The first of Sydney Grandison “Grandie” and Isabella Watson’s children to marry was Isabella “Emily” who married George Black from Tarwin Meadows (near Inverloch) in Victoria.
The marriage took place at All Saints Church, St Kilda on the 27 th July 1871. Emily was only 20 years of age at the time and George was 38 years her senior at 58. Rumour has it that the marriage may have been “arranged”, and had she not been agreeable to the wedding, then, George could have married another daughter, possibly Jessie. (Jessie never married). Emily had been only 10 years of age when her mother Isabella (nee Robinson) died from an ectopic pregnancy. Her experiences after that sad event were not pleasant and that certainly helped her decide to accept the proposal of marriage by George Black. Life at Tarwin Meadows was fairly hard for a young woman and she often referred to it as her “green prison’ (with possible reference to the pasture improvement carried out by George)
George Black (1813-1902), pastoralist, was born on 24 April 1813 at Lawgrove,
Perthshire, Scotland, son of Captain George Black and his wife Marjorie, née
Lawson. The family name had originally been MacGregor, but at the time when that clan because of its turbulent history had been forbidden to use its own name, many members were absorbed nominally into other clans. Black MacGregor, when the name was proscribed, simply called himself Black. He was educated at Perth Academy and on his father’s death sailed in
the St Mungo to Port Phillip, arriving in December 1840. He was manager of the
Boneo property near Cape Schanck and then ran Perricoota on the Murray River. In
1851 he bought the isolated Tarwin Station run from Edward Hobson, later called Tarwin Meadows, near Anderson’s Inlet in South Gippsland. Believing ‘there was money in mud’, he drained the flats, cleared the ti- tree, planted shelter trees, English grasses and strawberry clover (the first in Victoria), and sowed Marram grass on the sand dunes. He leased a hundred sq miles (259 km²) from the Bass River to Cape Liptrap and in 1858 acquired the pre-emptive rights of the West Tarwin run, bidding above the upset price. In the 1860s he bought the best of this land and only relinquished leasehold of the rest under pressure from selectors in the late 1870s. His main interest was breeding quality stock. Tarwin carried Hereford and Shorthorn cattle, and horses which in the gold rush brought as much as £130 a head. Black later supplied horses to Francis Clapp ‘s omnibus company and the Indian army. The cattle were driven to the Melbourne
market through Hastings and Frankston and the G-B brand topped the market consistently in the 1880s.
Black was for many years the only settler in the area and he lived a lonely and often
dangerous life. He had several encounters with escaped Tasmanian convicts and
bushrangers and it was said that the bushranger Dan Morgan worked for him as a
boy. Black’s first homestead was made of wattle and mortar daub, built by Hobson, and then replaced in 1870 by a house built mainly of timber from the Duke of Wellington, which had foundered in 1866, one of the many wrecks on the coast in Black’s lifetime. The station abounded with game and fish and Black had to use domestic cats to exterminate the rabbits he had unhappily introduced. He spent his leisure reading and made a special study of medicine which occasionally he had to put to practical use.
George Black died at age 89, on 17 August 1902, he was survived by his wife Emily (1851-1931) who, for a short period, then moved to London and later South Yarra; a daughter, Emily “Maud” Violet (1872-1939) and two sons; George “Murray” (1874-1965) and Archibald McGregor (1875-1943), who in partnership ran Tarwin Meadows as a dairy farm until 1915. Both Archie and Murray regularly visited their uncles, Sydney, Harry and Greg Watson’s Gregory Downs Station in the Gulf of Carpentaria to escape the cold and wet winters at Tarwin.
George Murray Black married Eleanora Jane Maitland McMicking in 1917 and had no children. Archibald MacGregor Black married Jean Stewart in 1911 and had two children, Elizabeth Kathleen in 1913 and “Greg” John Gordon McGregor in 1918. Emily Maud Violet Black married Paul Niels Walsoe and had one son Olaf in 1908.
Emily Watson’s wedding ring was later to be worn by her great granddaughter Ingrid Rose Walsoe at her wedding to Joseph Robert Engel in 1976. Her engagement ring was also worn by Jean Rosemary Simmons on her engagement to Emily’s grandson “Greg” John Gordon McGregor Black and is now worn, in turn, by Jean’s daughter in law Jane Webb who is married to Alistair Gordon McGregor Black. (It is welded to Jane’s wedding ring and to her eternity ring to stop it wearing out).
In 1931, a Burnett Swinton Nicholson with his wife Meta and 6 children were sharefarmers at “Tarwin Meadows” for Murray and Eleanora Black. Murray’s wife Eleanora was a sister to two of Burnett’s brothers-in-law Tom and Ringan McMicking.
In another link to the Watson Bros, Burnett’s brother, Robert Dundas Pierce Nicholson (b1877- d1919), known as Robin, and wife Amy, managed “Gregory Downs” around 1909 to 1912.
Archibald and Murray Black
When Mr. George Black died in 1902 the property was carried on by his two sons, until it was divided in 1915, Murray Black taking the old homestead and about 3,000 acres, and Archibald Black taking the balance, which he called Tarwin Park. Murray Black, after graduating Batchelor of Civil Engineering at Melbourne University, had gone to Western Australia, but returned to Victoria on the death of his father.
Archibald Black moved to the Tarwin Park property (formerly Halewood) after he married Jean Stewart in 1911 and established there a huge dairy enterprise. He built a large homestead with extensive gardens, which was connected to the road by a cypress-lined carriage driveway.
It is said that the lifestyle of the Black family, with their many servants, was more like that of the wealthy Western District pastoralists than was usual in the less wealthy Gippsland region.
A small township developed at Tarwin Meadows station to serve the needs of Black’s employees and their families (a total of one hundred and seventy by the early twentieth century, when his sons owned it) living on the property, and comprised workers’ cottages, a store, a post office and school, which was only closed in 1947. The property also had its own cheese factory that was connected to a separate dairy by a horse drawn wooden tramway.
Some of the nineteenth century timber workers’ cottages were moved in about 1905 from Tarwin Meadows to Tarwin Park as accommodation for Archibald Black’s own workers. There were once about thirty workers’ cottages on the property. A photograph survives of one of the cottages being pulled to Tarwin Park on skids by a team of horses. The original date of construction of the cottages is unknown, though the present owners believe this to be the 1860s. It is believed locally that some of the material for the cottages came from the shipwrecks that happened from time to time on the nearby coastline, which was notoriously treacherous until the erection of lighthouses around the turn of the century. The floorboards of the present cottages are believed by the present owners to be decking from the wreck of the Magnat, wrecked in Venus Bay in 1900.
The present surviving cottage comprises four of the cottages from Tarwin Meadows joined together as one, placed together end to end under a common east-west gable roof. They were joined by means of large bolts that are located in the roof space. A skillion added to provide more sleeping quarters. This type of housing is unusual, and was shared by both families and single people working on the property.
Bushfires in 1942 destroyed most of Tarwin Park, including the homestead and gardens. During the fire, personal effects from the house such as china and silverware were placed in the pond for safekeeping and later retrieved. The workers’ cottages are the only surviving remnants of Archibald Black’s former station, and of George Black’s Tarwin Meadows. The present iron gates to the cottage were also originally at Tarwin Meadows.
Archie Black died in 1943 and his wife Jean (nee Stewart) died in 1949. They had two children, John Gordon MacGregor, known as “Greg” and Elizabeth Kathleen. Greg died in 1971 aged 53 and his widow, Jean (nee Simmons) then married Tom McMicking.
Murray Black’s wife, Eleanora died in 1962 and Murray Black died in 1965. As they had no children, “Tarwin Meadows” was left to Eleanora’s nephew Owen McMicking (brother of Tom) and his wife Nancy.
All of the Tarwin Meadows buildings were demolished in 1967, two years after Murray’s death, except for the eight sided painting studio which is still there and the wattle and daub, Hobsons Hut, which was moved to Coal Creek Historical Museum at Korumburra. There were around 170 people living at Tarwin Meadows with its own school and butter factory. Most of the houses were moved to other dairy farms on the Black property’s.
Archie and Murray Black’s uncles, the Watson Bros and Gregory Downs.
George and Emily Black’s sons George Murray Black (b1874 d1965) and Archibald MacGregor Black (b1875 d1943) spent quite a lot of time on Gregory Downs to escape the southern winters. Gregory Downs had been taken up by Emily Black’s three brothers, Harry Sidney and Greg Watson in 1877.
The first two aboriginal boys born on Gregory Downs were named after Murray and Archie Black. Murray died young, between 14 and 20 years old, and Archie lived to old age, working on the station for many years.
In 1928, Archie Black wrote to his nephew, by marriage, “King” Kenneth Emblin, that he had “purchased on the cheap a small station… has a 12 mile frontage to the Gregory River”. He was asking if his nephew was interested in working for him to develop the station “to work it up to better things as a fair size sheep proposition”.
This was part of the original Gregory Downs selection and given the 12 mile frontage mentioned and taking into account what the Watson Bros may have been prepared to part with, it may have been Walwa holding, which had two wells as mentioned in the letter. In another letter from R M ‘Greg’ Watson to his sister Jessie, he writes that “Archie enjoys the country and the climate here and is thinking o purchasing a 150 square mile holding, part of the original Gregory Downs selection”. Archie would have been 53 years of age at the time of writing the letter. In 1931 the Watson Bros paid 1,000 pounds for the Walwa Holding with a lease term of 25 years which suggests that Archie may have held the lease for only 3 years. The Walwa holding was also knows as Barret’s block as Charlie and Fred Barret acted as Dummies for Watson Bros on the Walwa holding to enable them to keep it. There is a dam and a creek named after Barrets on the Walwa holding.
The last surviving member of the three Gregory Downs Watson Bros was Robert MacGregor “Greg” Watson who spent his final days at “Tarwin Meadows” in early 1943. Murray Black’s son in law, Olaf Walsoe was also present at “Tarwin Meadows” when his uncle Greg Watson died. In a letter to the Manager of “Gregory Downs” in 1956, Major Olaf Murray Walsoe writes:
“I came to know my three uncles, Sid, Harry and Greg when I was a youngster and
they all wore short grey beards. They loved to tell me yarns of their various
adventures in the early days of Gregory Downs and details of certain other identities
such as their faithful old servant known as ‘Old Drummer’ whose life they had saved
when he was a young blackfellow about to be shot by troopers” (Drummer was the father of the two aboriginal boys called Murray and Archie Black. Sidney Watson also taught Olaf how to cut up a a wallaby hide and how to plait whips and belts)
Philip Sidney Watson died in 1936 aged 79 and his twin brother Harry Frederick died
in 1942 aged 85 leaving “Gregory Downs“ to the last surviving brother and partner
Robert MacGregor Watson who subsequently died in February 1943 at age 84.
There is a story that Greg Watson, who had no children of his own, may have considered his Black family nephews to inherit Gregory Downs. However, whilst on his last visit to Gregory in 1942, Greg Watson was being driven around by one of his nephews, possibly Archie Black, who had missed a gear and rolled backwards and turned the vehicle over with Watson aboard and so may have possibly spoiled his chances of inheritance. Archie Black would have been 67 years old at the time, so it may not have effected any inheritance. (Archie died the following year in 1943 not long after Greg Watson).
Bev O’Hara, daughter of Phil and Alice Schaffert, the managers of Gregory Downs at the time recalls:- “I can clearly remember the incident of the car accident on the
incline to Lawn Hill homestead. The road up the hill was somewhat treacherous to
the inexperienced driver. It seems that the car rolled over onto its hood with Greg
Watson pinned inside. Taking into consideration Greg’s age and his encroaching
frailty, it was considered by all that the driver was a little slow in obtaining assistance. Greg sustained a rather nasty cut across the forehead and took quite some time to
recover. I can remember my mother caring for him. He was such an appreciative old
gentleman. I believe that was Greg’s last visit to Gregory Downs”
Prior to his death, and as his health prevented him from looking after “Gregory
Downs“, Greg Watson had decided to pass the property on to his Grand Nephew, Lewis
Kinleside Blackmore, whilst he was till alive, provided that Lew could get leave as an
engineer from the RAAF to take over the supervision of the property. He noted that
this would also save on Government expenses and probate duty, however this didn’t
actually happen as the property came under the control of the executors, Burns Philp
Trust for around 5 years.
Lew, a grandson of Alexa Watson (Emily Black’s sister and married to Andrew Kinleside) was, at the time, a Corporal Fitter 11A stationed at RAAF Uranquinty, and previously at Darwin and Daly Waters in the NT. A discharge was subsequently approved in January 1943 to take over the running of “Gregory Downs“. Apparently Lew went AWOL prior to Greg’s death and visited him at Tarwin Meadows. He travelled by train and was away about a week but was never discovered as his friends covered for him.
Robert MacGregor Watson is also interred in the Black Family plot at Tarwin Cemetery.
The Diary of R M Watson (written as a reminiscence around 1934); The book “Grandie” by Norman C Hutchinson (published in 2010); Watson letters transcribed by Cynthia Aked and provided by Maxine Horsfall. Jessie Watson’s Diary transcribed by Brian Watson. National Trust, Victorian Heritage Database and their sources below: J R Charles, 1974, A History of Tarwin Lower. R Charles & J Loney, 1989, Not Enough Grass to Feed a Single Bullock.
South Gippsland Shire Council, 2000, South Gippsland Shire Heritage Study. Gippsland & Regional Studies Collection, Federation University.
Information provided by:- R W & M J Robertson, owners of Tarwin Park; Black family members including Alistair and Jane Black, Allan Skertchly, George Black and Sally Black.