…Charles Draper named his selection ‘Charnwood’, after the Charnwood Forest area of Leicestershire, where he was born…
In 1862, Charles Draper and John Ryder, taking advantage of the recently passed Duffy Land Act, wandered over the stringybark forested ranges to the east of the Plenty in search of land they could call their own. Since about 1856, Charles Draper had been a tenant farmer and ‘enthusiastic fruit cultivator’ on the Donaldson square-mile at Kangaroo Ground. John Ryder, a native of Devonshire, ‘was for ten years at the Plenty’. Ryder’s selection included the site of the present Arthurs Creek township.
Charles Draper selected adjoining land to the north, with excellent shelter and running water suitable for fruit growing. He named his selection ‘Charnwood’, after the Charnwood Forest area of Leicestershire, where he was born. ‘It was objected by the land officers that the site was too near Melbourne to be taken up under the act, but that objection was overcome’.
‘Taking a bullock dray on to the selection was a most difficult job…’. Draper and Ryder built their homesteads adjacent to each other on the western side of the Running Creek, near the junction with the Deep Creek and Arthurs Creek. John Ryder’s dwelling was located on the flat below the school. James (Jim) Draper, the third son of Charles and Catherine Draper, was born at ‘Running Creek’ on 9 January 1863 with Mrs. (Jane) Ryder acting as midwife.
The work of preparing the country for planting was ‘one of a gigantic nature’. ‘Whilst this was being done, dairying was carried on for subsistence’. Some of the first fruit trees, brought from Kangaroo Ground, grew with vigour in the fertile alluvial soil of the valleys. Newspaper reports described progress. ‘The first trees occupying only about two acres were planted in 1864. Then new sorts were procured from which to propagate, and the next planting took place in 1867, and has been continued yearly from that time. By repeated selections, Draper increased his holding to 320 acres in one block, besides 186 acres purchased at a short distance.’ Others followed his example and also planted fruit trees with the result that by the 1880s, Arthurs Creek became a major source of Melbourne’s fruit supply.
The Leader, in 1872, reported that ‘As a student of pomology, Mr. Draper is most careful to keep his stock true to name, and the young stock which is raised for sale or for use in the extension of the orchard is in the highest state of health and vigour’. ‘The whole of the fruits being grown for market purposes, it is of course the study of the proprietor to cultivate largely those kinds most suitable and good travellers, the distance from town being great.’
One early variety grown at Charnwood was the Jonathan apple, first introduced into Victoria from America by the Horticultural Society in about 1871. Another successful variety introduced to the district from Ballarat was Stewart’s Seedling. Both varieties were once widely grown throughout the Arthurs and Diamond Creek districts.
In July 1871, Charles was elected to the Practical Committee of the Horticultural Society of Victoria, which in 1885 became the Royal Horticultural Society of Victoria. He was a member of the Fruit Committee and was appointed a Trustee of the Society’s Experimental Gardens at Richmond. A regular exhibitor at Monthly meetings and Horticultural Exhibitions, Charles Draper later became a Vice-President and Fellow of the Society.
At the Second Intercolonial Exhibition held in Sydney in 1873, Charles was awarded a bronze medal for his display of fruits. He became one of the first Victorians to export apples to Europe, which were displayed at the Vienna International Exhibition in 1873. Apples and pears from Charnwood were also sent for display at the Centennial Exhibition, Philadelphia, in 1876.
He was awarded a silver medal for his collection of fruits at the International Exhibition Melbourne 1880-81. In 1886, fruit from Charnwood was sent with the trial export to London of fruit and vegetables for sale, and partly for exhibition at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, London 1886.
A bronze medal was awarded for services as a juror at the Centennial International Exhibition, Melbourne 1888. At the Centennial Horticultural Exhibition, held at Richmond Park in March 1889, Charles was awarded first prize for 50 and 24 varieties of apples, and also for 50 and 24 varieties of pears.
Charles was the first large-scale fruit grower in the Arthurs and Diamond Creek districts. The name of Charnwood orchards and its owner became well known throughout Victoria and the neighbouring colonies and the property welcomed many visitors. By the 1890s there were 200 acres of fruit trees. At this time the fruit collection at Charnwood included ‘about 700 varieties’ of apples.
In May 1890, Charles Draper was one of the fruit and vinegrowing experts who accompanied the first Parliamentary Visit to Mildura. He was elected President of the Arthurs Creek Fruit Growers’ Association when it was formed on May 12 1890. He was to serve as President for the next 14 years. In February 1891 he was appointed to the Board of Advice for Management of the Burnley Horticultural Gardens.
Visitors to Charnwood admired the flower garden as much as the orchard. The tuberous begonias were ‘for many years the finest to be seen in Victoria’. The Leader in 1890 noted that ‘Mr. Draper has planted a few vines by way of experiment, which are doing well, and he is of the opinion that the whole of the hills might be advantageously covered with wine grapes’.
At the second conference of Australasian Fruitgrowers held in Hobart during April 1895, Charles Draper ‘gave his experience in growing filbert and other nuts’. Against competition from Tasmania and New Zealand, he ‘took first honours’ in the section open to all Australasia for collections of apples at the Intercolonial Fruit Show held in conjunction with the conference. ‘The judges awarded it to him for the large number of varieties, the excellence of the exhibits, and the correctness of nomenclature.’
In later years fruit growing activities at Charnwood came under the direct supervision of his sons, William (Bill) Plenty of ‘Dishleigh’ and James (Jim), later of ‘Barton Hill’. Bill Draper looked after the marketing, while Jim was responsible for nursery operations.
The end of an era came in 1903, when the Charnwood estate was subdivided into four orchard and grazing allotments of from 50 to 90 acres for sale by auction at Kirk’s Bazaar, Melbourne. The original homestead block was retained and, together with a portion of Ryder’s original selection, is still held within the family as a grazing property.
Charles Draper died at Charnwood, at the age of 84 years, on 23 April 1909. The Minister for Agriculture George Graham MLA, referring to his death, stated that he ‘was a household word among fruit growers who regarded him as an authority on the orchard’.
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