Squatters of the district

Parish Puebla, Torquay history
c. State Library Victoria

Setting out with a horse, maybe a cow and few head of sheep, the Squatters of the Torquay district had to find an area where there was fresh water, do some clearing and build fences of brush to keep the sheep in to prevent the natural predators from killing their livelihood. The first Squatter came in 1836, which is quite remarkable considering Melbourne township only commenced the year before on 8 June 1835. Some claimed enormous runs of land and had the man power to patrol them. Others brought with them their wives and children to help work the land others led a lonely existence with sometimes just a brother or a partner to try and work the land, which was indicative of our area. By 1838 Government Licensing came into being, so runs had to be registered and licenses had to be granted and paid for. The more cultivated land the more they had to pay. Captain Foster Fyans was the first Police Magistrate in this area.

European settlement of the Torquay area commenced with a small group of men and women who were determined to overcome the depression being felt at home, these included:

John Stokes (1836 – 1859) Name of Run was Sport Hall, Puebla
Henry Tait (1842-), Mrs. Tait (1846-1865) Name of Run was Spring Station or Tooyoung-A-Warre, Spring Creek
Harding Bros, Elias and Silas (1840-1860) Name of Run was South Beach, Salt Water Creek near Bream Creek
William Neil (1841-1851)  Name of Run was South Beach
Joseph Gundry (1840 onwards) Name of Run was Iron Bark Ranges or Forest Station or Bark Station
Robert Zeally (1851 – 1869) Name of Run was South Beach or Burt-Buc-Quar-Yup

The district was proclaimed the County of Grant in 1853, with an area of 1834 square miles, hence the varying names of the area.

It took years for them to build a three roomed house, fence off a couple of paddocks and build a wool shed. Not all were wealthy enough to employ labour, they relied on their wives and children to do the work or brought out relatives from their homeland to help.

Before the first Land Grants of 1861 named the ‘Duffy Land Grants’, Pre-Emptive Grants were dealt with by the Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands in Melbourne. This sounded a fairly easy process, however many letters over the many months or years from Valuators, Description of Land and the proof of improvement and occupation of the land had to be sent in. Most of the letters were sent in by professional letter writers, as the Squatters of our area while being strong survivors who had dreams of a better life, many could not read or write or could just sign their names. Pre-Emptive Grants were limited in size and the Squatters had purchased or leased additional land in the district.

The ‘Duffy Land Grants’ had no restriction on how much land could be obtained of the 900,000 acres, hence the original Squatters who were successful, or had ‘old money’ from their homeland to help them, bought up everything. Because this was towards the end of the Gold rush of the 1850’s, Government had hoped to see more settlement of the land, thus in 1869, the ‘Grant Land Grants’ came into being, so that more of the huge population explosion of the 1850’s could sustain themselves on the land. However by this time most of the very productive land had been claimed.

Source – Victorian Public Records Office, Melbourne Pioneer Pastoralists of Port Phillip

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