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Joseph Stevenson

Joseph Stevenson (1802-1878)

Joseph STEVENSON married Ruth BOYD (d.1868)

- David (1838-18 March 1868) drowned, never married.
- Jane (1840-1911) married James MESS.
- Isabella (1841-1874) married Donald GRANT.
- Margaret (1843-1880) married Frederick HARGREAVES.
- Robert (1845-1933) married Ellen ARMSTRONG.
- Ruth (1847 - ?) married Thomas SADLER.
- Joseph (1848-1914) married Mary Emma PEERS.
- Ellen (1850-1940) married William LITTLE.

Joseph STEVENSON departed Scotland in 1832 on board the ship Wellington bound for Sydney.

In Sydney he married Ruth BOYD (the daughter of convict Alexander Boyd).

Soon after their marriage, Joseph and Ruth moved to Tasmania where their son David was born.

Joseph was a joiner by trade and worked a year or two in Tasmania in the timber industry.

He then moved to Melbourne on the Yarra and purchased the half acre allotment on the corner of Swanston and Little Bourke Streets at the 3rd Melbourne Land Sale on the 13 September 1838.

At the time, Melbourne was on the verge of a land boom. STEVENSON built a Horse Bazaar in Bourke Street for James Bowie KIRK and a punt called the Melbourne, to ferry passengers and goods across the Yarra for William WATTS.

STEVENSON’S Melbourne years appear to have provided the capital for him to purchase the bullocks and equipment he required to launch himself on the land at Arthur’s Creek in 1841 (near the present day township of Diamond Creek).

Local tradition has it that the name Diamond Creek was derived from a mishap that STEVENSON had near Gums Bridge where he lost his most valuable bullock - an animal answering to the name Diamond. He always referred to the stream as ‘the one Diamond’ was in and as time passed it became known as Diamond Creek. Another theory is that the stream was named after crystals that were said to be found in the creek.

In 1842, STEVENSON established a sheep station and built a homested on some unsurveyed country, out past Kangaroo Ground at the junction of Watsons and Five Mile Creeks. Later that year in October, in need of a shepherd, STEVENSON rode into Melbourne and hired a man by the name of David CHRISTMAS (an emancipated convict), and left him to find his own way to STEVENSON’S yet unnamed station in the hills. CHRISTMAS seems to have managed as far as Kangaroo Ground, but in the trackless scrub beyond, somehow managed to become hopelessly lost. After days of aimless wandering, during which time he is said to have eaten his dog, he was rescued after making his way toward the sound of bells. Some versions claim he mistook the bells for that of St Paul’s. Instead, the bells hung from the necks of STEVENSON’S bullocks. In acknowledgement of CHRISTMAS’ salvation, STEVENSON named his 9600 acre run Christmas Hill Station.

150 year later, on 11 October 1992, the people of Christmas Hill gathered to celebrate the event. They unveiled a plaque of a memorial erected above CHRISTMAS’ bush grave. Afterward, to the lilt of the Welsh nation air ‘We’ll Keep a Welcome on the Hillside’, a toast was drank in remembrance of the Welsh shepherds’ exploits.

In 1847, STEVENSON sold his Christmas Hill Station to Henry DENDY and moved to Kangaroo Ground, where he purchased 78 acres (allotment 3 section III) - a less prestigious farm - on the eastern edge of the district, partly on and partly off the black volcanic fertile soil. There, he built the family home, Bank Head.

Bank Head House

By the 1860’s, the STEVENSON’S had a sizeable vineyard on the property’s eastern slopes, said to have produced ‘very light by agreeable wines’ that sold well at Melbourne and overseas markets.

Years later, the STEVENSON’S added a further forty-odd acres to the property with a long road frontage leading down to Watson Creek. It was STEVENSON who built Andrew Ross’s house, and who later became a first trustee of both the common and the cemetery; and early member also of the Eltham Road Board.

David Stevenson

Joseph and Ruth’s eldest son David (born in Tasmania) selected land above Fryer’s Gully under Section 31 of the Land Act. David worked his farm for just seven months. On 18 March 1868 he set out from Bank Head in search of lost horses following their tracks to as far as the junction of the Yarra with Watsons Creek. In attempting to cross the river by way of a rock-bar (known to present day canoeists as ‘Arthur’s Mistake’), he lost his footing and drowned.

David’s selection was taken over by his younger brother, Robert, who cleared and fenced the property for grazing.

Robert Stevenson

Robert Stevenson

In an unfortunate coincidence, 16 years later, Robert and his wife, Ruth SADLER, had the misfortune to lose their own young son, David, drowned in their farm dam.

As has been seen, Joseph and Ruth STEVENSON were well established in the heartland of the district and, already, under the regulations of the 1865 Act, their two eldest sons (David and Robert) had acquired some marginal land. Nevertheless, with David gone, drowned in the Yarra, and an awareness that soon the land they had acquired would prove insufficient for future needs, the family took immediate steps to secure additional land.

Already, a pattern of settlement was beginning to form. By 1870 practically all the Scots of Kangaroo Ground were related and Presbyterians; now their offspring were winging their way out from their embryonic oasis into the less fertile surrounds of the Stringy-bark Forest.

The STEVENSON family eventually selected a number of other properties along the lower reaches of Watson Creek bring their total holdings to around 321 acres.

On the morning of 29 August 1870, Joseph STEVENSON with his surviving sons, Robert and Joseph, his son-in-law, James MESS, and neighbour’s son, Mark BUNKER, set out for the junction of Watsons and Sugar-loaf Creeks to peg out for themselves farms under the newly enacted 1869 legislation. Their selections, they apparently decided, would have the best of water frontages. Perhaps harking back to the day, 28 years earlier, when he had chosen the Five Mile Creek junction as the site for his homestead, the elder STEVENSON, this time, chose the junction of Sugar-loaf Creek as the starting point for his sortie.

Compass in hand, armed with axes and shovels, partly cleared a mile-long trail due south from Sugar-loaf Creek to McPhersons’ track. Then after erecting posts every 200 or so paces along their blazed trail, they cleared six further trails due west for each post to Watsons Creek. There, on the creek bank, at the termination of their cleared trails, they set up their final posts. When complete, the manoeuvre saw six farmlets, all with their own water frontage, enclosed within each four sets of corner posts.

The regulations required that the posts they used be of a particular size, be painted white, and be readily visible at ten paces. Having clearly pegged out the land they desire, each immediately arranged for a contract surveyor (T.S PARROTT) to professionally mark out and accurately measure their own acreage’s. With all complete, each was then required to pay his first half-yearly instalment to the Board of Land and Works and make application for a ‘License to Occupy’. Ten years later, with payments made, and improvements carried out to the required one pound an acre, each could expect to be issued with a full title to his land. In the case of Joseph STEVENSON, his application, in part, read:

I, Joseph Stevenson of the Kangaroo Grounds, farmer, do hereby solemnly and sincerely declare on oath that on the twenty-ninth day of August at 12 o’clock I placed posts with notices thereon, as prescribed by the regulations of the first of February 1870, at the corner of the allotments for which I hereby make application ... that at the time I fixed those posts I saw no other posts on the same allotments and was not cognisant of any other person having marked it out ... that I have not selected under any previous Land Act and the area I now desire to obtain, if added to any land previously selected by me, would not exceed 320 acres.

That day, Joseph STEVENSON marked down in his own name there farmlets - two of 30 acres, the other of 18; his son, Joseph, chose another of 25 acres, his son-in-law, James MESS, one of 29 acres, and Mark BUNKER, another of 31 acres. Although heavily timbered each, when fenced, was ideally suited for the immediate location of stock.

Land Division

Only Joseph, the old pioneer of Christmas Hills, ever actually resided on any of these selections - the others simply conformed, as to payments and improvements.

By 1874, Joseph had enclosed his well-water farm of 78 acres in post-and-three-rail (chock and log along the creek frontage). Upon it, by then, he had erected a simple two-roomed weather-board cottage.

After an adventurous life, the aged pioneer had handed the reins of his Bank Head vineyard to his son, Robert, preferring, instead, to live out his years in the solitude of the Australian bush that he loved so much. The Scot in him had seen him nostalgically name his retreat, Kelvin Grove, after a rustic stream-side park in Glasgow beneath that city’s major seat of learning on Gilmore Hill.

His 1874 ‘return’ to the Board of Land and Works stated that he had also built stables for his stock, and had, each year, grown two acres of potatoes and oats. Alongside his house he planted a seedling oak believed to have been grown from an acorn brought back from Windsor by his countryman, John DONALDSON. Today, that tree, immense in age, stands alone in a deserted paddock, as sole reminder of the abode of a once proud pioneer.

The STEVENSON excursion that day, appears to have been designed mainly to acquire additional land for stock rather that for actual working farms upon which to reside. High in their deliberations would have been the knowledge that soon the Kangaroo Ground Farmer’s Common would disappear completely into the hands of selectors pegging it out for farms.

Stevenson Hall


WOIWOD Mick; Kangaroo Ground - The Highland Taken; Tarcoola Press;1994.