History Matters: Dynasty under pressure

Unlikely friendship: The English poet Robert Browning was a friend of the Clarence River squatter Edward Ogilvie.

Unlikely friendship: The English poet Robert Browning was a friend of the Clarence River squatter Edward Ogilvie.

London, May 1888. “My dear Eight”, the English poet Robert Browning wrote to the Ogilvie girls: “what a peculiar as well as pleasant privilege it is, to love each one of you as if there were eight of you to love and the whole eight as if they were one and indivisible”.

Browning was then 76 and would die the following year. His friendship with the Clarence River squatter Edward Ogilvie and his family was an unlikely one. I think Browning liked their freshness and lack of cant.

The family was breaking up, although that was not immediately clear. Edward was lonely following the death of his wife and had become demanding. He also felt that his sons were growing away from him, becoming absorbed into English life.

The girls would soon escape into marriage. For the boys’ part, Edward considered that it was time that eldest William took over his dynastic responsibilities.

Edward recognised that William would need to learn the ropes after such a long time in England. He was therefore sent home to Yulgilbar to be mentored under manager William Penrose.

Soon after arriving in Australia, William married Ethel Mylne, Graham Mylne’s daughter from nearby Eatonswill. The two families had always been close, connected by proximity, shared experience and marriage.  

Tensions soon arose between William Penrose and William Ogilvie.

Father Edward was showing no signs of returning and had rented a house in his beloved Florence. Penrose continued living in the big house and would cede little responsibility to William Ogilvie, treating Yulgilbar as his own.

William also felt that Penrose was using Yulgilbar to build his own stock at Yulgibar’s expense. Finally, a frustrated William wrote to his father to deliver an ultimatum.

“I will give up my claim to Yulgilbar”, he told his father, “if you will lend me £2,000 to buy a place of my own.” Far away in Europe, Edward agreed.

It would be a permanent break. When Edward finally came to make dynastic choices, Yulgilbar would go to daughter Mabel. It was made clear to her husband, Charles Lillingston, that he must throw himself into the place, but that it could never be his.

Lillingston, a successful man in his own right, was reluctant but finally agreed. The resulting discussions created significant tensions within the family, making the break with William permanent.

For his part, William had already purchased Ilparran, a property west of Glen Innes. It was this property that William’s granddaughter Judith Wallace would immortalise in Memories of a Country Childhood.

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)