Wednesday, March 4, 2009

William and Sophie Pearson at Bonegilla

After they married, by 1887 my great-grandparents, William and Sophie Pearson, took up Bonegilla Park, a portion of the original Bonegilla Station, in the County of Bogong, near Wodonga. Here they are with their little dog, rowing on the billabong, not far from the pretty homestead on the far shore. William must have been about 22, and Sophie not much older than 20.

The original Bonegilla cattle run of approximately 25,000 acres, consisting mostly of rich river flats bounded by the Murray, Kiewa and Mitta Mitta Rivers, extending many miles to the south-east towards the mountains, was first selected in the mid-1830s by William Wyse, an employee of the pastoralist, businessman and politician, the Hon. Charles Hotson Ebden.

Ebden owned Bonegilla until about 1847, when he sold it to the Reverend Dr. John Palmer, a nephew of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Actually, from January 1851 to June 19, 1854, Bonegilla was nominally held by Palmer's son, the pioneer, sometime mayor of Melbourne (1845) and first President of the Legislative Council of Victoria under responsible government (1856), Sir James Frederick Palmer, who subdivided it. A small portion was purchased by a young Irish employee of the Farmers, Michael Ryan, but the remainder, henceforth known as Bonegilla Park, was sold to David Bowen Jones, who died five years later, in 1859.

The freehold of Bonegilla, by then a far more manageable 640 acres, was purchased from Mr. Bowen Jones in June 1870 by John Conisbee, who in about 1880 sold it on to a syndicate consisting of my great-great-grandfather, the Hon. William Pearson, and his much younger Gippsland pioneer friends and neighbors Matthew Macalister of Boisdale, and Joseph Hoddinott.

It was presumably to oversee the station for him and his business partners, and to prepare his son in due course to inherit the far bigger Kilmany Park, that the elder William Pearson sent the young couple to live at Bonegilla.

Hoddinott, who eventually became a colleague of the younger William Pearson in the Legislative Council of Victoria, eventually bought out Pearson and Macalister, presumably after the elder William died in 1893, and the younger Pearsons went to live at Kilmany Park.

Though much damaged, this second photograph of Bonegilla Park conveys something of the charm of the property as it was when William and Sophie Pearson lived there, and all three of their surviving children were born. (A boy who came before Uncle Roy was still-born.)

The same rowing boat may be seen on the billabong to the left, this time carrying a party of five ladies, maybe some of Sophie Pearson's many younger sisters. To the left of the homestead there is a pretty orchard, enclosed with an old post-and-rail fence, to keep out the cattle. The relatively young garden of trees and shrubs was presumably planted by Sophie, and is likewise protected by a substantial wooden fence, equipped with an elaborate stile.

In the foreground, two mounted stockmen watch a small herd of healthy Hereford cattle.

The house itself is actually very large, and its wide verandah is equipped with canvas awnings for hot summer evenings, and there is some evidence of fairly extensive out-buildings behind the tallest trees in the distance, as well as the numerous huts and sheds that are visible extending far to the right, among carefully planted trees in the first photograph (top).

In 1906, Joseph Hoddinott subdivided Bonegilla Park and sold it at public auction. The Pearsons' house, "a stately brick home with high-ceilinged rooms and a sweep of marble steps in front," had replaced a sinister old "slab homestead with gun-holes through the wall," i.e. for shooting at the local Aborigines.

After Hoddinott, the house changed hands several more times, and after World War I was acquired from the Rapsey brothers under the soldier settlement scheme.

Eventually, Bonegilla was used as a base by the Australian army, and after World War II it was turned into the Bonegilla Migrant Reception and Training Centre, which in the 1950s and 1960s was for some 320,000 mostly southern European immigrants their first Australian home, as indeed it was, under radically different circumstances, for my newly married great-grandparents, my grandmother, and her siblings in the mid- to late 1880s, and the early 1890s.

Post-war Bonegilla has been the subject of a number of studies, most notably Bonegilla, "A Place of No Hope," by Glenda Sluga (Melbourne: Department of History, University of Melbourne, 1988); From the Steps of Bonegilla: Bonegilla Migrant Reception and Training Centre, 1947-1971, edited by Helen Pithie (Albury, N.S.W.: Albury Regional Museum, 2000), and Bonegilla's Beginnings, by Ann Tündern-Smith (Wagga Wagga, N.S.W.: Triple D Books, 2007).

1 comment:

  1. My grandfather Robert Gordon Hoddinott was born at Bonegilla in 1899. He was the youngest of Joseph and Rebecca's seven children. It was lovely to finally see a photo of the Homestead.Does it still remain? Are there any other photos in existence? Regards, Nicola Hoddinott (