Moffat in Australia

The Diaspora begins 

 David Edgar, an elder brother of my paternal great-great grandfather, Halbert, was the first of the Moffat Edgars to come to Australia. He left Leith, Scotland, in the ship North Briton (Britain in some lists) commanded by Captain Fyans but when the vessel reached Hobart on 15 December 1838, he became aware of the then glowing reports of the newly settled Port Phillip District and continued on to what was later to become the Australian State of Victoria.

After working on several properties in the area, he took up  Squatters (Depasture) Licences in the Portland Bay District in July and September 1842. He soon realised that times were changing and that unless he purchased land there was a good chance of losing it under the proposed new Land Act. His future wealth and influence were based on this realisation and his ability to purchase shares in properties. Some of these are detailed in the New South Wales State Archives: Reel 1123, Item2/7850 - David Edgar, Area Portland/Fitzroy River, 1846 to 1848.

David  Edgar was born on December 18, 1812, at Moffat and baptised on December 21,1812 in Raecleugh, near Moffat.  

"Miss Sarah O'Meara, of Portland, married Mr David Edgar, of the Bush Tavern, on May 21,1844."

David Edgar purchased an interest in the Bush Inn (Tavern? Are we going up or down market here) he was building at Second River (now Heywood) and for which a licence had been obtained. He stayed there from January 1842 until June 1849. 

John Dunmore Lang D.D., in his book Phillipsland, or, The Country hitherto designated Port Phillip written in 1846, says (pp192-3) that after a bumpy journey by mail coach - "We were therefore ready for light refreshments on reaching our first halting place at a Bush Inn, kept by a respectable Scotsman by the name of Edgar twenty miles from Portland, due north". Also "- there is some good land on the Second River which Mr Edgar had partly cleared, and, I have no doubt, it will one day become the site of a considerable inland village. It is just the proper distance for one from the seaport. A Bush Inn in such a situation is a sure fortune to a man of steady habits, and I should say that Mr Edgar is, in a worldly point of view, a thriving man". ("Worldy point of view"! Is the good Doctor of Divinity hinting at some metaphysical shortcomings here?)

Owning property and running pubs was not uncommon in the early days of the family in Australia. Indeed, Lang also commented that "The number of Scotchmen in this occupation (publicans) in Phillipsland is quite remarkable". Click here for Inn location map

David was reputed to get on well with the local Aborigines despite being sworn in as a Special Constable in about 1841 to help the police deal with Aboriginal theft of livestock (Arkley, 2000: p258). This was at the beginning of the Aboriginal "wars" by the four clans of the Gunditjmara people against incoming European pastoralists. A sense of Aboriginal inclusion by the Edgars continued with later members of the family helping to organise and finance the first Aboriginal cricket team to tour England.

An interesting event gleaned from the Portland Gazette by the Maitland Mercury and republished on page 4 of its November 4, 1848 edition:

"NATIVE  HEDGE-HOG.  An animal was killed last week by Mr. Edgar, of the Fitz Roy River, with a view of which we were kindly favoured, which is the first of the kind we have hitherto seen or even heard of in this colony. In shape and size it resembles the hedge-hog of the mother country, but it is covered with strong, short, and sharp quills or bristles, somewhat different from that well-known animal.

Mr. Edgar is getting it stuffed, after which we have no doubt he will favour the public with its exhibition, at his own inn, or in some other public place."

(There is something a bit odd about this report. Echidnas are common in eastern Australian and were scientifically described and published by 1792. One might suspect a publicity stunt to get people to come to his inn.)

David was responsible for encouraging and helping a number of members of the family in Moffat to come to Australia. He also took part in pioneering a major change in the pastoral industry. This was prompted by the departure of men from the industry to the goldfields in the 1850s. Up till then shepherds were extensively used to handle the sheep. Necessity meant the introduction of  "paddocking" (fenced areas) which required much less manpower to operate.

He became a very well known and important figure over the years and his life is well documented elsewhere. He was probably responsible for the erection of the Memorial Stone in the Old Graveyard at Moffat as he left Australia for a visit home in March1882 and the latest information on it is about that time.

The Edgar Wool brand was highly regarded and a descendant still owns one of the surviving properties,  in the Harrow area.

David Edgar's Pine Hills Station homestead c.1880s

For encyclopaedic information on him click Here

Halbert (James?) Edgar, my great-great-grandfather, born 30 May 1823, at Moffat. and baptised June 1823 at Harthope, married Margaret Burgess (born in 1822 in Dumfries Kirkpatrick) on 30 December 1844. She was the daughter of William Burgess (1785-1856) and Mary Borthwick (1788-1872) of Kirkpatrick Juxta, near Moffat. (Thank you Andrew Macdonald, a Borthwick descendant.) For more details on her family, see  the link at the end of this page. Margaret died of "natural causes" at Errebendery Station, near Euabalong, New South Wales, on September 6,1887. She was buried by her  eldest son, John, on September 9, 1887, in the cemetery on the property. Halbert had died 18 years earlier at Portland, Victoria, on 29 November 1869. His death certificate said he had had an enlarged liver of 2 months duration. I don't know what this diagnosis means in 19th Century medicine. A local GP, Dr Graham Campbell, suggests that, as Halbert was involved with sheep, it is most likely to be hydatids, which can be a killer. In Victoria, for example, it killed at least 584 people in its ‘heyday’ years between 1862 and 1881. The symptoms could also indicate severe alcohol toxicity, cancer or physical damage among many other less likely causes.

Before Halba?rt and Margaret set out for Australia, they were, according to the 1851 census, living at Thornhill, Parish of Morton, with sons John (5), William (4) and Robert (2).  Where was Archibald in 1851? 

They arrived in Australia in late 1853 or early 1854 and were accompanied by their five young sons; John 8yo, William 6, Archibald 5, Robert 3 and Halbert 1. 

Coming as free settlers they probably would have been encouraged and helped by Halbert's successful elder brother David although the extensive recruiting literature sent to Scotland by the Presbyterian Church in Australia may also have had an influence.

It is believed that he first worked for a shoemaker when he arrived in Portland (shoemaking was his original trade in Moffat). Very soon he made his way to Pine Hills station situated on the Glenelg River, just 6 miles from Harrow. Mary, his first daughter, was only a baby when he bought 2 allotments in Harrow in 1855. It is also believed that he had also acquired his property "Minstrel Haugh" at about this time as the obituaries of the first two children born in Australia (David, 1857 and Margaret Tredwell, 1859) state that they were born at "Minstrel Haugh".

In November 1857 he opened his first business in the town. It was a Boot and Shoemaking store. During 1859 he had the Spur Inn built on this same land and he stayed in the hotel business for a futher 10 years, whilst at the same time running the station at Tarrayoukan. Hotels were to figure largely in the next generation. 

The Spur Inn was sold in 1869. Halbert could now devote his full attention to "Minstrel Haugh" which was seven miles south of Harrow and contained 1,542 acres. The sheep property had been cleared and otherwise improved with the addition of a wool shed, press, stables and stock and drafting yards. The homestead had 9 rooms, a cellar and of course a garden. Halbert did not live long enough to enjoy his property as he died (in Portland) on 29 November 1869. He had just celebrated his 46th birthday. His death was noted in the newspapers with the simple words "Halbert Edgar, brother of Mr D. Edgar, also died on the 29th. So we tumble off the stage one after another". 

During his years at Harrow, Halbert became quite involved in local affairs and especially in the development of a local school. On the 21 May 1855 Halbert was present at a public meeting held to discuss ways of providing a school for the children in the area, and at another meeting on 30 December 1862 Halbert and his brother David were among the gentlemen chosen to supervise the affairs of the village school, known as Harrow Common School. The school was conducted in the Harrow Presbyterian Church, a brick building with a corrugated iron roof, by Mr William Bruce Ross. There were 40 children enrolled at the school. 

Unlike his brother, David, he was not good at keeping in touch with his parents. His father, John, complained in a letter to Walter at Pine Hills dated July 15, 1863 that he was used to getting correspondence from David or his family but "we seldom get a letter from James or Halbert and never John." (From Burnt Eucalyptus Bark by Nancie Edgar)

The family, by now consisting of 5 sons (Robert died 1866) and 5 daughters stayed on the property for a further 7 years following Halbert's death.

"Minstrel Haugh" was put up for auction in October 1875. By now the property also boasted a newly erected four roomed cottage, which was probably lived in by John, the eldest son, who had by now married. The property was passed in at the first auction so the family tried another auction in June 1876. Once again it did not sell. As the family had bought property in New South Wales they were anxious for a sale and so it was sold privately in 1876. Like many of the Scottish pioneers of the Western District of Victoria, these Edgars settled in New South Wales. This emigration was caused by a combination of successive droughts and the land selection law which encroached on the grazier's land. New South Wales held opportunities for much larger holdings than did Victoria. The new properties were close to Euabalong on the Lachlan River, and were called "Errebendery" and "Bulloak" as well as "The Willows" at Deniliquin. 

 The family ties to Victoria were a kept up as evidenced by the following note of livestock movements on page 7 of the Maitland Mercury of June 2, 1882:

"On Thursday 513 stud rams passed through Deniliquin. They are from Wandadale (Moody's) in the Warrnambool (Victoria) district and are bound for Eribendery, on the Lachlan.  J. Edgar in charge."

Sadly, in the words of Jessie Roper in a letter in 1973, "the droughts ruined them". Actually, most of the properties were gone by the mid 1930s. The Errebendery Station Cemetery also contains two unmarked graves of Edgar infants: Mary Alice Gertrude, daughter of William Edgar and Mary  Anne Barry in 1882, 2 years old and Margaret Jean died August 9, 1891 age unknown. Presumably she was the child of Margaret's eldest son John Edgar and his wife Alice Thomas although there were a number of Edgars involved with the property.

Note: Errebendery is the Station name which appears on much documentation but the local area Trig. station is spelt Eribendery on old parish maps.

For more details on the life of Halbert and Margaret, click Here

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