What’s in a name? Everything! Many farms in the district hold fascinating stories just in the names given to their paddocks. As land use patterns change and people pass on, these stories can be lost. One ongoing project initiated by the donation of a series of aerial photos taken in the early 1950’s, seeks to redress that by recording histories of paddock names. Now assisted by more modern aerial maps provided by the Glenelg Shire the Museum is often represented at district events like the Dartmoor Show, to gather those stories from landholders.
Consider the story of ‘Mother Micks’ paddock on the McLennan property at Mumbannar…
Janet Bates arrived to Victoria from Plymouth in October 1848 as a 16/17 year old assisted immigrant with her parents, William and Charlotte Bates, aboard the ‘Blonde’. In 1852, she married Robert Preston at Geelong .
On Wednesday 8 May 1867 Preston, living in Duneed south of Geelong, petitioned the Supreme Court to have his marriage dissolved, citing Janet’s adultery with Michael O’Brien, occupation splitter. In an effort to add weight to his case, Preston had another accusation of an affair with a different man, but that was dropped for lack of evidence. Alcohol was believed to have precipitated the clearly proven case with O’Brien; neither he nor Janet attended, and a divorce was granted .
Janet cohabited with O’Brien and then married him in Mount Gambier 28 February 1870. Michael’s father was John O’Brien on the record. [It has not been possible to date to accurately trace Michael as a relative of the large Luke O’Bryan/O’Brien family who were in the south-west of Victoria area at this time.]
Michael purchased 52 acres, Allotment 7 Section B in the Parish of Mumbannar for 50 pounds [the title registered on 18 December 1882], and lived on the block in a home he probably built. The land was mainly red, terra rossa soil with a ‘light’ sandy rise towards the middle and would been considered as ‘good grazing country’. He must have had some money to hand, as he paid for a headstone for his father-in-law’s grave about this time.
During the Victorian economic crisis of the early 1890’s, O’Brien left Mumbannar seeking work to the north. Unfortunately he died on 3 August 1892 while working as a shearer at Polia Woolshed near Pooncarie. An agent of the Shearers’ Union wrote a letter to Janet to inform her of her husband’s death, but being unable to read she took it to a neighbour William Williams [not to be confused with a local Minister Reverend William Williams] to have it read. Before leaving, Michael had the foresight, ’in case that I should not come back’ , to make a will witnessed by Williams and district resident Joshua Smith, leaving his land and home worth 130 pounds to his wife Janet.
The’ hand-me down’ and slightly inaccurate story is that she was a ‘madame’ who originated from the goldfields. Her situation was appreciated in the district, as on one occasion when she needed a new well dug, all came to assist. She had the vice of smoking a small clay pipe.
By 1896 she was effectively an old, poor lady whose circumstances were regrettable. Even the local Shire Council took pity and remitted her rates for one year when she asked for a reduction, citing the death of her husband and limited income from 30 sheep on her block .
Janet died aged 79 without issue, about 23 December 1910. She made a will on 16 December, so must have known she was ailing. Being illiterate, she marked the document with a cross, and left everything to Sarah Smith nee Murphy, but it was decreed a year later to be invalid due to Sarah’s husband, John Robert Smith [a well-liked possible relative of her husband’s] whom Sarah married in 1907, being one of the witnesses to the document! [The other witness was Charles Hoskins, John’s first cousin!] So in effect Janet died intestate and no other ‘direct’ relatives were found at the time.
The estate was valued at 137 pounds – a tidy sum. It was rumoured she had a pile of gold sovereigns buried about the house, and following her death some digging around was done! The one who may have known about this, was John Robert Smith. When she died, the horse and cart that ferried her to the cemetery was driven at some pace by Smith, as observed by the neighbouring Mrs Cowland out her back window! There was no funeral or lengthy graveside service, which led rise to the rumour she may have been ‘knocked on the head’!
The facts ruin a ‘good story’ here! The Smiths were not benefactors and did not ‘squander all the inherited money’; the block was auctioned on 23 November 1911 by James R.Woods in Portland under instructions by the State. Alexander McLennan purchased the land for 2/17/6 pounds per acre. In addition, local policeman Constable MacLean was informed of her death and obtained permission for her burial from the Coroner, and Janet did have a funeral conducted by Reverend Ingamells from Heywood, at which neighbours paid their last respects.
The Smiths left the district about 1912 with their children, John, Eileen and Kathleen, and moved to Melbourne where 3 more children, Ethel, Pearl and Marat, were born . Sarah died at Carlton in 1919 and John died at Kew in 1956.
The block, still owned by the McLennan family is known as ‘Mother Mick’s’.