History Matters: In pursuit of a dynasty

Great success: Edward Ogilvie staked out land on both sides of the Clarence River.
Great success: Edward Ogilvie staked out land on both sides of the Clarence River.

Academic and writer Judith Wallace’s great great grandfather, Edward Ogilvie, was an ambitious man. He wished to create a dynasty. He was to achieve great success, but his own personality brought a key plank undone.

Edward’s remarkable story was told by George Farwell in Squatter's Castle: The saga of a pastoral dynasty (1983). Here I can do no more than sketch a few details to set the scene for later events.

Edward was born at Tottenham, Middlesex, on 25 July 1814, the son of naval officer William and his wife Mary.

In 1824, William and Mary decided to emigrate to NSW, arriving in January 1825. William was given a land grant of 2,000 acres in the Upper Hunter which he named Merton after the English village that had been their home.

The Ogilvies were undercapitalised and initially struggled. The children were home-schooled by Mary and actively involved from an early age in farm work.

In 1846 Edward and brother Frederick along with an Aboriginal companion went north looking for new land.

Escaped convict Richard Craig had discovered a large river, the Clarence, while living with the Aborigines. Now he was leading a large party from Falconer’s Plains near Guyra down to the Clarence.  

The Ogilvies asked to join the party. Denied, they pushed on as fast as possible and reached the Clarence at Tabulum ahead of Craig. Downstream Edward took up fifty-six miles (90 km) on both sides of the river and later named the runs Yulgilbar. By 1850 Yulgilbar was about 300 sq miles (777 km²) and included Fairfield, a 100,000-acre (40,469 ha) cattle station in the mountains.

With the family fortunes now established, Edward sailed for Europe in August 1854, travelling widely across the continent. Florence became his favourite city, a love that would stay with him.

While in Europe, Edward met and in 1858 married Theodosia de Burgh. Returning to Australia in 1859, he built a palatial home for his new wife that would become known as Yulgilbah castle. In 1862 a first son, William Frederick, was born.

At twelve, William was sent to school in the United Kingdom and seems to have stayed there until finishing at Balliol College Oxford.

In late 1884, Edward returned to England with his wife and daughters for another extended visit, joining his two sons. It was the last time the whole family would be together.

Edward had always been a dominant personality. Now he was becoming irascible and over-controlling. The scene was set for events that would throw his dynastic plans into chaos.

Jim Belshaw’s email is ndarala@optusnet.com.au. He blogs at http://newenglandaustralia.blogspot.com.au/ (New England life) and http://newenglandhistory.blogspot.com.au/ (New England history)