Author Archives: Merron Riddiford

Happy Birthday WDF

That time of year has rolled around again…blogiversary time.  Yes, Western District Families is three today and it’s party hat time.



At first glance, my blogging year seemed uneventful.  With much time taken up with study and family, and little left to write the type of posts I enjoy.  But when I look back over the 100 or so posts of the past year, when at times I’ve felt as though I was in a tug of war with demands from everywhere, I didn’t too badly.


Image Courtesy of the State Library of Victoria. Image no. H2010.137/14

I managed to write posts that are now among my favourites of the past three years including Sweet Daisy, stories of The Vagabond, the Muddy Creek Reeds, Claremont, Portland and  Skipton, the Local Horse, each requiring plenty of research to sink my teeth into.  I also enjoyed writing the post that evolved while cooking, Stretching My Genealogy Muscles.

There has also been the ever dependable Trove Tuesday posts. This time last year I had written 33 Trove Tuesday posts and in the past year another 49 have evolved. I particularly enjoyed learning about Aaron Weller, who in 1897 was Victoria’s oldest man.  I know some you are missing the Trove Tuesday posts, but they’ll be back.  Another regular, Passing of the Pioneers, is still going strong and I will keep up the posts over the coming months.  I haven’t counted for a while, but the number of pioneer obituaries is nearing 500.

There were some other highlights such as The Hamilton Spectator (1914-1918) arriving online at Trove.  Also the birth of the Western District Families Facebook page  now with 162 members.  And of course,  the re-incarnation of the “I’ve Lived in Hamilton, Victoria” Facebook group , with 2590 members. It has been huge, bringing me new friends, new research ideas and an increased knowledge of Hamilton and district.

But the biggest highlight once again was Western District Families inclusion in Inside History magazine’s 50 top genealogy blogs.  To have Western District Families recognised with 49 fantastic blogs from Australia and overseas definitely takes the cake.

Image Courtesy of the State Library of Victoria . Image no.H2010.137/14


So what’s been popular this year?  The Top 5 includes two new posts, another only 13 months old and two old favourites.

  • A Pleasant Distraction – Introducing the Hamilton Facebook group and an insight into the gathering of Hamilton social history that has resulted.
  • The General Hewitt – Portland Bay 1856 - First posted in March 2013, this post tells the story of the ship’s arrival in Portland Bay and the events in days after, along with some of the passengers who made the Western District their home.
  • Muntham Station – A You Tube clip, produced for the sale of the former Henty property, spurred me on to share a little of the history of the former Henty property.

It is also great  to see the Links page getting many views and lots of clicks.  I hope you found a useful Western District link.

Western District Families has really moved forward in the past 12 months.  Views to the blog have almost doubled and at the last blogiversary had 64 followers, today there are 144. I would love to get back to the usual two posts a week, but while I’m working on my Diploma thesis I will be limiting my output here, but I’m looking forward to the second half of the year when I can share some more stories of our Western District Families.

Thank you to everyone.


Image courtesy of the Lindsay G. Cumming Collection, State Library of Victoria.  Image no. H2005.88/353

Image courtesy of the Lindsay G. Cumming Collection, State Library of Victoria. Image no. H2005.88/353


Passing of the Pioneers

March Passing of the Pioneers shares obituaries of well-known residents of Hamilton, Heywood and Portland.  They include the surveyor of Camperdown and yet another man who was at Blue Lake, Mt. Gambier the day Adam Lindsay Gordon took his famed leap.

Thomas BROOKS – Died March 7, 1888 at Hotspur.  At the time of his death, Thomas Brooks was on of the oldest inhabitants of the Heywood district, having arrived in 1853.  His death was a result of an accident, after 62-year-old Thomas delivered a coffin to Hotspur from Heywood for the funeral of Mr Fidler.  After the funeral he returned home, only to fall from his horse.  He received head injuries, from which he died.  A contract worker for the local shire, Thomas was known as an eccentric and was referred to as “Old Tom Brooks”  For more information about Thomas see the South-West Victoria Pioneers website.

John THOMSON – Died March 27, 1894 at Melbourne.  Anyone who lived in Hamilton and district prior to the late 1980s, would know the name John Thomson as that was that name that adorned the front of one of Hamilton’s longest running department stores John Thomson & Co of Gray Street, locally known simply as Thomsons.  John Thomson arrived in Victoria from Scotland at a young age and was educated at Scotch College, Geelong and the Hamilton Academy.  He joined his uncle and brothers, Alexander and William in the store, first established as an Iron store in 1866, and later became a partner.  He had a strong association with the Hamilton Presbyterian Church and when he died, aged 46, he had attended  the Convention of  the Presbyterian Fellowship Association.  He fell sick over the weekend and passed away.


Advertising. (1953, July 21). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 21. Retrieved March 27, 2014, from

Advertising. (1953, July 21). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 21. Retrieved March 27, 2014, from



 Robert Dunbar  SCOTT - Died March 7, 1898.  Robert Scott was born in Scotland and he and his wife arrived in Victoria around 1851.  Robert was employed as a land surveyor, his first job to survey the western part of Port Phillip.  He set up camp near what would become the town of Camperdown and set about laying out a new township.  He named the first streets, including Manifold Street after the Manifold brothers.  He selected land on the banks of Lake Gnotuk and established the property “Gnotuk Park”.  Robert was a member of the local P&A Society and the Freemasons.  In the late 1890s, he sold “Gnotuk Park” and let a property at Craigieburn.  He later moved to Melbourne establishing himself as a commission agent, but lost money in the crash after the land boom.  A further account of Robert Scott is on this link – A Link With The Past – Interview with David Scott.

Mercy ERRI – Died March 26, 1932 at Cobrico.  Mercy Erri was born in England and arrived in Victoria with her parents in 1857.  Her father started in business in Camperdown, one of the early pioneers of that town.  Mercy trained as a nurse and was a Sunday School teacher.  In her later years, she became an invalid, confined to her bed, but she continued to produce beautiful needlework, even with failing sight.  Mercy was 88 years old when she died and never married.

James MOLLOY  – Died March 25, 1937 at Portland.  James Molloy arrived in Portland with his parents aboard the “British Empire” when he was 11.   He went to school at All Saints school in Portland and during those years spent time with William Dutton extracting oil from whale blubber.  He was then employed by Edward Henty at Narrawong.  His next job was for the Bell’s at Heywood, training racehorses, his greatest success winning the Great Western Steeplechase at Coleraine.  Apparently he was with Adam Lindsay Gordon on the day Gordon took his leap at Blue Lake, Mt Gambier.  He later returned to Portland, working as a storeman and a water-side worker.  James married Mary Beglen and they had three sons and two daughters.

David Edmund BATES – Died March 5, 1938 at Casterton.  David Bates was born at Narracorte before moving to Casterton with his parents when six.  He was educated at the Casterton school before becoming an apprentice draper with Mr Mills.  David was an athlete and once ran second in the Stawell Gift.  He took a great interest in the public affairs of Casterton and served as secretary on the Casterton Hospital board.

Eliza MOORE – Died March 24, 1939 at Colac.  Eliza Moore was born in Ireland in 1854 and travelled to Victoria as a child aboard the “Chance“.  Her parents settled at Port Fairy and later at Woodford.  Eliza married Alexander Russell at Warrnambool and they farmed at Dennington.  They then moved to Colac where they remained until Eliza’s death.  In her younger years, Eliza was an excellent horsewoman and was devoted to the Church throughout her life.

Daniel FENTON – Died March 17 at Camperdown.  Daniel Fenton was born in Camperdown in 1860 and was the first child baptised at the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in the same year.  Educated at Camperdown State School, he spent his entire working life as a dairy farmer.  He married Mary Ann Shenfield of Cobden and five children were living at the time of Daniel’s death.






Oh No…I Missed Trove Tuesday

After 82 consecutive Trove Tuesday posts, I’ve missed one.  Yes, I just couldn’t get a post prepared this week and I’m a bit sad that it has come to an end.  I really was hoping to get to 100 without a break.  Now that I have broken the succession, it is a good time to say that I will have a short break from Trove Tuesday.

With a lot going on in my life including a rapidly approaching due date for my thesis , I need to take a break.  I will still have a March Passing of the Pioneers post (hopefully in time) and will of course post for the Anzac Day Blog Challenge, which I just can’t miss.  In the meantime, if I get a chance to post I will, but I’m not making any promises.

For Trove Tuesday this week, I intended to share some feedback from my post a few Tuesdays back called “Dear Cinderella”.  It is always a bit nerve-racking when I write about someone, not related to me who people may remember.  I did it when I wrote about Lottie Condon, Sultan Aziz, Elsie Day and again when I wrote about the owners of  Skipton, the 1941 Melbourne Cup winner.  I heard from family members of each of those people, which is great and, thankfully, the responses were positive.

I was lucky enough to receive an email and a blog comment from the granddaughters of Nicholas Dix, Paula and Dallas.  Nicholas was one of the many children that wrote to the Leader Newspaper’s “Dear Cinderella” column.  His description of his farm life in the Western District gives those researching the area a great record of daily life during that time, but for Paula and Dallas it provides a wonderful piece of family history.  His granddaughters on finding my post were “thrilled” to have this reminder of their much loved grandfather who passed away over 30 years ago.


CORRESPONDENCE. (1914, June 13). Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 58. Retrieved January 27, 2014, from

CORRESPONDENCE. (1914, June 13). Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1914 – 1918), p. 58. Retrieved January 27, 2014, from

I may have found the article, but it is the work of  those at Trove Australia, bringing us the great resource of digitised newspapers, that led to Nicholas’ letter coming to light.  Without the digitisation program, the letter may have remained buried in an archive, possibly to be never read again.  My aim with many of my Trove Tuesday posts, is to find such lost treasures and bring them out for all to read.  If you would like to read my previous 82 Trove Tuesday posts until I resume them again, follow the link – Trove Tuesday.  In the meantime, I hope that other bloggers continue the Trove Tuesday tradition of sharing Trove’s treasures.

Trove Tuesday – Money Shortage

Still on the subject of Charles James Harman, this is an interesting snippet from the Townsville Daily Bulletin of September 3, 1930.

In the 1920s,  Charles, his wife Lavinia Fisher and daughter Mary travelled to London for Charles to take up a post with the R.A.A.F. at the R.A.F. headquarters.  His position was terminated in 1930 and the family returned to Melbourne.  The world was in Depression and while this was not the apparent reason for Charles’ role ending, it was probably a good time to return home.

According to Lavinia, even if Australians in London had money in the bank they could only access their funds after a 60 day waiting period.  The jewellery had to go with women selling off their valuables, probably at a deflated price, just to get some cash to survive.

AUSTRALIANS IN LONDON. (1930, September 3). Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1885 - 1954), p. 7. Retrieved March 18, 2014, from

AUSTRALIANS IN LONDON. (1930, September 3). Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1885 – 1954), p. 7. Retrieved March 18, 2014, from

Trove Tuesday – Charlie and Arthur

Newspapers are a great for filling in the gaps in our family histories, uncovering information that would never be known using vital records alone.  That has been the case with my research on my gg uncle Charles James Harman.  The co-subject of last week’s Trove Tuesday post, Charles just keeps popping up in the papers offering me more and more about him.  I had found a lot of information on his post-war life in The Argus, but the arrival of the Hamilton Spectator and the Port Fairy Chronicle at Trove has helped me fill in his pre-war days, spent around Macarthur and Byaduk.

Firstly, I discovered why Charles’ engineering skill was quickly noticed by the A.F.C., with his mechanical crew keeping the No.1 Squadron in the air over Egypt during WW1.  Also, I found Charles had a friend.  Yes, even our ancestors had friends and I’m always keen to find those relationships.  The following article from the Port Fairy Chronicle drew my attention to the working relationship between Charles and Arthur Parfrey, but the letter Charles wrote to Arthur, featured in last week’s Trove Tuesday, proved they were mates too.

Twelve months before this article, Charles was left a widower when his wife Catherine Kinghorn passed away.  Catherine was 10 years older than Charles and 37 at the time of their marriage in 1905. They never had children.

cj3cj4Macarthur Matters. (1914, December 31). Port Fairy Gazette (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 2 Edition: EVENING. Retrieved March 10, 2014, from

Macarthur Matters. (1914, December 31). Port Fairy Gazette (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), p. 2 Edition: EVENING. Retrieved March 10, 2014, from

By January 1915, Charles and Arthur had their water boring plant up and running and available for hire.  Business was brisk with dry conditions prevailing.

Macarthur Matters. (1915, January 18). Port Fairy Gazette (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 2 Edition: EVENING. Retrieved March 10, 2014, from

Macarthur Matters. (1915, January 18). Port Fairy Gazette (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), p. 2 Edition: EVENING. Retrieved March 10, 2014, from


Advertising. (1915, January 18). Hamilton Spectator (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 6. Retrieved March 10, 2014, from

Advertising. (1915, January 18). Hamilton Spectator (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), p. 6. Retrieved March 10, 2014, from

But things can change so quickly and with the war escalating, and no family ties, Charles sold up everything in April 1915. On July 12, 1915 at the age of 36, Charles enlisted, never to return to the Western District as a resident again.

Advertising. (1915, April 20). Hamilton Spectator (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 2. Retrieved March 10, 2014, from

Advertising. (1915, April 20). Hamilton Spectator (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), p. 2. Retrieved March 10, 2014, from

The rise of Charles through the ranks with the A.F.C., finishing the war as a 2nd Lieutenant with military honours, led to a posting in London during the 1920s with the R.A.A.F. followed by a life in Melbourne until his death in 1943.  The last half of Charles’ life was a total contrast to the first half.  He went from pigs and dairy cows on the farm at Macarthur to rubbing shoulders with the highest ranked officials in the R.A.F. and R.A.A.F, flying in airships and attending the funeral of the victims of the R101 airship crash at St Paul’s Cathedral, London. Other attendees included some of the highest ranked officials in England including the Prince of Wales.  All found out thanks to online newspapers at Trove.

Trove Tuesday – Those Magnificent Men

This is my 80th consecutive Trove Tuesday post but I thought my run would end at 79.  Yesterday I took a tumble and now have soft tissue damage in my knee and after a late night in the emergency department, things weren’t looking good for a 80th Trove Tuesday post.  Thankfully, I had started the post over the weekend, so I thought I would give you what I have so far and finish next Tuesday with the relationship between the subjects in my article, found once again at Trove.

Over the past weekend, the R.A.A.F.  celebrated 100 years of military aviation with an air show at the Point Cook R.A.A.F. base.  So, I thought it was a good time to share an article I found about my gg uncle Charles James Harman, that I found in the Hamilton Spectator when the paper came online in 2013.  Charles was the son of Reuben James Harman and Lizzie Bishop and grandson of James Harman and Susan Reed of Byaduk.  He has had a post here before, about the time he took a flight in the R101 airship.

Charles Harman joined the Australian Flying Corp in 1915 as a flight sergeant and over the course of the war rose to an officer ranking with the No. 1 Squadron of the A.F.C.  He spent most of the war in Egypt and mid-way through 1916, wrote home to his mate and business associate, Arthur Parfrey of Macarthur.  Arthur passed the interesting letter across to the Hamilton Spectator and the paper published  it on September 14, 1916.

The flight he writes of was with pilot  Oswald Watt  as they reached heights of 7000 feet.   Considering the planes the then Major Watt was flying, they were daring.  Oswald Watt’s biography is available to read at the Australian Dictionary of Biography.


A LETTER FROM THE AIR. (1916, September 14). Hamilton Spectator (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 4. Retrieved March 1, 2014, from

A LETTER FROM THE AIR. (1916, September 14). Hamilton Spectator (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), p. 4. Retrieved March 1, 2014, from

Passing of the Pioneers

When an obituary has only a female pioneer’s married name, I do like to find their maiden name.  This month, there was one such pioneer, Mrs Susan Sloan.  After a quick search, I found on her death record her father’s name recorded as Francis Sloan.  As I don’t want to make assumptions based on a death certificate, I will continue to call her Mrs Susan Sloan, however I will keep trying to find her maiden name in the future as I have an interest in Susan as you will see in her obituary below.

Marks DAFFY – Died February 22, 1902 at Cundare.  Marks Daffy was born at County Clare, Ireland and arrived in Melbourne in 1857.   He spent his first five years in the colony around the Barrabool Hills near Geelong, working on various farms.  With money saved, Marks selected land in the Colac district after the passing of the 1862 Duffy Lands Act.  He set about building a fine dairy farm, using his good eye for stock to select the best dairy cows.  He gave up dairy-farming after 25 years and settled into an “easier” life as a grazier.  In 1887, after dissatisfaction with the Colac Shire, he ran for a seat which he won.  Around 18 months before his death, a fall from his buggy eventually left him bedridden and ultimately  claimed his life.  His funeral procession was a mile long and was the largest to arrived at the Cundare cemetery.

William MOODIE - Died February 25, 1914 at Coleraine.  William Moodie arrived in the Coleraine district with his Scottish parents at the age of six weeks around 1841.  His father took up the property “Wando Dale” at Nareen and so began William’s life on the land, breeding some of the finest wool stock.  After taking over the property from his parents, he built the current “Wando Dale” Homestead (below) in 1901.

"WANDO DALE", NAREEN.   Image courtesy of the  J.T. Collins Collection, La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria.  Image No.  H94.200/302

“WANDO DALE”, NAREEN. Image courtesy of the J.T. Collins Collection, La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria. Image No. H94.200/302

He also spent a good part of his 73 years in public life.  He was a member of the Casterton Roads Board and the Wannon Shire Council.  He was also involved with the P&A Society, the local Horticultural Society and St Andrews Church at Coleraine.  William Moodie left a widow, seven sons and five daughters.

John KELLY – Died February 7, 1915 at Macarthur.  John Kelly arrived from Tasmania, his birth place, with his family when he was three years old.  If John was 85 at the time of his death, it would mean that he arrived in Victoria in 1833, so I’m thinking it may have been a little later.  Even still, he was an early arrival in the colony.  John worked as a carrier with his brother, working the route between Geelong and stations as far west as Casterton.  He also ran a store at Yambuk for many years and took up property at Codrington.  He died at the home of his daughter Mrs Hindhaugh of Macarthur.

John MURRAY – Died February 13, 1915 at Hamilton.  Born  in Stirlingshire, Scotland, John Murray was a resident of Hamilton for over 50 years by the time of his death.  His family arrived at Geelong aboard the “Chariot of Fame” and went directly to Hamilton.  He spent much of his working life as a labourer and was a member of the Court Brotherhood  of the Ancient Order of Foresters for over 45 years.  He was a widow and left five sons and one daughter from a family of 12 children.

Jane O’MAY - Died February 17, 1916 at Buckley Swamp.  Jane O’May was born in Paisley, Scotland in 1822 and married William Kirkwood in 1842.  William and Jane arrived at Portland in 1852 aboard the “John Davis”.  They travelled by bullock dray to “Warrock“, near Casterton.  The Kirkwoods were hard-working pioneers and Jane left a large family at the time of her death.  Three daughters were still alive along with 24 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren.  Jane’s grandson, William Kirkwood of the Hamilton South area, married my first cousin 4 x removed, Sarah Ann Reed.

James COWELL – Died February 24, 1917 at Mortlake.  James Cowell was born in Cambridgeshire around 1838 and by 1868, had already established a butcher’s shop at Mortlake.  he later became a road contractor for the local Shire.  One of James’ three sons, Pte Harry Cowell, lost his life at Gallipoli.

Joseph WOMBWELL – Died February 9, 1918 at Casterton.  Arriving in Portland in 1853 aged 17 years from Essex, England,  Joseph Wombwell’s first job was at the  Henty’s Muntham Station.  He married Betsy Ann Coulson in 1869, the daughter of Christopher Coulson and Mary Frances Stubbs and stayed in Merino until 1875.  They then moved to Casterton and lived in a bark hut while Joseph ran a carrying business between Casterton and Portland.  One claim to fame is that he delivered the “first load of grog” to the Sandford Hotel.  The Hamilton Spectator also published a lengthy obituary for Joseph Wombwell

Mrs Susan SLOAN – Died February 9, 1918 at Hamilton.  Mrs Susan Sloan was born in Glasgow, Scotland and after arriving in Portland in 1855, she went to Ararat where she married Thomas Sloan    They returned to Portland, and ran a shipping business, but the trade was tough and they moved inland to Hamilton where there were greater opportunities, and they established a cordial business.  Thomas died in 1910 and Susan continued to run the business until her death, after which time family members continued its operations until 1930.    The Sloan’s cottage “Whinhill” in Pope Street, Hamilton was featured in a I’ve Lived in Hamilton, Victoria group post as it is a highly visible and known to most who have lived in Hamilton time, None of us knew the history of the cottage and there is still more we would like to find out.  The cordial business operated behind the cottage.

John MOFFATT – Died February 9, 1926 at Chatsworth. John Moffatt was born in Scotland in 1854 and arrived in Victoria with his parents in 1872 and resumed his education at Geelong Grammar.  At aged 19 he took up the running of the Burnewang Estate near Bendigo before he inherited “Chatsworth House” from his uncle John Moffatt in 1879.  He also leased his uncle’s property “Hopkins Hill” from the estate’s trustees.  John Moffatt was a sat on the Shire of Mt Rouse and was a member of the Landowner’s Council.

DEATH OF MR. JOHN MOFFATT. (1926, February 10). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 21. Retrieved February 28, 2014, from

DEATH OF MR. JOHN MOFFATT. (1926, February 10). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 21. Retrieved February 28, 2014, from

John Moffatt’s uncle, John Moffatt, has been a Passing Pioneer and his obituary offers more history about the Moffatt family.





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