1837 "Merino Downs" Settled : 1937 Centenary of Settlement

Settlement at Merino Downs in 1837

Pastoral Runs around MunthamPastoral Runs around Muntham

In 1836 as Major MITCHELL viewed the magnificent pastoral country spread to the southward from Flagstaff Hill, he was so impressed with its possibilities that the entry "Australia Felix" appears in his notes. It is in this well favored spot that Merino is situated, and its wealth and prosperity are the results of Major MITCHELL's glowing report.

As he travelled down the Glenelg, and thence through the dense timber of Rifle Downs, and past where Branxholme now stands, he directed his course towards the coast, where he was very surprised to find a settlement founded by the Hentys at Portland Bay. Here, this truly pioneering family had established a whaling station and small farm. Their treatment of Major MITCHELL and his travel-weary band was so hospitable that the Major informed them of the rich land to the north.

Link to a larger map.

Mr. Francis HENTY relates meeting with Major Mitchell, Surveyor-General of New South Wales:-

"It was the last week of August, 1836, that Major MITCHELL first made his appearance at Portland during my brother's absence a few miles away, settling a shepherd in a hut with a flock of sheep. Of course, we were surprised and could think of nothing but bush-rangers, knowing that at this time there could be no one settled nearer to us than where Melbourne now stands. But my cook, who was an old Sydney man, recognised him as Major MITCHELL, Surveyor-General of New South Wales. Whatever he may have pretended to have thought we were, he certainly was very chary of allowing me to be polite to him, for he declined to allow me to take his horse for him or his coat. After entering the house his first exclamation was: 'Ah, windows, too, in the bush, I declare.' We were as polite and hospitable to him as our means permitted, and after dinner he became more affable and friendly, and as we had no spare bed but a cot we gave him that to sleep in, and I can assure you he did not require rocking to sleep that night. In the morning we took him across the heath to see the open sea, the Southern Ocean. As the Sally Ann, our tender with supplies was then due, we requested him to stay that we might replenish his supplies, to an extent which we could not do otherwise to the full, as we were getting short ourselves. At this time we had not gone more than about twenty miles from home with our sheep to Mt. Eckersley, or North Downs, as we had named it, but on Major MITCHELL's reports of the fine country of the Wannon only twenty-flve miles further, you may be sure we were not long in proceeding to that magnificent land."

After gathering herds and flocks to establish the new farm, the HENTYs set out on a direct route from Portland and finally settled at Merino Downs on August 3rd, 1837. An obelisk marks the spot where the tent was pitched on the first night of their arrival. Edward HENTY later settled at Muntham. comprising 77,000 acres; Frank HENTY at Merino Downs; whilst John HENTY occupied Sandford and Runnymede.

During the lifetime of Edward and Francis HENTY, the station known as "Merino Downs" was owned and controlled as one property. After the brothers had passed away the estate was administered as formerly by their families until the year 1908, when the station was subdivided into the properties now known as Talisker, Wurt Wurt Koort, and Merino Downs, the last named being that portion of the original surrounding the old homestead.

Since 1908 much of the land has been re-subdivided and worked as dairy farms, either on the share system or under Closer Settlement schemes. and finally since the war of 1914-1918, some portions have been sold to the Government, which has allotted some as small farms to returned soldiers, who are paying for same over a long period.

Source : "Historic Souvenir of the Back to Merino and Henty Centenary Celebrations", November, 11th to 15th, 1937

1839 : Tyers' 1839 Census

Extract from notes of a meeting of the Portland Historical Committee on 4th September 1929.

.... Tyers' census of Portland, December, 1839, as follows:-Mr. and Mrs. Henty and two children, Miss Pail (sister of Mrs. Henty), two female servants, 1 boy, eleven farming and stock men, Mr. Byass (surgeon), Mrs. Byass and child, Mr. and Mrs. Cook, 1 female servant and 1 male servant, Mr. Archdale, 2 farming and stockmen, Mr. G. Winter, man servant, Mr. Brown, 4 whaling boatmen, Mr. Henty's whalers (4) at the Wannon, shoemaker arrived by "Pyramus," Mr. Frank Henty and six men, Mr. & Mrs. John Henty at sheep station, 1 female servant, 1 male servant, 43 shepherds, shearers and laborers, Mr S. Winter at sheep station, Mr. T. Winter, six shepherds and laborers, Messrs. Wedge, Codd and Murphy, and thirty men at Mr. Wedge's station, during the whaling season the Messrs. Henty have six boats of whalers, 2 children and 1 female (76 persons), three ships, each 4 boats and men (102 persons), one schooner with three boats (241 persons).-Total 338.

Source : "Portland Guardian" (Vic.) Monday, 9th September 1929.

1842 : "Merino Downs" - Fatal accident

FATAL ACCIDENT.-A servant man, named Crookford, in the employ of F. Henty, Esq., of the Merino Downs, was accidentally killed on this day week, by the upsetting of a ration cart, which, falling on his head, caused death almost instantaneously.

Source : "Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser (Vic.) Saturday, 24th December 1842.

1842 : A New Road from The Plains to Portland, dray trip cut from 6 days to 3.

NEW ROAD. Our notice of the new line of road which Messrs. Edward and John Henty had made from the Plains to the Bay, in our last publication, was necessarily brief--we were only able to make the announcement, and to describe it in two words, as "new and good." This week we have to add another word, that it is short. The laconic description that the settlers who have travelled the line since its formation, give of it, is, that it is "a thousand per cent. better than the old road, and much shorter," or one that maybe gone over in less time by nearly two thirds, with but a tithe of the wear and tear of property, less fatigue of cattle, and without damage of goods.

Our last publication was scarcely issued, before the truth of our statement was narrowly enquired into. The drays of Messrs. Henty Brothers, which had the previous night come into town by the new road were, by some of our inquisitive town residents, carefully inspected, and to the astonishment of the beholders, they had come the whole distance from the Plains, and their wheels were hardly soiled. The ropes that secured the bales of wool were as tight as if but just fastened, and the loads on the three drays discovered as smooth and unruffled an appearance, as though they were about commencing the journey instead of finishing it ; and the jaded journey of 6 or 7 days, was comfortably concluded in three.

We feel persuaded the fortunate discovery of this eligible route to the fertile plains in the vicinity of the Wannon and the Glenelg, has not been the effect of a random and lucky hit merely, but has been the fruit of much personal hazard, diligent search, and considerable outlay of time. An extensive tract of country, and a rich spot of ground may be suddenly and accidentally fallen in with, without searching for them ; but a line of road in this district requires another process to be followed up in order to complete success crowning the efforts of the fortunate discoverer ; and such we feel convinced has been the case in reference to the present new line of road, of the opening of which we have the gratification to report, and which the intelligence, time, labour, and hazard of person and property of the Messrs. Henty have laid open to their enterprising fellow colonists. After determining the line of route to be pursued, these gentlemen had to proceed before their drays ; and had not only to direct the drivers of their teams in what direction to follow, but they had to clear the road as they proceeded, and with the axes and cross-cut saw to fell and remove timber, and other obstructions that layin the way.

The discovery of this route, at such a time is one of the most happy and favourable circumstances that could have occurred to the town and district. Driven to the necessity of memorialising the Government with its exhausted exchequer, for assistance to render our impassable roads tolerably good, was a forlorn hope ; taunted by a Governmnent official, whose well-paid services ought to have enlisted his sympathy in our behalf, assuring the inhabitants of the town "that they would be left in a corner by themselves," and that "£4000 would scarcely mend their roads and make them passible ;" pointing to a proposed rival township, his toungue oiled with the fees of office, he beautifully expatiated on the superior advantages of Port Fairy, with half the outlay on its harbour that would be required on our roads--together with secret whiperings among the people themselves that one of our wool purchasers was about to turn his attention to that port in preference to Portland for the general shipment of his produce were matters that were beginning to produce the necessary distrustful and paralysing influence on the exertions of most classes amongst us, when, thanks to the spirited and enterprising efforts of Messrs. Edward and John Henty, our forlorn hope has been succeeded by a burst of delightful reality ; and the only formidable difficulty that presented itself in the way of our prosperity, by one determined effort has been dashed on one side--the threatening cloud of blighted prosperity has suddenly disappeared--and the councel of a modern Ahithopel, by the exertions of the two gentlemen, has been turned into the nmost shameful folly.

That every class and description of persons in the district will be benefitted by the discovery, it would be superfluous for us to state ; and that all who thus participate in the universal good conferred, would be glad to have and opportunity of testifying their esteem for the public service that has been rendered the district, is not to be doubted, without impugning the character of its inhabitants ; and we are inclined to judge of the public spirit of the residents of the town, and most of the settlers around, from the acquaintance we are daily acquiring of them, that they will not feel satisfied until they have made some public acknowledgement of the debt of gratitude that they are laid under to the gentlemen who have so essentially benefitted the district.

Source : "Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser (Vic.) Saturday, 31st December 1842.

THE NEW ROAD.--The Rev. J. Y. Wilson, who arrived in town on Thursday from the Plains, where, he had been some days performing the duties of his calling, states that the New Road, discovered by Messrs. Henty, is of a very superior description, far above the idea generally entertained by those who have not travelled upon it ; he drove a light gig a distance of fifty miles, without encountering the least impediment. The inhabitants, however, must be prompt in widening the road, otherwise it will soon become, by constant traffic, nearly as bad as the old one.

Source : "Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser" (Vic.) Saturday, 14th January 1843.

1843, January : Problems on a Dray Trip to The Plains.

VALUABLE SERVICES.-We unintentionally omitted to notice last week the attack of some natives upon the drays of Francis Henty Esq., as they were proceeding to the stations from Portland, at some distance beyond the Second River, by whom they were robbed of property to the amount it is said of about £20. We mention the occurrence, not so much to bring the subject under the notice of the Government, as to express the deep obligation we conceive the settlers must be under to Mr. Edgar for the valuable services he is constantly rendering to their servants, and the safety his establishment must afford to their property from native depredation while on the road in the vicinity of the Second River. The frequent mention of Mr. Edgar's name, in connection with searches made after lost property-in pursuit of maurading natives-the communicating information to the authorities of depredation committed, all the valuable assistance he is constantly affording, both publicly and privately, the inhabitants of the district, raises Mr. Edgar's character above ordinary praise.

Source : "Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser" (Vic.) Saturday 4 February 1843.

1843, March: A Fatal Problem with Drinking & Driving a Bullock Dray.

FATAL ACCIDENT.--On Saturday last a poor fellow, named James Amos, formerly a whaler in this Bay ; but latterly in the employment, of John Henty, Esq., as a bullock-driver, came to a sudden end in the following manner :--He had remained at the Second River all Friday night, and on Saturday morning he had drank so freely that he was unable to drive his team ; his, companion, therefore drove the bullocks, while he clambered to the top of the wool, with which the dray was loaded, and there remained for about two hours. On reaching the heath, which is about four miles at this side of the Second River, Amos made an attempt to come down, and slid from the wool bales to the dray pole ; in striving to get down from the pole he placed his hand on the off-side bullock, when the beast made rush, and Amos fell beside the pole, where he received a kick on the thigh, and, being thereby placed immediately in front of the wheel, two ton weight was passed over the body of the unfortunate man. The individual who was driving, stopped the bullocks, and despatched a messenger to the Second Rivet for Messrs. Edgar and Clarke, but long before their arrival poor Amos had ceased to exist. The last words he uttered were, "I am dying--and I'm drunk !" an awful warning to those who indulge in intemperate habits, but especially those following the occupation of the deceased. An enquiry was held next day, at the Golden Fleece Inn, before James Blair, Esq., P. M. when it appeared from the able explanation given by Dr. James Martin, District Colonial Surgeon that some heavy body had passed over the dorsal and cervical region, fracturing a rib on the right side ; the spinal cord appeared to be injured, and there was also a fraqture in the occipital bone, with depression. The body was interred in the evening, when thle Rev. A Lauri delivered a very impressive discourse to a large assemblage of bushmen and others, who had followed the deceased to his last-home.

Source : "Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser" (Vic.) Saturday, 18th March 1843.

1849 : "Merino Downs" - Details of the Pastoral lease

Superintendent's Office, Melbourne, January, 1849.
CLAIMS TO LEASES OF CROWN LANDS, beyond the settled districts.

No. 130. Francis Henty
Name of run—Merino Downs
Estimated Area—23,500 acres
Estimated grazing capabilities—200 head of cattle, 16,000 sheep

Is bounded on the NNE and NW by the river Wannon, on the west and south-west by Dwyer's Creek to its source, thence by a straight line running three miles to a gum-tree marked on four sides bearing ESE, thence by a plough line bearing ENE five miles, thence south-east one mile, thence by a plough furrow ENE 1¾ miles, thence by a plough furrow bearing north to the tea-tree three miles, thence by a straight line running between the two southernmost hills called the Sisters, bearing north-west by north 1¼ miles to a ploughed furrow running to the Wannon, and bearing north by east three-quarters of a mile.

Source : "The Argus" Tuesday, 30th January 1849

1854 : "Merino Downs" - Wool still on the stations

WOOL.-We hear that there is a great deal of last years clip of wool, still at stations in the interior. On the two stations of Munthum and Merino Downs alone, we learn there is as much as 200 bales not at yet brought down. And at many other stations the proprietors have not yet been able to get their wool down, nor their winter supply of stores up. It is computed there is still as much shorn wool in the district as wold load a large sized ship. That a great deal of last years clip cannot be brought into town this season is now pretty certain ; so much for scab and want of labour.

Source : "Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser (Vic.) Monday, 15th May 1854.

1863, Dec. 2nd : Glenelg District Road Board, 1st meeting

Frank HENTY was an original Glenelg District Roads Board member 1863-1864 which held its first meeting on December 2nd, 1863. Those present at this first meeting were George CARMICHAEL, Maurice CUSSEN, Francis HENTY, Denis NASH, Owen O'REILLY, & William TREVASKIS. The Roads Board was proclaimed the Shire of Glenelg on 29th June, 1864. Meetings were held at the original Council Chambers at Sandford 1864-1866 and from then in Casterton where a new Council building was opened in 1868.

Source : "Shire of Glenelg Centenary 1863-1963".

1865, Dec. : "Merino Downs" - Tenders called for a Brick Cottage for the Men

TENDERS required for building a Brick Cottage for the men at Merino Downs. Tenders to be sent in on or before Saturday, the 14th Jan., 1865. Full particulars on application to the undersigned. The lowest or any tender not necessarily accepted. FRAS. HENTY.

Source : "Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser" (Vic.) Monday, 26th December 1864.