John Taylor set off from Caversham Rise into an area that was largely unexplored, probably wondering where the road would lead, in terms of his future. Thomas Brown, the man John worked for as an indentured labourer, had decided to purchase property over the Darling Ranges in the Avon Valley district of the 12 year-old Swan River Colony. This prime agricultural area, with its red and brown soils on fertile river flats, had been discovered quite early in the colony’s history and surveyed in 1830. The first settlers took 10 days from Guildford to reach the site of the future York township in 1831. York itself began to develop five years later when town allotments were released. Even so, by 1841 there were very few settlers in the area and much of the land was still undeveloped.
Yangedine, the place that the Browns would use as a temporary home base, was occupied by Dr Samuel Viveash, a Wiltshire physician (a relative, by marriage, of William Tanner), who owned it with his brother Robert, and brother-in-law John Frederick Smith. Yangedine, the property that, within a few years, would be John Taylor’s home for the following 45.
Once John left William Tanner’s in the Middle Swan, he had to cross the river to proceed towards York. The ferry allowing communication between West Guildford and Guildford proper, 100 yards across the river, was similar to the one at Fremantle, being hauled across the river by a rope. It saved the residents of Guildford a trip to Perth over the Causeway mud flats. Guildford, along with Perth and Fremantle was established early in the history of the Swan River Colony and was intended to be the place where farmers would bring their stock or crops to market. From there, the produce was sent down the river to Perth, Fremantle and, once the colony could fulfill its own needs, export.
From Guildford, John took the York road, which passed through Woodbridge – the property of the previous Governor, Sir James Stirling, where he had his summer residence – and on to Greenmount. Past Greenmount, the continuing ascent afforded a splendid vista of Perth and Rottnest Island, but then dense forest enclosed the road, preventing further views. The series of hills were steep and rocky. However the road had been lately upgraded and could now permit the passage of a four-wheeled carriage. At the summit, the road became smooth and straight over gravelly ironstone. Then wthout warning, a clearing in the forest revealed the halfway house, where John may have stayed, 20 miles from Guildford. Beyond that the mahogany forests were left behind to be replaced by an open forest of Wandoo (the white gum), raspberry jam trees, a wattle named for the smell of its freshly cut wood, and the York gum, whose wood was excellent for making farming implements.
Another 30 miles of relatively easy going road and a few straggling huts appeared. John asked a stranger the distance to York, only to be told that he was already there. Most of the settlers in the area lived several miles apart in outlying farms, and it was one of these farms to the south that John turned towards – Yangedine. Yangedine was part of a property of 16,000 acres originally called “Location H, Avon River District” granted to James Walcott in 1836.
Early in its colonisation, land at Swan River was granted to settlers in proportion to the amount of assets and labourers they brought with them – 40 acres for every £3 of assets (physical assets only, applicable to land use) and 200 acres for every adult they brought with them. Some settlers brought many indentured labourers with them but then found that they couldn’t afford their upkeep. Land had to be improved within 10 years, otherwise it would be resumed and no title given. However, there were also many unconditional land grants given to officials and military personnel, resulting in valuable land along the fertile river plains being unavailable for farming. Later, (1837) the system was changed so that settlers could claim title to part of their land by surrendering the rest, and this is how 12,000 undeveloped acres of the original Walcott grant was sold to the Viveash brothers and their brother-in-law John Frederick Smith in 1839, several months after they had arrived from England. The property, fronting the Avon River, was described as the “best grant of land in the colony.”
Before moving there, Samuel Viveash lived at Woodlands near York, rent free, in return for clearing and building, with his indentured labourers, to fulfill the development conditions on the land for its owner. Meanwhile, he built up his flock of sheep at Woodlands and erected a barn and cottage at Yangedine, two hours travel away. Once Yangedine was habitable, he relocated his family and servants from Woodlands, not long before the Browns moved from Caversham. The Browns spent a month at Yangedine before finding a property for sale in the area.
It was called Grassdale, in the foothills of Mount Matilda near York, and they had relocated from Yangedine by July 1841. Thomas, with John and other labourers, toiled incessantly to prepare the land necessary to feed his family and the servants, the Brown’s pork and hams languishing in the government store in Perth, too expensive to transport across the hills. Their nights were flooded with the eerie light of bonfires as they cleared and developed the paddocks ready for planting. With so much manual labour needed, as well as dealing with straying animals and farming conditions that were incompatible with those of England, Thomas and Eliza Brown began to wonder if they could provide the food to sustain everyone, and soon doubted their decision to bring so many servants with them.
Within three years, John Taylor had worked enough to repay his fare. Meanwhile, Samuel Viveash and family had moved back to the Swan, the partnership with his brother and brother-in-law dissolving. Yangedine was regranted in equal shares to John Frederick Smith and Robert Viveash in 1845, the year before John Taylor married Ann Draper. John leased one of the shares – 6,000 acres – for £50 a year, working at anything he could, including cutting sandalwood to be exported to Asia. He grew wheat and bred and raised prized merino sheep and horses. John became well known for his enterprising nature while building a life for himself and his family on Yangedine. He bought the property in 1877.
And that’s where we’ll have to leave John Taylor and Yangedine. There is so much more that can be written about him which has been condensed into that last paragraph. But one thing that he did do, and I’m grateful for, was to go to Oxfordshire in 1856 and return to WA with a number of his siblings, including my great, great grandmother Ruth, who was only 3 years old when John came to the Swan RIver Colony in 1841.
1. John Taylor of Yangedine. (1889, April 20). Eastern Districts Chronicle (York, WA : 1877 – 1927), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article14858802 [back]
2. Classified Advertising (1839, April 6). The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal (WA : 1833 – 1847), p. 53. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article639160 [back]
Australian Corpus of English – Australian National Corpus, https://www.ausnc.org.au/corpora/cooee
Brown, Eliza, Thomas Brown, and Peter Cowan. A Faithful Picture: The Letters of Eliza and Thomas Brown at York in the Swan River Colony, 1841-1852: With an Introduction. Freemantle, W.A.: Freemantle Arts Centre Press, 1977.
Land grants in the Swan River Colony. (2015, October 22). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Land_grants_in_the_Swan_River_Colony&oldid=687006753
Prussian, D 2007, ‘Strange’, PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW. Retrieved from http://epubs.scu.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=theses
The Taylors of Yangedine. (1921, April 23). The Avon Gazette and York Times (WA : 1916 – 1930), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article209873352 [Note: Many statements in this article are incorrect.]