In July 1853, Governor Charles La Trobe sent a circular letter to a number of early settlers seeking information about the original European settlement of the Colony. Among the more than fifty replies received by La Trobe was a long letter from Rowville’s first settler, Reverend James Clow, telling of the people who occupied the areas along Dandenong Creek and of his experiences with the aborigines in Rowville.
Monday 4th August 1853
My Dear Sir,
Along with this note I have much pleasure in forwarding a statement drawn up in answer to Your Excellency’s letter of the 25th ultimo; and I have to express my regret that I have not been able in all instances to give dates as I could have wished. Your Excellency will also perceive that the account of the occupation of the Dandenong district before I went to live in it, is given only on the information of others, and may not therefore be in every point correct.
I remain, my Dear Sir,
Very truly yours,
In the beginning of August 1838, the Rev. Mr. Clow took possession of the cattle run, Corhanwarrabul, which was so named after the mountain that formed its north-eastern boundary, but his home-station was at Tirhatuan, that part of the run which is adjacent to the junction of the Narrewong* with the Dandenong.
Before that period the more eligible portion of the country beyond him had been taken up. Mr John Highett, he has been informed, was the first settler that crossed the Dandenong with stock, and that he was followed by O’Connor and the Ruffys, and that next after them came Mr Joseph Hawdon, who may be considered the first that settled on the Dandenong, as those who had preceded him had gone about eight or ten miles to the east of it. He transferred his right to the Dandenong run to Captain Lonsdale, who had Mr Alfred Langhorne for his overseer at the time Mr Clow settled at Tirhatuan. Their head station was at the bridge over the creek, where the present township of Dandenong is situated. They had one out-station, Eumemmering, and both of these were transferred to Dr McCrae in 1839; and shortly afterwards Eumemmering was transferred by him to the Fosters, and by them to Johnstone and Wilson, and by them to Mr Power, by whom it is still held. The Dandenong station was retained by Dr McCrae for several years, and then became the property of its present occupant, Mr R.C. Walker. The run, which belongs at present to Mr Charles Wedge, and which is generally known by the name of the Waterholes, was a part of country originally occupied by Mr Hawdon, and has been since then in the possession of various owners.
Along the Dandenong, on the east side, towards the mountain, and adjacent to Eumemmering, was the Corhanwarrabul run, which was occupied twelve years by Mr Clow, and transferred by him to Mr Beilby, its present owner. In 1840 he formed an out-station close to the base of Corhanwarrabul, on one of three rivulets, which fall into a swamp, and which, on issuing from it at its south-west extremity, compose the Narrewong Creek. These on the side next the mountain always continue to run, however hot or long the dry season may be; but in general, for two or three months after the first of January, the Narrewong ceases to run, the water from the mountain being evaporated and lost in the swamp, where it has no channel, and is spread out over a large surface among long grass and rushes. In dry summers the Dandenong, along its whole course, also ceases to run for one, two or three months, and, like many other creeks in Australia, it spreads out, ere it reaches the sea, into a swamp, where a great portion of its water is lost, and evaporated in the way that had been just described.
Throughout the period of Mr Clow’s residence at Tirhatuan, his family was very frequently visited by the aborigines belonging to the Yarra Yarra and Western Port tribes. They often encamped near his house; they were uniformly treated with kindness, and in return they always conducted themselves peaceably and honestly.
While encamped on the Melbourne side of the Dandenong till a bridge was made for crossing the cattle and dray, his party was visited by a number of blacks, but the day after he crossed, about half a mile from his tents, an old man was found alone, beside a crab-hole in which was a little water, but he was without food and shelter. He had been left there by his tribe, because he had fallen from a tree, and was so lame that he was incapable of accompanying them on a hunting excursion to Corhanwarrabul. He was removed to the tents, for he could not walk, and was taken care of till his people returned; but as they did not do so in less than a week, it is difficult to conceive how he could have survived so long had he not been removed to the tents and fed. For the kindness shown him he was very grateful. He appeared to be the oldest member of his tribe, but lived many years after that time, and often referred to the occurrence which first brought him to Mr Clow’s acquaintance, but never did so without the most evident satisfaction and thankfulness. Not very long after the Tirhatuan Station was formed, Jack Weatherly, who was one of the finest looking and most intelligent of the natives, was applied to by Mrs Clow, in Melbourne, to carry some biscuits to her son, as she was apprehensive that his provisions must have been expended, and as, owing to the state of the country after a heavy fall of rain, it seemed to be the best, if not the only way, she could send him a supply.
He readily agreed to carry four dozen biscuits to the station, a distance of seventeen miles, on the very easy terms that he should have six to himself. With evidently great delight he stowed away his own in his dress, took up the bag containing the rest, and the note which was to be delivered along with it, and walked away, apparently quite proud that he was trusted. However, a few miles before he reached Tirhatuan, he fell in with a hunting party, and being one of the most athletic and expert of his tribe, he could not resist the temptation to join in the chase; but before he did so he handed over the note and biscuits to a young man with strict injunctions to take them on, and deliver them immediately, and accordingly they were so delivered, contrary to the generally expressed opinion at the time Weatherly was despatched, for it was well known that the aborigines were particularly partial to bread and biscuit, and it was therefore inferred that the temptation to appropriate those which he had in charge would prove too strong for his moral courage to resist. This trifling incident is a pleasing illustration of the trustworthiness of two of the aborigines, and reflects favourably on the whole tribe, for it is not unreasonable to suppose that there were others belonging to it, who, if they had been employed in the same way, would have acted in a similar manner. As to their honesty, no instance to the contrary was ever detected at Tirhatuan. Potatoes and melons were two articles of which they were very fond, and were produced at the station, and quite accessible; but never was a single instance known of any of them being stolen by the aborigines. They would not even go to a potato field that had been dug to look for potatoes without first asking and obtaining leave. The principal annoyance resulting from their so much frequenting the run was occasioned by old Murray’s dogs. That sable chieftain, who never could be induced to adopt any part of “white fellow’s” dress, always traveled with a large pack, and as necessity compelled him to train them to the principle of self-reliance for a livelihood, they were very ready to hunt the cattle, and, if possible, make some little calf their victim.
At the time the Tirhatuan Station was formed, some of the natives expressed a determination to be revenged on one of the servant men. As soon as they saw him there, they recognised him as one whose conduct towards some of their women, before he came into Mr Clow’s service, had given them great offence. He confessed that he had been to blame, and asked for his discharge, which was immediately given to him, and he was safely returned to Melbourne. It is probable that, had they had an opportunity, they would have murdered him; but in doing so would they have done more than has been done by many Europeans, though in a more refined way? Like other savages, they are naturally revengeful, but it is to be feared that on too many occasions their atrocities have not been committed without grievous provocation.
The next settler on the Dandenong was Mr Thomas Napier, who now resides in the parish of Doutta Galla. His run, which he took up about October 1839, lay along the western side of the creek, and extended from the Tirhatuan bridge to Scott’s bridge. About a year afterwards he sold it to Mr Scott, who died in Melbourne before he went to live there; but it was occupied by Mrs Scott and family for two or three years, when they formed a small station on the other side of the creek, and sold the other to a family of the name of Drew.
It was afterwards subdivided and occupied by a number of small settlers, who were principally employed in taking timber from that neighbourhood to Melbourne and other places for the purposes of building and enclosing of purchased land.
Two brothers of the name of Rourke, who were, in the first instance, sawyers on Mrs Scott’s original run, formed the station, which the elder brother still holds near the sources of the Dandenong.
The aboriginal station of Narre Narre Warren** was formed by Mr Assistant Protector Thomas, and is so well known, that it is unnecessary for me to give you any account of it.
The first settlers below the Dandenong bridge, and beyond the run belonging to Messrs. Lonsdale and Langhorne, were Mr Solomon and Major Fraser. The former had his station above the swamp through which the Dandenong passes, and the latter had his below it on the bay of Port Phillip.
About six miles in a north-easterly direction from Tirhatuan, on the south side of the principal stream which descends from the mountain of Corhanwarrabul, and which mainly contributes to form the Narrewong Creek below the swamp, is the sheep station of Monbolloc, which was first occupied by Messrs. Kerr and Dobie. It is small and scrubby, and has passed through many hands since its formation.
On the south-east of Monbolloc is the small cattle station of Will-Will-Rook, originally formed and still possessed by Mr Varcoe and his family.
About the month of January 1850, during one night and a part of the succeeding day, an unusual noise, somewhat resembling that of a bush fire at a distance, was heard at Tirhatuan, and at an out-station about three miles off, situated near the Gap in the ranges behind Narre Narre Warren. At the former place it was heard by Mrs Clow and others living there. She rose in the night time, and looked out to see if any of the huts was on fire; and during the day she went repeatedly into the verandah in front of the house to listen, and as the noise seemed to come from the rises on the west side of the creek, she sent two persons as far as the bridge with a view to ascertain what it was. On their return they said they could not tell, but that when they were at the bridge, the noise seemed to be at the house. The overseer happened to come, and she spoke of it to him, but he said that he had not noticed any unusual sound; neither did he then perceive any.
He was in a hurry and went off immediately; but, happening to go out to the out-station at the Mountain Gap, he was asked by the two men there, both of whom had resided in the colony only a short time, and were therefore perhaps more liable to be easily alarmed, whether the fire was coming that way. He said he did not know of any fire. They told him that they had not slept during the night, for they had heard a noise as of a great fire at a distance, and were afraid it was coming in that direction, and that they could still discern it. He was thus forcibly reminded of what he had just before heard, and on going a little way to a rise, he listened, and acknowledged that he could distinctly hear a noise similar to that which had been described, but could not tell what occasioned it.
As heard by Mrs Clow, the noise was not always the same, but rose and fell, and after dying away for a little would begin again and gradually increase.
To some it seemed to be in the air, but the prevailing impression on her mind at the time, and that to which she is still inclined, is, that it was subterranean. It will perhaps be considered corroborative of this opinion that, on two previous occasions, an earthquake had been distinctly heard and felt there.
The first was experienced in February or March 1843. It occurred at midnight, when the moon was full, the sky cloudless, and the wind still. To me and others who heard it at Tirhatuan, the sound was as if a light conveyance, making a sharp rattling noise, had passed rapidly between the house and the kitchen – these buildings being about eight yards apart.
The tremor, though distinctly felt, was not great; but at the out-station, near the base of the mountain, both the shock and the noise was very considerable.
The two men sleeping in the hut were instantly aroused, and ran out to ascertain what was the matter; but neither seeing nor hearing anything unusual, they conjectured what had happened; and as the shock was experienced in the same manner at Rourke’s station, about five miles off, it would appear that it was severest along the base of the mountain.
The second shock was felt in 1847, at the same season of the year. It occurred at four o’clock in the afternoon, and was experienced at the same time in Melbourne and other adjacent places. Those in the house at Tirhatuan, when they felt it moving, ran out in alarm, not doubting for a moment what it was. And a party that were riding in the direction of the mountain heard it, and were struck with the noise as an extraordinary one; but, instead of ascribing it to an earthquake, they thought it was caused by horses galloping in the bush.
Although the sound which has been described is not likely to have been produced by the action of the wind on the forest, as the weather at the time is said to have been calm and settled, and although Mrs Clow was then, and still is, of opinion that is was subterranean, yet perhaps it is possible that it was occasioned by currents of air in the atmosphere, but so elevated as not to disturb any objects on the face of the country, at least not in that immediate neighbourhood. It had often been observed that the wind blew very partially in that locality. Narrow belts of the forest, scarcely a quarter of a mile broad and several miles long, might be seen on the run, strewed with fallen branches and uprooted trees, showing that a hurricane had swept along that tract, whilst the forest on both sides remained uninjured.
** This was later the site of the Native Police Depot and is now the Police Paddocks.
First published by the Public Library of Victoria in 1898. Republished in the May and June 1997 editions of the Rowville-Lysterfield Community News.