Charles Underwood: 1834 – 1887

Charles Underwood and Allan Cowan

Charles Underwood, fifth son of Joseph and Jane Underwood (nee Foster), of Melton in East Yorkshire, was born in 1834. Charles was baptised in St Helens Church on the 25 May 1834. At the age of fourteen he commenced work as an under gardener at Melton Hill Manor. The Manor was approximately a kilometre from the village of Melton. When he was twenty-two years old Charles and Allan Cowan (who also worked at Melton Hill Manor) decided to immigrate to Australia. Cowan is listed in the 1851 East Yorkshire census as 29 years old born Scotland (Loch Etive).

On the first of May 1856 Charles was given a reference from Mrs Whitaker, recently widowed lady of the manor. He also received another reference from the Vicar of St Helens church in Welton (the two villages of Melton and Welton shared the church).

Charles and Allan boarded the “Time and Truth” in Liverpool to begin their voyage to Australia. They arrived in Melbourne in October 1856. They then made their way to the Mount Rouse district of Western Victoria. Charles and now business partner Allan selected a fifty acre block of land at Boram Boram (Allotment G of Section 6). They established a large plant nursery and started cultivating the land.

In January 1859 Charles’ brothers Francis and Thomas (with wives) arrived in Melbourne on the “Annie Wilson” and made their way to Mt Rouse.

Both Underwood and Cowan were at the first rate payers meeting held at Penshurst on 14 November 1860. The meeting was held to nominate candidates for election to the first Board of the Mt Rouse Road District. Cowan proposed Mr W Bieske and seconded Terence O’Brien. Underwood seconded Malcolm McIntyre. O’Brien and McIntyre were duly elected to the Board.

In 1860 the partners Underwood and Cowan held an auction at the Victoria Hotel to sell off plants and fruit trees. At the same time they were supplying forage to the Penshurst police station. The tendered prices included: hay £5/ton; straw £1/ton; oats 5 shillings/bushel and bran three and six/bushel. The following year the partners won prizes at the Hamilton Show for samples of English barley, carrots and English ryegrass.

Road Making

With the Mt Rouse District Road Board up and running the partners started tendering for road works contracts, winning Tender No 37 account £595 which was for grubbing and clearing the Caramut Road through Boorpool Flat. The partners continued to tender for and win contracts up until 1865. By that time more contractors had arrived in the district and undercut Cowan and Underwood.

It was not all plain sailing as a letter to the Hamilton paper reveals:

    Heading: Mt Rouse & District Road Board. Re: contract to Messrs Cowan and Underwood that was £52 higher than Messrs Rundell. It is a well-known fact in the district that Messrs Cowan and Underwood have not completed their contracts according to specification, although they have done so to the satisfaction of the Board. Penshurst July 20th (signed) a ratepayer.

There was little truth in this letter as in the following March 1864, Shire minutes document the engineers report on Contract No 45 (Dunkeld to Wickliffe Road):

    As instructed by the President he visited various portions of the road constructed by Cowan and Underwood under Contract 45 and measured up the same and now submitted an account showing quantities and amounts extended at scheduled prices leaving a balance in their favour. After deducting progress payments and making a refund of the deposit on the contract of £413 thirteen shillings. The amount was ordered to be paid to them.

Farmers Common

While the partners were busy road making they were also involved in the establishment of a farmers common. Allan Cowan was Chairman of the first public meeting to establish the farmers common to be known as the “Boram Boram and Yalimba Farmers Common”. This was held on 20 August 1862. Cowan was elected as one of the first three managers of the common, the others being Malcolm McIntyre and Terrance O’Brien. Within a year Cowan and Underwood had twenty- eight head of cattle grazing on the common. Charles also had an additional 51 head of cattle and brother Thomas had 12 head of cattle on the common.

As soon as the common was established the government sold parts of the land to Daniel Ritchie. The 1863 rate books show that Allan Cowan was leasing 676 acres in the parish of Linlithgow from Ritchie (ex common land). Charles was leasing 74 acres at Boram Boram from Augustus Lackman. That same year Cowan was elected the local auditor for the road board.

Records show that in 1864 the first rate book of the new Shire of Mt Rouse indicated that the Underwood brothers, Francis and Thomas, were also living at Boram Boram. Francis rented a stone house and two acres, owned by James Groves. Thomas was farming twenty-six acres (10 cultivated) owned by John McDougal.

Lightwood Estate

Over the next six years Cowan was to lease more land now known as the Lightwood Estate from the estate of Daniel Ritchie. The acreage leased amounted to 2,200 by 1869.

Either the Common or Lightwood didn’t fatten stock very well as Hepburn and Lenard Stock Agents Ballarat sold on account Cowan and Underwood - 21 December 1864:

Seventy head cattle, very small and in very low condition, average price £3.19. The next year a further 69 head of cattle; inferior from £2.2.6 to £5.12.6. Also 32 fat calves from 10 shillings to 67 shillings.

Further in 1870 a big draft of mix sexed sheep were sold at Ballarat. These sheep may have come from Lightwood as Cowan relinquished the lease in 1869.

Charles Underwood joined the Loyal Princess Alexandra lodge in 1864 and by 1872 was a trustee of the lodge.

Family and Farming Matters

Charles married Eliza Phillips (born Cornwell, England 1845 – arrived Australia 1849) in Hamilton, Victoria in August 1865. He stated his profession on the marriage certificate as nurseryman. It is assumed that they lived at the nursery at Boram Boram and had 11 children with 2 dying as infants. By this time Charles was also the Thistle Inspector for the west division of the Mt Rouse Shire. This paid £40 per annum. In 1866 he again tendered for the position of Thistle Inspector for the whole Shire for £100. It was noted by the Shire President in the minutes that “Charles Underwood being as a servant of the Shire should have the appointment”. However, Edward Eales, whose tender was only £70, was accepted. The same year (1866) Cowan was appointed Shire Valuer but resigned before taking up the position. It may be that he wished to concentrate on running Lightwood Estate.

In May 1866 both Charles and Francis tendered for the job of building a dam on Cox’s Creek for the Boram Boram & Yalimba farmers common. Charles won the tender with £25.15 and extras costing 1 shilling 3 pence per cubic yard.

In February 1867 Charles applied for and was granted a slaughtering licence. The following year both Charles and Thomas were granted slaughtering licences.

In 1871 Thomas Underwood applied for a colonial wine licence for a house on allotment R of section 12 at Boram Boram.

Also in 1871, Cowan and Underwood built a house on the nursery site at Boram Boram. This was a two room bluestone residence facing the Grampians and an upgrade on whatever already existed. Charles lived in the house for a couple of years (as evidenced by the rate book). According to family folklore the business partnership between Cowan and Underwood became shaky due to Cowan overextending.

The land and house where Charles resided was in Cowans name and unfortunately, as the Bank of Victoria foreclosed on Cowan, Charles and family had to move out.

For a time, both Cowan and Underwood farmed separate blocks of land in the Parish of Linlithgow and, in addition, Charles and Francis were contracting on various jobs for the Shire until in 1875 when Charles bought the 12 acres next to their old nursery. He had leased this area since 1865. In the meantime Francis Underwood was working for the Shire rolling the roads using his own team of horses and the Shire’s wheel roller.

Cowan farmed his block of land from 1870 to 1877 (part allotment 5 of section F, 118 acres in the Parish of Linlithgow). The same year (1877) Charles was an informant on his brother Francis’ death certificate. He wrote his profession down as farmer and the address as Linlithgow (allotment 9 & 10 of section E, 119 acres). Francis left a widow and 8 children, the eldest being 16 years old.

Cox Street

Around 1878 Charles and Eliza moved into a house in Cox Street (allotment 8 of section 27), Penshurst. Eliza became caretaker for the Bushman’s Home which was a boarding house for itinerant workers. In 1881 Charles set up business as a carrier. Cowan had also moved into Penshurst. He leased a house and 10 acres from William Large on Boundary Road, and established a market garden. Cowan was also employed as a part time gardener for the Shire. Thomas Underwood was by now living on his own selection fronting Murdum Creek at Boram Boram.

Charles and Eliza’s eldest son Charles Allan, born 1869, was already driving the wagon and team of horses to Port Fairy and back when Charles died on 16 September 1887.

Charles death certificate records that:

    *  He died from phthisis (abdominal or pancreatic TB), after an illness of 6 weeks attended by Dr Woodforde; and

    *  The informant was Allan Cowan, an authorised agent for Penshurst.

His death ended a friendship and partnership that went back over forty years.

Charles is buried at Boram Boram cemetery with his wife Eliza and infant son Stanley. Eliza lived until 29 December 1900, aged 55 years.

Allan Cowan was still gardening when he sent a letter dated 13 Feb 1889 to the Shire urging that “council as guardians of public health to plant health bearing trees around the edges of the (town) common and elsewhere”.

On reaching seventy years of age Allan Cowan moved into a small house and allotment (Part Allotment 1 Section 27) in Cox Street, Penshurst, owned by Frank Liles Olle.

In January 1897 Allan Cowan made an application to the Council for some further monetary consideration for his services in connection with the last audit. He pointed out that the fees fixed by the government in Council had been reduced from two guineas per day to one and half per day of seven hours, or four shillings and six pence per hour. He also referred to his length of service (34 years). The Council resolved to grant a donation of £2.2 from the charitable fund.

Allan Cowan died in the Hamilton hospital on 6 July 1897 aged seventy-five years. He is buried at Boram Boram.

The Hamilton Spectator on 10 July 1897 recorded that:

    A very old resident of Penshurst passed away in the Hamilton hospital in the person of Mr Allan Cowan. The deceased        arrived here nearly forty years ago and in company with the late Mr Charles Underwood, started a nursery in Boram Boram      and afterwards went into sheep farming. He held the local auditorship of the Mt Rouse Shire I think for a record period            namely thirty years. Of late the world had not been too kind to him and his health failing he had to go to hospital. A few of      his old friends buried him near his relatives in the Boram Boram cemetery.

The Mt Rouse Shire Council, at a meeting on 21 July 1897, on a motion of Councillor Olle, seconded by Councillor John Hutton, proposed that “an expression of Councils regret at the death of Mr Allan Cowan for so many years the local auditor and appreciation of his services in that capacity be recorded in the minutes”.


Further research from Val Heffernan has revealed that Malcolm McIntyre, a selector also at Boram Boram, married Flora Cowan in 1854. Records show that Flora Cowan was born in Scotland. These may be the relatives mentioned in the obituary. Malcolm died 6 February 1890 and Flora died in August 1892. Her father was John Cowan and her mother was Margaret Kennedy. Both Malcolm and Flora are buried at Boram Boram

Underwood Lane in Penshurst is named after the family, and interestingly, a Pond at the edge of Melton village East Yorkshire is named Underwood Pond.

The bluestone house at the Nursery was extended by Peter Stanton in 1913 and it is known locally as the Stanton house.

Thomas Underwood died in Colac in 1904 with his profession noted on his death certificate as “carter” with no children.

Researcher Phillip Doherty is a great grandson of Charles Underwood. Excerpts have come from Mt Rouse Shire Rate and Minute Books, Hamilton Spectator, Marriage and Death certificates.

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