… We have a great deal of fruit. We give a great deal to the pigs. Our peach trees are as large as the apple trees at home. …
In 1841 Cornelius Sharpe Haley took up the Caledonia run on the upper Diamond Creek. A timber slab homestead was erected, overlooking the creek flats near what is today the junction of the Arthurs and Diamond Creeks at Hurstbridge. The 1841 census recorded that a manager, stockman and gardener were employed at the station. In 1852, under pre-emptive right regulations, Haley purchased the 160 acre Allwood homestead block, ‘to include his homestead, huts & improvements’. The rush to the Caledonia diggings commenced on the upper Diamond or Back Creek in 1854, taking over sections of the Caledonia run leasehold.
In 1855, after taking up land in the Lancefield district, where he ‘acquired a considerable freehold area’, Haley moved to Romsey with his family. Allwood was left in the in the care of an overseer, Henry Facey Hurst. Hurst had previously worked on the run whilst engaged in breaking in horses for the Victoria Police. One of his first tasks as overseer was to muster the cattle, which he undertook to do ‘at 10 shillings a head and so difficult proved the task of mustering that it was seven years when the last of Haley’s cattle had been impounded’.
Henry was later joined by his parents Robert Thomas and Frances Facey Hurst, who arrived in Sydney in 1856 with other members of their family of seven children. Robert was reported to be a botanist and their baggage included ‘furniture, furnishings, plant cuttings, pot plants, botanical books’. Under his supervision, the fruit garden was extended and various exotic trees planted in the park area surrounding the homestead. ‘Along the creek he planted poplars and basket willows.’ The original poplars (Golden poplar and White poplar) are said to have been grown from cuttings brought from the island of St Helena by Major Anthony Beale.
The Government Gazette of May 1859 recorded that 6 acres of the 160 acre homestead block was cultivated and that an additional 9,280 acres was rented from the Crown. In 1863, a load of fruit was carted from Allwood to Melbourne for sale at the Western Market. In 1864 Sarah Ellen Hurst wrote to a friend in England that ‘We have a great many cattle, horses and sheep. Sheep pay a deal better than cattle or horses. If we had sheep when first we came we should now have been independent. … We have a great deal of fruit. We give a great deal to the pigs. Our peach trees are as large as the apple trees at home. … We are still living with bush all around. We have no neighbours, we are twenty miles from Melbourne.’ A log bridge, constructed across the Diamond Creek below the junction with the Arthurs Creek soon became known as Hurst’s Bridge.
On 4 October 1866 Henry Facey Hurst died after being shot by the bushranger ‘Burke’, (Robert Clusky) during an altercation in the kitchen at Allwood. Henry was buried in a grave overlooking the creek not far from the homestead, in what is today the historic Hurst family cemetery. A tablet was erected at the grave site ‘by a grateful public as a memorial of his heroic self-sacrifice’. His father Robert ‘planted pines (Canary Island pine and Stone pine) and cedars (Atlas cedar), ivy and English woodbine beside his son’s grave.’ (Coincidentally, in April 1842, C.S. Haley had the misfortune of being held up by Jack William’s gang, known as the ‘Plenty Bushrangers’.)
‘Robert and Fred now carried on with the farm’. Fred and Robert selected additional land, across the creek and below the homestead, adjoining the 160 acre Allwood pre-emptive right. In 1868 Robert Hurst senior purchased the Allwood homestead block from Cornelius Haley. Robert senior died in 1873 leaving the property to his sons Frederick George (Fred) and Robert junior (Bob). Robert Hurst junior did not marry and died in 1889 after being thrown from a horse. Fred and his wife Catherine (nee Heffernan) had four daughters, Mary (died at 6 months), Frances Ellen, Mary Emily and Ada Alice.
In 1897 Frances Ellen (Ellen) married William George (Bill) Gray, the son of George and Jane Elizabeth Gray of Cleir Hills, Back Creek near Queenstown (Cottles Bridge). The couple moved into a four room Victorian weatherboard house, reconstructed near the site of the original Allwood homestead during 1894, by local builder and orchardist Charles Verso of ‘Versdale’, Nutfield. Fred and Catherine moved into a new cottage, opposite the bridge across the Diamond Creek, which they called ‘Mia Mia’. Fred, born in 1841, was the last person to be buried in the family cemetery on 9 June 1927. The original Allwood homestead was used as a packing shed and later as a barn and tool shed before being demolished in 1940.
George Gray was one of the pioneer fruit growers of the Queenstown district. He moved with his family to Cleir Hills, Back Creek in February 1875. George and his wife Jane (nee Edwards) purchased the Cleir Hills homestead blocks in 1884. They established a successful orchard and nursery along the Diamond Creek. On George’s retirement the orchard was taken over by his eldest son Owen. Both George and Owen Gray were original members of the Arthur’s Creek Fruit Growers’ Association when it was formed in May 1890, with Charles Draper of ‘Charnwood’, Arthur’s Creek as President. His other son W.G. (Bill) Gray became proprietor of the Allwood Nursery at Upper Diamond Creek. Following the death of his father in March 1903, Bill leased and later purchased the Cleir Hills property.
Using stock from Cleir Hills, Bill Gray established extensive fruit tree nurseries and orchards at Allwood, Cleir Hills and Pheasant Creek, supplying local and overseas markets. In the early 1900s he diversified his activities to include cider making. Well proved varieties of apple, recommended for commercial growers in 1914, included Jonathan, Five Crown, Stewart’s Seedling, Yates, Rome Beauty and Sturmer. He also ‘created a miniature botanical style garden around the homestead which featured palms, an orange grove, sweeping lawns and mass plantings of bulbs and sweet pea’.
In October 1909 the Upper Diamond Creek Progress Association was formed with George Apted of ‘Meadvale’, Nutfield, as President. At the Annual General Meeting held in the Upper Diamond Creek Hall on 17 October 1911, the name was altered to ‘The Allwood Progress and Fruit Society’. George Apted was appointed President and W.G. Gray and J. Lorimer, Vice- Presidents.
It was reported at the meeting that ‘much useful work has been done during the past year especially for the fruit industry.’ This included a deputation to the Melbourne Town Clerk seeking better marketing facilities at the Queen Victoria Markets and a letter to the Chief Commissioner of Police who was ‘asked to take steps to remedy the pilfering of fruit from waggons while on their way to market.’ Messrs. Apted and Gray were appointed to a provisional committee for the establishment of a Co-operative Orchardists’ Company. In 1914 the Association was known as the Hurstbridge Fruit and Progress Association.
It was not until June 1912 that the Allwood Railway from Eltham to Hurst’s Bridge was opened. The extension was primarily to service the fruit industry, but also opened a picturesque district to the public, stimulating the growth of the township. In 1880 the Eltham Shire Council had purchased land, on higher ground across the Allwood property, for the line of the main road. Land from Allwood, on both sides of the road, was subdivided for sale as building lots. ‘ On Wattle Day, 1912, nearly a thousand people arrived at Hurstbridge station to celebrate the holiday.’
In 1913 the Leader reported that, ‘Quite near the station is Mr. W.G. Gray’s Allwood Nursery and orchard, the homestead and flower garden at once attracting the notice of visitors. … In the district served by Hurst bridge railway station it is estimated that there are 2500 acres of orchard, not much more than half being in full bearing. Mr. Gray’s is the largest plantation, 180 acres.’ (The largest portion of the Allwood Nurseries was in the mountains at Pheasant Creek near Kinglake.)
In 1914 a large dam was built on the slopes overlooking the Diamond Creek, upstream from the junction with the Arthur’s Creek. Water was gravity fed from the dam to the nursery and orchard and several businesses along the main road.
State Cool Stores were opened at Diamond Creek in February 1913 and a Trust Cool Store at Hurstbridge in March 1915.
Bill Gray served as an Eltham Shire Councillor from 1912 to 1919. He became Shire President, and in 1919 retired ‘through pressure of his own business’. A manager was engaged to supervise the Cleir Hills orchards. The loss of export markets during the war years, problems with orchard pests, and a general glut in the fruit industry, saw a decline in profits from the sale of both fresh fruit and trees grown for sale. With the approach of the 1929-30 economic depression, the Grays sold their Cleir Hills and Kinglake properties and sections of the Allwood property.
On 26 May 1924 (Empire Day) celebrations were held on the recreation ground for the proclamation of Hurstbridge as a township. Prior to this, the area had been referred to at various times as Upper Diamond Creek, Allwood or Hurst’s Bridge.
Bill Gray died in 1942 at the age of 73 years and his wife Ellen in 1958 at the age of 85. Their youngest daughter Sheila and her husband Gordon Ferguson purchased the property from other members of the family. Sheila and Gordon moved to Allwood in 1951, to operate a dairy farm. In 1975 the Eltham Shire Council purchased Ferguson’s Paddock, formerly part of the Allwood pre-emptive right, for use as a passive recreation reserve. The Council purchased Allwood House in 1984 for use as a neighbourhood house and base for community groups.
‘The History of Gold Discovery in Victoria’. James Flett. Hawthorn Press, 1970. ‘Pioneers & Painters. One Hundred Years of Eltham and its Shire’. Alan Marshall. Thomas Nelson, 1971.
‘Memoirs of a Stockman’. Harry H. Peck. Stock and Land Publishing, 1972.
‘The Diamond Valley Story’. Dianne H. Edwards. Shire of Diamond Valley. 1979. ‘The Plenty Bushrangers of 1842: the first Europeans hanged in Victoria’.
Lindsay Mann, 1996.
‘Kooka on the Wattle. A History of Hurstbridge’. Hurstbridge and District Local History Group, 2003.
Local history files and notes from the Verso family. E.G. (Gwen) Halliley, Diamond Creek.
The Evelyn Observer.
The Eltham and Whittlesea Shires Advertiser and Diamond Valley Advocate (late Evelyn Observer).