived with them until he finished his course in engineering at the Ballarat School of Mines.

Bert had a bad chest, so he was sent to sea at a very early age. He was about 13 years of age, and found work as an Apprentice, a Midshipman (like Hornblower), and an apprentice officer aboard a sailing ship. It was a harsh environment for a young fellow. However, he survived and rose in the service and gained his Master’s Certificate. Later he was acting-Captain on some Queensland coastal vessels for a time.

There was a very serious strike amongst the sailors, at this time and all shipping was tied up. The owners immediately laid off all hands WITHOUT PAY including the officers who had no part in the strike! Bert was out of work.

At first the only work he could find, was shovelling sawdust. He got the job from his brother Lew who was Underground Manager at either the Many Peaks or Mount Perry Mine. Moving from the bridge of a ship to shovelling sawdust, certainly was not good for soft hands. It has been told that he nearly caused a strike there because, being used to sea discipline, he expected men to do as they were told – to put their shovels back where they were supposed to be, and for all things to be left "shipshape".

The next incident about Bert was his arrival as a jackeroo at "Brookwood" Muttaburra. It was at that time owned by Sir Norman Brookes (one of Australia’s first winner in a Davis Cup…possibly the first ever played). Bert wanted to gain experience in sheep management, with the further hope of balloting successfully for sheep country. At this time some of the largest blocks of land in the area were being cut up and put to ballot for smaller settlement.

Our "Catumnal" was one such block. It was cut from "Lerida" which was at the time owned by a Mr. White. White was a wealthy property owner. He had various properties all over Australia.

At "Brookwood", Bert’s rise was meteoric. He spent much of his time retrieving the manager, after his latest "bender", from the Muttaburra hostelry. When Sir Norman became aware of this, the manager had his services dispensed with, and Bert was made Overseer. A job with full responsibility for the management of the property – this after only 3 months experience!

Due to lack of much money, Bert proposed to his brother Lew, that they should jointly enter a ballot for land, and if Lew could provide the bulk of the mandatory 300 pounds to be deposited, he Bert, would provide the residence requirements and work the place and do the compulsory boundary fencing etc. They won the first ballot they entered, and our ""Catumnal"" was selected on 5th November, 1912. Bert named it after the family property near the Murray River at Kerang in Victoria.

Bert’s journey to "Catumnal" as one of the members of the newly formed Westcott Bros..must have been a sight. He became possessed of a sulky, two smallish white Arab horses called Peter and Dick and a blue wagonette with which he set off for his new property.

He was the only driver available for the two vehicles. One, the blue wagonette with four wheels & four high sides, was hitched up behind the sulky with the two horses pulling in front. Dick the leader out front was young and flighty and he had never seen a rumbling vehicle before, let alone pulled one behind him. Peter was much more adaptable and quiet and as solid as a rock. Later all the Westcott children of Bert & Lew, learned to ride on Peter.

Bert’s first camp at journey’s end was a tent by Thornville Creek waterhole. He must have been very lonely and overawed when contemplating the task ahead of him. Later he moved to higher country where the homestead was eventually erected, and where it still stands today. Initially he built himself a weather-proof shack with a rush-covered verandah. This was photographed by Lew Westcott with his Graflex slide camera, and the family all have that photo. This building was used in the kitchen/mess room area of the new homestead, separated by a walkway. Most building in those days had the kitchen area separated from the main house, in case of fire.

Bert met his future wife, Elsie Winifred Gibson of Bingera Sugar Plantation, Bundaberg at either Many Peaks or Mount Perry, when she went to stay with her sister Kate who was Lew’s wife. Bert had a nice homestead built and he married Elsie in 1916. Bert must have been very conscious of the easy life that Elsie & Kate had lead previously, with house servants & personal maids & overseas trips, compared with what he could offer Elsie as a hard working companion on a sheep selection. Then Elsie’s maiden cousins, Jean & Nell Wilson were offered a home with them at "Catumnal" and they happily filled in the duties of cooking & looking after children, & helping with the housework. Enid remembers them as splendid and kindly women. Nell was a second mother to her, and was dearly loved & still remembered. Jean & Nell were regarded as an indispensable part of Bert & Elsie’s family, until they retired to Redcliffe during the second world war.

Elsie Westcott was a good companion. She was a gifted raconteur who played the piano and sang beautifully, so their home was never lonely. A neighbour once said that if they felt depressed by circumstances, they would say "Oh! let’s go over to "Catumnal" after tea, and ask Mrs. Westcott to tell us the story of the Blue Grotto. That will cheer us up".

Elsie corresponded regularly with some of Bert’s relatives in Victoria during the Second World War, and they always enjoyed receiving her long, newsy and entertaining letters.

Mrs. Hilda Blainey told us a lot about Bert’s family and the very early days in Victoria. Hilda’s grandmother, Maria, sister of Thomas, was an aunt of Bert’s. She was able to tell us much about Bert and Lew’s aunts, uncles and friends. Her son is Professor Geoffrey Blainey.

Around 1919, Lew Westcott’s health had deteriorated due to underground mining and it seemed a good idea for him to come west to "Catumnal’s dry climate. To accommodate his family he bought a house from Charters Towers. He obtained the house at a very reasonable price, as Charters Towers was declining as a gold producer. It was made of tongue & groove timber, and was dismantled board by board, with each board being marked to aid re-erection and transported by long wagon or wagons to "Catumnal". The house was added to the original "Catumnal" home by a "midway". The combined house was huge. This midway provided a meeting place for both families at that time. Over the years, the midway was the scene for many happy gatherings on locals at tennis days. Today it remains the central feature of the "Catumnal" homestead.

"Catumnal" had beautiful dark soils, which sprouted lush Mitchell and Flinders grasses, ideal for sheep. With sufficient rain, it was a paradise of green grass and wildflowers, but unfortunately that area has always been subject to heartbreaking droughts. It soon became evident that the 20,000 acre blocks were not enough for people to exist on and make a living. It has been recalled that when the Australian Prime Minister, Mr. Joe Lyons, was passed through Corfield, he met with Paddy, a kangaroo shooter from our district. When Mr Lyons asked Paddy what he though about 20,000 acres, Paddy replied "It wouldn’t feed a bloody goat". Not long after this "Catumnal" received an additional area of another 15,000 acres nearby in 1935. It had been part of the large Katandra property. Bert named the additional area "Jindaroo"( we were told this is an aboriginal name for a frilly lizard). Perhaps Paddy comments managed to sway the Government!!

Life went on at "Catumnal", and many more visitors arrived at regular intervals. Mostly they were Bert’s young nephews and their parents and friends. They managed to provide fuel for more of Elsie’s stories. It is a great pity that she was never encouraged to become a writer! Some of the nephews became Jackeroos at "Catumnal". …Tom Westcott(son of Lew & Kate), Reg Locke (Alice Westcott married Will Locke), Bob Broad & his brother Ross Broad (Ethel Westcott married Fred Broad), and Stan & his brother Clarrie (sons of Willie & Mary Westcott)

Bert Westcott always had a garden and orchard at "Catumnal", and as well grew roses and strawberries and the usual vegetables (this probably was inherited from his family history in gardening). He built a tennis court of ant-hills. Later it was to be covered with red soil from the ridge ( Richard’s ex- tutor had the job of getting the red soil from the ridge, to cover his debt before he left). Now it is of shale.

Tennis has always been an integral part of life at "Catumnal", and in the early days the family travelled to many other stations, as far away as "Mahrigong", and the McClymont property,"Kensington" near Muttaburra to play tennis. In the days when Richard & Mary Westcott were at Catumnal, there was tennis every fortnight on a Saturday – with a basket picnic, and every other fortnight it was at "Orielton". Then on Christmas Day the Alec McClymonts would fly across from "Inverness" to have breakfast with us & play tennis, going home before the storms. Always there was a father & eldest son tennis match! Today there are lights on the court, and people stay for a BBQ.

Bert & Elsie retired to Brisbane in 1948, the year when Richard and Mary married. Bert died on 26.11.51 and Elsie died on 20.8.62.

Richard & Mary extended their land holding over the years, buying "Rokeby" & "Kalboona" & "North View"(which they later sold) in the early 60’s and later buying "Sylvania" when they sold Kalboona making an aggregation in the Hughenden area. Meantime they had bought "Cairnhope" ($3.25 an acre in 1978), adjoining "Catumnal". They also bought "West Evandale" (about $8.20 an acre). Eventually they sold the Hughenden interests and bought "Burnside" & "Chesterfield" (about $14 an acre in1982). This left them with an aggregation next to "Catumnal". Who could have imagined the increase in land values! We had offered Des Barr $3 or $3.50 (was it dollars or pounds) and he’d offered us the same for "Jindaroo". In the end he paid much more than that for "Jindaroo" ($40 an acre)

Son Bruce was given "Cairnhope" and helped run the properties, when Richard & Mary semi retired in 1988 to live on the Gold Coast, returning for periods of sheep & cattle work leaving a staff of an overseer & jackeroos. In 1993, Richard & Mary handed over "Catumnal" to Drew, & "Burnside" to Bruce. Merran & Mark got "Chesterfield" which they sold to Drew. Eventually Bruce got out of the pastoral industry & sold "Burnside" to Drew. So now we have the next generation looking after our land! Drew, Lois & their son Kym.

Richard Westcott died on 22.12.97. We look forward to celebrating our Centenary at Catumnal at Easter 2012.