Mount Hope, Catapillars, Bushfires & Pigs Eating Butter
Following William & Charlotte’s marriage on the 20th December 1853 at Castle Hill, Yan Yean their children Robert, Bill & Charles were registered as being born in Yan Yean, their first daughter Bessie registered as being born in Upper Plenty and their youngest daughter Lottie registered as being born in Glenvale.
William & Charlotte owned a 100 acre property called “Mount Hope”, the following article printed in the Weekly Times on the 14th of February 1880 appears to be based on an eyewitness account of the events occurring in the 1850’s and provides a wonderful insight into life in the area around that time. It also refers to some lighter moments
The Weekly Times – Upper Plenty District – 14th February 1880
A short distance below Mr. McDonald s farm is Brookland, the property of the Messrs. Gardiner, whose crop this year has totally escaped from the ravages of caterpillars. It was all cut for hay, as wool-growing and fattening stock is what is principally carried on. The sheep are of the Merino breed, and the average quantity of wool per sheep during the last few years was 61b., which brought Is. per lb. in the Melbourne market. The farm seems better adapted for sheep breeding than cattle, being nearly all of fairly grassed undulating country, well watered with a constantly-running stream.
Its extent is about 800 acres, and the homestead and outbuildings are of a complete and substantial character. Adjoining Mr. Gardiner’s is the farm of Mr. Butcher, on which a mixed system of husbandry is carried on, and whose crop, composed principally of oaten hay, will, I think, turn out very well, although slightly attacked by caterpillars.
Farther down still is Mr. Clements’s, where some thirty acres of a good-looking oat crop have had to be converted into hay, in consequence of the ravages of the caterpillars. A great deal of the crop, too, was so beaten down with the heavy rain which fell when it was ripening that the reaping-machine could hot work, and it had to be reaped by hand or mowed, consequently entailing a considerable loss of grain. The hay crop will probably average from 1| to 2 tons per acre, and the wheat (of which there are only four acres) above 20 bushels per acre, it being well filled and heavy. The next farm is Mr. John Rice’s, and on this also the crop looked well, and, I think, will yield fully up to expectations, although visited by the caterpillar scourge.
Mr. Patton’s Mount Hope adjoins Mr.Rice’s, and none but those who witnessed the crop on this farm could form any idea of the destructive propensities of caterpillars.
When I saw it a few weeks ago, it had every appearance of turning out from 40 to 50 bushels to the acre ; but the whole crop was so attacked by the above-named insects that it had to be converted into sheaf hay, which will certainly average above 3 tons per acre.
In addition to twenty acres under oats, there are about ten acres and five acres respectively put in with peas and potatoes; and both of these crops look well, the former having every, appearance of averaging from 4 to 5 tons to the acre. Mount Hope takes its name from a small hill on which the homestead is built, and the farm is composed of hilly and flat land in nearly equal proportions. There was formerly a large swamp where the crops grew, but it was reclaimed some years ago, a cutting having been made through it by the Government for the purpose of conveying the water of the creek to the Plenty River. The race was originally cut only of a small width and depth, but of late years it has widened out and got much deeper through the action of the water on the loose, rich, black soil of the swamp. Mount Hope is subdivided into half-a-dozen paddocks, and about twenty cattle are kept regularly for dairy purposes, the butter, as is usual on the Plenty, being disposed of to hawkers for the Melbourne market. Over fifty acres have been sown with artificial grasses, and it is contemplated to lay down a great deal more in the course of a year or two.
Falling back from Mount Hope and continuing on towards Wallan in one direction, and Yan Yean in the other, are the Plenty Ranges, which are chiefly noted for producing the great bulk of the palings and shingles supplied to the Melbourne market. Splitting, however, has been prohibited in the greater part of them during the last few years, owing to the injury which it is supposed would be done to the water flowing into the Yan Yean from the numerous streams and watercourses in the ranges.
On a prominent hill not far from Mount Hope a scaffolding was erected some years ago by a party pf surveyors for the purpose of taking observations of the surrounding country with greater accuracy and despatch. The staging was built in tiers along the trunk of a tall tree, step-ladders reaching from the ground to the top, from which a grand view was at all times to be observed, Melbourne and the shipping in Hobson’s Bay being easily discernible to the naked eye. In summer time “the scaffold,” as it was generally called, formed a great resort for parties from Melbourne, and others who wished to gain some idea of the geographical and geological formation of the Plenty Ranges, and many were the names and initials carved on the tree or painted in tar, a barrel of which had been left there for the purpose, on the large rocks, stones, and logs which surrounded the base of the scaffolding.
Within the last year or two, however, the tree has fallen, and there is consequently but very little inducement now for people to visit the locality. The ” Sugarloaf” and ” One Tree Hill” are two other well-known places of resort of visitors to the Upper Plenty. The former is a rugged, thickly-timbered mount, with immense granite boulders of different colours and in all manners of fantastic shapes studding its sides, and forming diminutive caves and hollows, which at one time constituted almost complete security for wild goats, wombats, and wallabies. In fact, no place more forcibly reminded me, though on an exceedingly small scale, of the steep spurs and gloomy gorges of the now notorious Strathbogie and King River ranges. The ” One Tree Hill,” on the other hand, is clear and lightly timbered, and a good view is to be obtained from its summit of the surrounding country for many miles.
Following down the Glenvale road, another farm of 100 acres belonging to Mr. Patton is passed, and then the local post-office and State school come in view. The former occupies a prominent position on the top of a small hill, and the latter – a neat, brick building erected some fifteen years – is situated on its slope. The Glenvale road is now well formed and substantially metalled, but there is not nearly the amount of traffic on it as in past years, when the paling trade was flourishing, and when it constituted one of the principal thoroughfares for carriers taking goods to Benalla, Wangaratta, Beechworth, and many other up-country townships and new ” rushes,” some of which still exist, while others may now be numbered amongst the “has been” places. So great indeed was the traffic at the period above referred to, and so thoroughly unimproved the road, that it was no uncommon occurrence for bullock drays to be bogged for nearly a day at a time, and I have myself seen over forty bullocks yoked to a dray and unable to pull it out of the quagmire into which it had got stuck up to the axle-bed.
Those were, however, palmy days for the Upper Plenty, and such as will never be seen again.
From almost any point of the Glenvale road a good view can be obtained of the Plenty Ranges, and the ravages committed in the timber on their slopes by bush fires and on the ever-memorable Black Thursday are distinctly traceable by the extensive belts of tall, gaunt, bare-looking trees completely denuded of all foliage which are to be seen here and there amongst the sombre line of ranges encircling the district. Many are the tales told by old residents of the locality of the fearful scene enacted on the never-to-be-forgotten February, 1851.
At that period Mr. Patton, who had settled on the Upper Plenty some years previously, was residing within a short distance of the foot of the mountains, and, consequently, was one of the first who suffered from the fire. It had been raging for nearly three weeks, when, one scorching hot windy day, the flames, leaping from tree to tree, swept irresistibly down on the flats, and spread death and destruction in all directions.
One of the first victims of their relentless power was a carrier, whose camp was surrounded almost in a moment of time. He rushed into the long reeds near a creek to save himself, but though fresh and green the reeds soon got shrivelled, and, catching fire, the unfortunate man became enclosed with a cordon of flames, and was so severely burned that he died soon afterwards. His wife very nearly shared the same fate. In attempting to escape from the camp, she slipped and fell, and her clothes took fire, but she managed to extinguish the flames by rolling over and over on the ground, and then succeeded in reaching a place of safety. In the meantime cattle, horses, and other animals were careering madly about in search of shelter from the remorseless fury which with every gust of wind grew stronger and more terrible in its unbridled wrath. Cattle sank down exhausted after a hard gallop, and with pitiful lowings were roasted to death; while others, scarcely less fortunate, as they still struggled amidst the burning scrub to reach a waterhole or friendly belt of timber, gave vent to their sufferings in roars which could be heard high above the crackling of the flames in the gum trees, or their rapid hiss through the long dry summer grass.
Some of them lived to reach water, but only to meet death in another shape, for many got bogged and were unable to extricate themselves. Almost a whole team of bullocks perished in this way in one place, and many more were afterwards discovered which had met a similar fate. It was about 1 o’clock in the day when’ the fire reached Mr. Patton ‘s farm. Some burning leaves blew across from the tree tops and set fire to the stacks of corn, and after that everything went off quickly. Five hundred bushels of wheat had been threshed in the barn, and a dray was ready loaded to send some to Kilmore, but in a few moments not a vestige remained of the barn, the wheat, or the dray. Just as the dwelling house caught fire, a cotiple of horses walked through from back to front. They belonged to the carrier before referred to, and were evidently stupefied with the smoke and heat. One went and laid down beside the blazing wheat-stack, where his charred remains were afterwards found, and the other was burned to death in the stockyard. After leaving their homestead, Mr. Patton’s family sought shelter, a couple of miles farther down, at an hotel belonging to Mr Heffernan, which was then in the course of erection. Many other families, also burned out of house and home, be took themselves to this refuge, the strong brick walls, though not much above 4ft. high, forming a perfect safeguard against the burning leaves and red-hot cinders which ever and anon fell around them.
About 8 o’clock in the day the heat was something dreadful, and the smoke almost suffocating. Man and beast gave in from sheer exhaustion. Birds dropped down from the trees, or fell while on wing, never to rise again. Wild and tame animals and reptiles emerged from their haunts, only to be driven back and burned, or meet the same fate in attempting to escape. Few, indeed, succeeded in getting away. All nature was convulsed, and for a whole day the demon of the bottomless pit reigned triumphantly. Some assert that the thermometer went as high as 200deg., while others say it was even hotter than that ; but, judging from my own experience amoungst bush fees, I should imagine it would be fully up to the above figure, if not beyond it.
During the day some patches of country had been burnt before the fire, which, in one or two cases, by these means, was partially stopped, and a shower of rain falling at dusk, together with the changing of the wind, effectually prevented it from doing any more damage, though thousands of acres of country had been burnt, many homesteads destroyed, and several lives lost. Night came down, and then the scene was one of awful grandeur – the burning trees, logs, and shrubs glaring in the darkness amoungst the blackened surroundings, forming a weird-like picture of misery and desolation.
Even amidst all the horrors of that day and night some ludicrous incidents occurred. Before leaving the burning homestead, one of Mr. Patton’s men had placed two or three casks of butter in the creek, thinking they would be safe there from the flames. So they were, but not from the attacks of some pigs which had taken refuge in the water, and made themselves at home on a meal of butter, while the surplus over and above what they digested comfortably went floating down the stream in a, species of thickened oil.
In another instance, a man was galloping away from the fire carrying a baby a few months old before him on the saddle, when he was stopped by an elderly female, who implored him to throw the child away and take up a feather bed she was carrying, which he stoutly refused to do; and consigning the old lady and her feather bed to a warmer climate than even Glenvale on Black Thursday, he put spurs to his horse and ” cleared out;” at least, that is his version of the affair. The old lady, however, justifies herself by stating that she only wished the horseman to exchange burdens with her, as the feather bed was proving rather too much of a load to make any speed with in the smoke and heat, and she thought the child could be more easily carried. Which is the more likely story of the two, I leave my readers to judge.
The author of the article is unknown as the Weekly Times refers to them as “Our Travelling Reporter”, which often referred to local residents who contributed to the Weekly Times.
Later Marian Elizabeth “May” Patton was known to contribute to the Weekly Times & although only 10 years at the time of this article I can’t help but think of a young Lottie Patton.