John Bear on the Plenty

Chapter 3

Published Nov, 2009

Bear's Castle, Yan Yean, c 1880
Bear's Castle, Yan Yean, c 1880

…the brusque, active, wide awake, widely liked individual known as Mr. John Bear Senior…

John Bear with his wife Ann (nee Hutchins), sons John Pinney and Thomas Hutchins and daughter Ellen Ann, arrived at Williamstown in the 550-ton ship ‘Brothers’, ‘with their good friend’ Captain Dunsford of Tiverton, Devon, on 20 October 1841. Soon after his arrival John Bear purchased from the Crown for one pound per acre, the freehold of Section 20, Parish of Yan Yean, comprising 935 acres to the east of the Plenty River.

In Melbourne John Bear ran the firm of ‘Bear and Son’, stock and station agents, with his eldest son John Pinney Bear. Garryowen,  in ‘The Chronicles of Early Melbourne’, describes him as ‘the brusque, active, wide awake, widely liked individual known as Mr. John Bear Senior’. At week-ends, ‘Old Bear’ rode to his New Leicester Farm at Yan Yean. His second son Thomas Hutchins Bear was in charge of the farm during his absence. At Yan Yean, the Bears planted fruit trees and one of the first vineyards in Victoria, on what in later years became known as the ‘Castle Hill’ farm and vineyard.

In April 1842, John’s wife Ann and daughter Ellen were held up at their Yan Yean house by Jack Williams and his three accomplices, known as the ‘Plenty Bushrangers.’ The gang camped the night near the Bear’s homestead. Early next morning John Bear rode from Melbourne to the New Leicester Farm. Finding his family safe, he continued on to Campbell Hunter’s Wet Lowlands Station, (beyond the site of the Whittlesea township reserve), where other reinforcements soon began to arrive. A shoot-out with members of a posse from Melbourne resulted in the death of Williams and capture of his gang.

In 1843, John Bear sold 200 acres of land at the northern end of his Yan Yean property to John Edward Cade. Cades (Cemetery) Lane marks the northern boundary of John Bear’s original freehold. In 1844, the area of Bear’s New Leicester Station was stated to be 2,560 acres (4 square miles).

In addition to the Yan Yean freehold, John Bear leased an extensive tract of land to the east of the Plenty River, including sections of his New Leicester Station and the Plenty Ranges and Evelyn runs. The area held extended southwards from the edge of the Dividing Range near Mason’s Falls to today’s Hurstbridge. The prominent ‘Bear’s Sugarloaf’ was included in the leasehold which, at the eastern boundary, met up with Cornelius Sharp Haley’s Caledonia run on the upper Diamond Creek. A stockyard and shepherd huts were located on the Sugarloaf or Running Creek at the foot of the Plenty Ranges on what later became the Running Creek Station.

‘For several years the stock and station-selling firm of Bear and Son was as well-known as Bourke Street …’. The Bear family held properties in districts well beyond the Plenty. In 1843, John Bear, in partnership with Henry Godfrey and William Henry Dunsford, took up crown leases on the Loddon Plains near Boort for the East Loddon run of 20,000 acres, and the adjoining Serpentine run to the east, estimated to comprise a holding of 90,000 acres. John Bear’s sons, John Pinney and Thomas Hutchins Bear, held the East Loddon run from 1845 to 1848. The Serpentine run, held by John Bear in 1848, was transferred to E.W. Jeffreys in 1857. Bear’s Lagoon to the north of Serpentine on the Loddon Valley Highway, is a reminder of John Bear’s early presence in the Loddon Valley.

Patrick Reid of Hazel Glen took over the squatting licence for the ‘Stewart’s Ponds’ run to the south of Bear’s New Leicester run, in early 1844. The northern boundary of Reid’s run was disputed by John Bear, who sought to include in his run a natural water hole along the ‘Chain of Ponds’ which had good water in dry seasons. Patrick’s eldest son Robert made a ploughed furrow to mark what he considered to be the boundary. An argument arose with John Bear who sought to water his stock at the hole. ‘At one stage, one of the Reids pulled Bear off his horse. It was a very dry year, and everyone was short of water’.

On the western side of the Yan Yean Reservoir is a cob structure known as ‘Bear’s Castle’ or ‘Bear’s Lookout’. The two story building is situated on a high rise due east from the homestead site. It was originally castellated with parapets at the top. It is reputed to have been built in the 1840s as the result of a casual remark from John Bear Senior. When leaving Yan Yean for an extended visit to one of the family properties, he was asked what he wanted done to ensure the hired men were kept busy while he was away. He is said to have replied ‘You can build me a castle’.

In September 1850, Patrick Reid stated that John Bear was ‘in possession of no less than 29 sections (18,560 acres) within the settled district’. This included Section 20, Parish of Morang, comprising 1,065 acres to the east of the Plenty River at the northern end of the Parish.

John Bear suffered from bronchial pneumonia. He died at the age of 52 on 30 November 1851. He was buried in the old Melbourne Cemetery following a funeral service at St. Peter’s Eastern Hill. A full life interest in the Yan Yean property was left to his wife Ann and son Thomas Hutchins Bear. In 1852, Ann returned to England in company with her daughter Ellen Ann and son-in-law William Henry Dunsford, the son of Captain Dunsford of Tiverton. John Pinney Bear took over the stock and station selling firm, which he sold in 1856.

At a ceremony held on 20 December 1853, the Lieutenant- Governor C.J. LaTrobe turned the first sod for construction of the Yan Yean reservoir embankment. On 19 February 1854, the Commissioners of Sewers and Water Supply purchased 241 acres of land at the northern end of the Yan Yean reservoir site from Thomas Hutchings (sic) and Ann Bear. A further narrow strip was purchased on 1 March 1856 to accommodate the Yan Yean inlet channel. The Government also paid 583 pounds for damage due to severance, as the newly acquired strip of land separated the river frontage from the remainder of Bear’s land east of the channel.

In 1857 Thomas Hutchins Bear built ‘Rockbeare’ on 35 acres of land he had purchased along the Darebin Creek near Ivanhoe. He established a successful farm and vineyard, and lived there until 1865. According to family tradition, Rockbear (sic) was named by T.H. Bear’s wife Emily (nee Morgan). ‘During a picnic from Yan Yean to visit the recently completed house, Emily smashed a bottle of their wine against a rock to christen the property Rockbear, in recognition of the rocky nature of the area.’ (In later years the property was purchased as a family home for William Henry Rocke, a successful furniture importer.)

Following the cancellation of squatting leases under the Duffy Land Act of 1862, J.P. Bear and T.H. Bear selected some 833 acres of former leasehold land to the east of the Yan Yean Reservoir, on the north side of the Arthur’s Creek and Running Creek Roads in the Parish of Linton. The big hill, leading from beyond Reid’s Creek (Stewart’s Ponds) on the Arthurs Creek Road up to the ‘Finger Post’ at the Yan Yean Road junction, was called Bear’s Hill. The approach to Bear’s Hill was known as the Little Hill.

During the morning of 4 October 1866, word reached the Plenty that a bushranger had shot Henry Hurst at Hurst’s station on the Diamond Creek. At that time it was generally believed that the bushranger Burke was one of a gang. Remembering the activities of the Plenty Bushrangers in 1842, Thomas Bear is said to have slept the night at the New Leicester homestead with a loaded revolver under his pillow.

In 1866, Charles and Henry Morgan and John and Thomas Bear (squatters and proprietors of the Melbourne Banking Company) purchased Heifer Station of 42,260 acres near Narrandera. They restored the name of the run to its original name of ‘Garrongoorung’, which later became ‘Grong Grong’. Thomas moved to the Grong Grong property. ‘12 years of drought, floods and fires brought their wanderings to an end’. The Grong Grong property was sold to E. Flood in about 1882.

Harry H. Peck in ‘Memoirs of a Stockman’ records that in 1862 John Pinney Bear held the ‘well-known cattle fattening station ‘Noorengong’, ‘(native name of the Lower Mitta)’. Noorengong East was sold in 1862. The ‘western or main portion of the freehold’ was bought nine years later by Andrew Paton and Sons. The Bear family also held an interest in Berringama station, in the Upper Murray district to the east of Tallangatta.

Thomas spent his later years at Grong Grong house, on 6 acres in Toorak Road, Malvern (demolished 1908), before finally retiring to Berringamah house in High Street, Malvern. Thomas Hutchins  Bear ‘was essentially a pastoralist and owned many country properties in New South Wales and Victoria’. He put each of his six sons on a station. Thomas died on 10 October 1890 at the age of 65. He was buried in the St. Kilda Cemetery.

John Pinney Bear supervised the establishment of the ‘Chateau Tahbilk’ vineyard near Nagambie in 1860. He ‘gradually bought out the other shareholders until he owned the whole company in 1877.’ He served as a Member of the Legislative Council from 1863 until 1878. J.P. Bear died on 27 October 1889, aged 65 years. He was buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery. A memorial in St Peter’s Eastern Hill remembers him as a Trustee of the Church from the year of its dedication in 1848 and describes him as ‘an old and honoured colonist’ who ‘was a succourer of many.’ 297 acres of J.P. Bear’s estate ‘adjoining and east of the Yan Yean Reservoir’ was offered for sale by public auction at the Bridge Inn on 6 May 1912. His wife Annette Eliza (nee Williams) lived in London until her death in 1925 at age 92.

In ‘The Leader’ of January 25 1890, Charles Draper of ‘Charnwood’, Arthur’s Creek, was reported to be of the opinion that the sides of the hills ‘are equally good for fruit trees, as well as grape vines, as is well proved in Bear’s vineyard, on a hill beyond the Yan Yean, where light wines, produced under the able management of M. Guiniot (sic), are said to be equal to any in the colony …’ As late as 1891, some 40 acres were under vine at the Castle Hill vineyard.

The Castle Hill Farm property at Yan Yean comprised 190 acres when the title was transferred to Thomas’s wife Emily Henrietta Bear on 14 August 1893. Two lots were separated from the southern end, when Emily sold the farm in July 1895. The 154 acre farm had two owners, prior to being purchased by my great grandfather Charles Draper in September 1905. The property was part of his estate, at the time of his death in April 1909.

Morgan Thomas Bear was the eldest son of Thomas and Emily. At the time of Morgan’s marriage to Edith (Mayo) Grave, Emily arranged for a house to be built at Yan Yean for the couple on a separate 16 acre piece of land which she had given to Morgan. The land was on the southern side of Castle Hill Farm towards the  main entrance to the Yan Yean Reservoir Park. Morgan and his wife Edith lived there for a time with their three children, Rolfe, Gladys and George.

Morgan’s eldest son Rolfe remembered living at Yan Yean as a baby and again between the ages of ‘about 7 until 15 or 16’, before going to business college. While at Yan Yean, the Bear children attended the local Yan Yean Primary School. In 1917, at age 21, Rolfe went to the First World War. Emily Henrietta, wife of Thomas Hutchins Bear, died in December 1918 aged 88 years. She is buried in the family grave at the St. Kilda Cemetery. Morgan and Edith (Mayo) moved to Sydney to be near their daughter Gladys. The Yan Yean property was let until it was sold in November 1923.

Bear's Castle, photo by Lindsay Mann
Bear's Castle, photo by Lindsay Mann
The Noy family at Bear's Castle, 1963
The Noy family at Bear's Castle, 1963
Bear's Castle is reputed to have been built in the 1840s.  It is pictured here in the late 19th century
Bear's Castle is reputed to have been built in the 1840s. It is pictured here in the late 19th century
Bears Castle - Yan Yean Reservoir, 1970s.  Photo by Bruce G. Draper
Bears Castle - Yan Yean Reservoir, 1970s. Photo by Bruce G. Draper

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