Charles Gray and his wife Elizabeth lived at Nareeb Nareeb, Glenthompson, western Victoria from 1840 to 1886.
Charles Gray wrote an account of his life at Nareeb Nareeb called Western Victoria in the forties: reminiscences of a pioneer, which was published by the Hamilton Spectator in 1932.
The following research provides further information about this remarkable couple that, through their respective writing and drawing, documented pioneering life. These records are an invaluable historical asset covering early agricultural pursuits and the local Gnareeb Gnareeb Indigenous people.
Charles Gray of Nareeb Nareeb
Charles Gray was the only son of George and Ann (nee Rodgers) and was born at Chatham, England, on 10 March 1817. Charles’ father was a Major in the Chatham Division of the Royal Marines. George moved the family from Chatham to Anstruther, Scotland, in 1823 so their children could be educated at St Andrews Grammar.
As a young man, and possibly after reading Major Mitchell’s account of Australia Felix published in 1838, Charles decided to try his luck in the newly colonized area of New South Wales known as the Port Phillip District. The barque “Midlothian” arrived in Hobson’s Bay, Port Phillip, on 15 June 1839. On board were 18 steerage passengers, unnamed, and 27 cabin passengers, including the young Charles. The cabin passengers are named in the ship’s log.
By November 1839, Gray had partnered with 2 fellow passengers, William Scott and John Marr, to buy a flock of sheep for 350 pounds; and so began their squatting careers. They first squatted on a small station of the Hopkins River, before moving to settle on a tributary of the Hopkins River about 20 kilometers south of present-day Glenthompson, Green Hill Creek, where a bluestone obelisk now marks the spot. The obelisk is marked with the inscription “Charles Gray camped here September 1840”. By 1846 both Marr and Gray had bought-out Scott, who then moved to a station in the Victoria Valley. William Scott died two years later and is buried in the Nareeb Nareeb cemetery.
In 1849 Gray and Marr decided to end the partnership and sub-divide Green Hill Creek, a property estimated to be 42,376 acres in size and capable of carrying 15,000 sheep. Marr took the northern section of the property and named in “Burie Burie”, later changed to “Brie Brie”, while Gray settled on the southern section, naming it “Nareeb Nareeb” after the local aboriginal clan, Gnareeb Gnareeb of the Djab Wurrang language group.
By April 1852 Gray was established as a very successful sheep breeder and, as such, was elected secretary of the Hopkins River Ram Fair & Sale, a useful outlet to show and sell his young rams.
In 1853 the Victorian Government Gazette recorded that, in the occupation of Crown Lands Assessment of stock for the year (for tax purposes), that Charles Gray of Nareb Nareb (sic) occupied 21,188 acres with 14,000 head of sheep. That same year Charles younger sister Martha married a fellow squatter by the name of John Ware of Yalla-y-poola. Another sister, Maryann also immigrated to Victoria. Records show that she died unmarried in Melbourne in 1903.
Charles married Elizabeth Sharp at Portland on 19 March 1857. Elizabeth was born in Dublin to a cultured Anglo-Irish family. Elizabeth Sharp, an artist, painted two watercolors in Sydney in early 1857 on her way to Victoria. Mrs Gray, as she was now known, continued to produce mainly pen and ink artworks, sometimes known as “etchings” on a number of surfaces including Black Swan eggs.
The couples first child, Annie, was born in Portland in 1858, followed by Emily in 1860 and a son born in 1862, surviving only 7 days; both born at Nareeb Nareeb. The couple’s youngest daughter, Elizabeth, was born at Neptune Cottage in 1863 at Queenscliff.
In February 1862 Charles was made an honorary correspondent to the central board, appointed to watch over the interests of the aboriginals for the District of Wickliffe. It is likely that some of the Kolor clan at Penshurst, being of the same language group, ended up at Nareeb Nareeb after the closure of the Mount Rouse Aboriginal Protectorate in 1849.
In the 1863 first ratepayers book for the Shire of Mount Rouse, Charles was now recorded as owning 14,000 acres, of which nearly all was fenced, the homestead at Nareeb Nareeb and 2,500 acres of crown land. Charles had managed to secure the freehold of two-thirds of his station in only two years and, in the following years, he would secure the last third.
Charles Gray was elected a councilor of the Mount Rouse Shire, Chatsworth Riding in 1865, and in June he forfeited his seat for non-attendance at council meetings. He was however later reelected and served on the council from 1865 to 1873 and again from 1875 to 1887.
One of the few mistakes Charles made was joining the Acclimatisation Society however he wasn’t alone in this regard. The society was responsible for importing many of the pests that we still deal with today including rabbits, hares, foxes, sparrows, starlings, mynahs and various species of deer. The secretary of the society reported in 1866 the arrival of two Moose Deer donated by Nareeb Nareeb, Wickliffe.
In 1866 a sample of Charles’ fine wool was on display at the Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition, in addition to artwork that both Elizabeth and Charles exhibited.
As a successful squatter and neighbor, Charles and Elizabeth were invited to dine with John Moffatt at Chatsworth House where H.R.H. Prince Alfred, Queen Victoria’s second son, visited in 1867. Elizabeth presented H.R.H. with two drawing room ornaments, consisting of two mounted Black Swan eggs, with scenes etched by Elizabeth. The Prince was so impressed that he asked for a pair to be made for the Queen.
It was also around this time that Charles introduced German (Saxon) bloodlines into his sheep flock. The infusion of the new genetics worked, as Nareeb Nareeb soon had the best flocks in the Hamilton district.
The same year Charles donated to the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, through Charles Bell Esq., a large boulder of sandstone approximately 24 inches long by 22 inches broad and six inches thick. A smaller boulder measuring nine inches by seven inches by six inches, bearing grooves made by the natives in sharpening and polishing their stone axes, was also donated. The rock reminded Charles of the rocks at Billowness in Scotland, which was one of his favorite resorts in his boyhood.
In 1868 Elizabeth commenced work and completed not two but four ornaments to be presented to Queen Victoria. One etching was of the ship HMS Galatea, Prince Alfred’s vessel, and the others were of Wannon Falls, Ferntree Gully and colonial scenery. The Prince’s ornaments have since been sold however Queen Victoria’s are housed at Osborne House on the Isle of Wright.
Pioneer life was challenging and while Charles had long prevented bushfires burning his station out he could not stop a building fire in 1870 burning down the Nareeb Nareeb stables and carriage house. Everything, including two coach horses, was lost.
In 1876 Charles and family took a trip to Britain and, on a visit to Scotland made another donation to the Scottish museum. The donation was a Greenstone axe measuring four by two and a half inches, polished on the cutting edge and fastened to the handle of bent withe by sinews and a mass of gum from Nareeb Nareeb.
In September of the same year Charles was made a Justice of the Peace (JP) in the Western Bailiwick (Western Victoria). Charles was now at the height of his sheep breeding and purchased two top priced rams at the Mudgee stud sale for 200 and 100 pounds respectively. Charles was selling hundreds of yearling rams from his own stud for three guineas each.
Even though Gray was a busy man, he still found time to record words and language of the Hopkins River tribe, Gnareeb Gnareeb, which were included in R Brough Smyths book Aborigines of Victoria, published in 1878.
On 20 February 1886 Charles wrote a letter to the Australian newspaper about an article on the branding of sheep with pitch, which would not scour out of the wool when it was being processed in the mills. Grey said – “Twenty five years ago I discarded pitch as a branding material, substituting ruddle and grease, the mixture is little injured by rain, but when sheep are washed in hot water, the greater part of the brand disappears”.
In August 1886 Charles wrote to the Mount Rouse Shire Council, stating that he believed it had been reported lately that his run was swarming with rabbits and, with his run on the market, this he strongly denied. In Charles’ memoirs he was strangely quiet on the issue of rabbits, perhaps due to his association with the Acclimatisation Society and the rabbit plague.
In December 1886 Denny Lascelles, Austin & Co. at Geelong, in conjunction with R.S. Bree & Co. of Hamilton, reported the sale of Charles Gray’s Nareeb Nareeb station comprising 20,078 acres at 3 pound 15 shillings per acre together with 21,000 sheep at 6 shillings per head. Also on sale were 263 cattle and 34 horses. The purchaser was a Mr Simmons.
Before Charles retired to London, he wrote another letter to the Australian stating that Nareeb Nareeb had been using the ploughing and burning between method of arresting bushfires as far back as 1856-1857. This method of fire-break was to plough two furrows approximately five metres apart and burn in between.
A further letter followed in 1890 to the Argus, regarding the argument about who invented the swing gate (drafting gate). Gray and his partner Scott were using the gate prior to 1846. It was also the time he wrote his Reminisces of a Pioneer, The Western District in the 1840’s.
Gray retired to London around 1890 and died on 27 July 1905 at Iverna Gardens, Kensington. Charles was 88 at the time of his death.
Charles’ wife Elizabeth and daughters returned to Victoria from London in 1881 and stayed long enough to bring a friendly suit (no plaintive or claimant) in the Supreme Court (Rowe v Gray). The case was about changing the marriage agreement made when Nareeb Nareeb was leased from the crown, since then Gray had purchased the freehold in his name. Once their inheritance was sorted, Elizabeth and daughters promptly returned to London, again leaving Charles alone.
Elizabeth Gray Snr died in 1903. Annie Gray married Charles Rowe of London in 1881. Emily married Leonard Sedgwick of Gloucester in 1889. Elizabeth married John Rigby Murray of Manchester in 1892. All marriages were conducted in England.
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