Thomastown’s 19th Century Scottish Landowners and Residents

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Thomastown’s 19th Century Scottish Landowners and Residents

By Rob Wuchatsch
The Scots were influential in Thomastown’s development from the beginning of European settlement, either as landowners, occupation licence holders, graziers or farmers. Most of Thomastown’s land was owned by the Campbell and Brock families until the early 20th Century and Colonel Joseph Anderson, who owned Section 21 from 1850-64 and William Westgarth, who bought Section 25 in 1850 on behalf of the Germans, were also Scots.

None of the Scottish landlords ever lived at Thomastown, but Scottish tenant farmers such as the Crowe, Fullerton, McLeod and Mann families occupied much of their land. These families worshipped at the Campbellfield, Janefield or Epping Presbyterian Churches. Members of the McKimmie family, who farmed on the east bank of the Darebin Creek at today’s Mill Park until the early 20th Century, also later lived at Thomastown. McKimmie’s Road is named after the family.

Another Scot, Alexander McKillop, father of Saint Mary MacKillop, leased land from Robert Campbell and held a depasturing licence to graze Sections 21, 22 and 25 during the early 1840s.


The Campbells of Sydney were the first Scottish family to purchase land in the Thomastown area. Robert Campbell purchased 3,367 acres in the Parish of Keelbundora for £1,377/1/- at the Port Phillip land sale in Sydney on 12 September 1838. In 1840, his younger brother Charles bought Sections 2 and 3 in the Parish of Wollert from John Terry Hughes and John Hosking, who had purchased them in 1838. Charles also bought all the other sections Hughes and Hosking owned in the area and named his landholdings the Argyle Estate.

There has been some confusion about which Robert Campbell purchased land in the Parishes of Keelbundora and Will Will Rook in 1838. The buyer was Robert Campbell (1804-59), son of merchant Robert Campbell (1769-1846) who was known as Robert Campbell Sr. Normally a son with the same name would be known as Jr., but Robert Campbell Sr. also had a nephew named Robert Campbell (1789-1851), who was 15 years older than his son. As the nephew had become known in Sydney as Robert Campbell Jr., the son was usually referred to as Robert Campbell the younger until his father died in 1846. To further confuse matters, when Robert Campbell purchased land in the Parishes of Keelbundora and Will Will Rook his name appeared in the New South Wales Government Gazette on 24 November 1838 as R. Campbell junior, then on 17 April 1839, when the title deeds were issued, as Robert Campbell the younger. The name Robert Campbell Jr., however, appears on parish plans.

Robert Campbell Sr., who arrived in New South Wales in 1798, was Australia’s first colonial merchant. An enterprising pioneer who weathered early financial setbacks, he built and owned Campbell’s Wharf in Sydney along with many other properties in New South Wales, including Duntroon in today’s Canberra.

Robert Campbell the younger was born in Sydney in 1804. Like elder brother John, he was educated in England, living there from 1810-19. By 1822 he was actively involved with John in their father’s wharf, storage and shipping business of Campbell & Co. in Sydney and in 1827 became a partner in the company. John ran the business and Robert was in charge of public relations.

Robert was also interested in public and political affairs. An advocate against convict transportation to Australia for many years, he was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Council in 1851.  He transferred to the Legislative Assembly in 1856 and was appointed New South Wales treasurer, a position he held until his death at Duntroon in 1859. He had married in 1835 and had six children. His land at Thomastown passed to his brother John, who held it until his death in 1886. It remained in the Campbell family until the early 1900s.

Charles Campbell was born at sea in 1810. He was a pastoralist at Ginnindera when he purchased Hughes and Hosking’s land in the Parishes of Wollert and Will Will Rook in 1840. Facing financial problems, however, he subdivided and sold various sections of the Argyle Estate, but the economic depression of the early 1840s meant most purchasers were unable to meet their payments and their land reverted back to him. He then let the Argyle Estate to tenant farmers. During the 1850s he became a barrister. He died in Scotland in 1888. The Argyle Estate remained in the Campbell family until the early 1900s.


John and Jean Brock, from Kirkliston in West Lothian, arrived in Hobart in October 1833 with two children aboard the Edward Coulston. John is said to have made a brief visit to Port Phillip in 1835 to assess pastoral possibilities, then returned to settle permanently in 1836 and established a squatting run at Redstone Hill, near Sunbury.

In 1847, Brock purchased land in the Parish of Keelbundora, including the northern portions of Sections 19 and 20 which he held until his death in Melbourne in 1856 aged 60. His land in Sections 19 and 20 passed to son Alexander, who in 1864 purchased the adjoining Section 21 from Colonel Anderson. At the time of Alexander’s death in 1871, his land in Sections 19 and 20 was leased to the Creighton, Mann and Sparkes families and Section 21 to Catherine (formerly Lewis) and James Mooney.

The Brock family kept their landholdings in Sections 19, 20 and 21 into the 1900s. Alexander Avenue and Brock Street at Thomastown reflect the Brock family’s former ownership of Section 21.


John Crowe was born in Kincardineshire in about 1802 and arrived at Port Phillip aboard the India in April 1840. He married Agnes Hermeston in Melbourne that year and by March 1841 his address was the Merri Creek, where he presumably farmed land owned by Robert Campbell Jr or his brother Charles Campbell. At a meeting at Campbellfield of Presbyterian residents on the Merri and Darebin Creeks in March 1842, to discuss the need for a church there, Crowe was elected to a committee to choose a suitable site. Later that year a wattle and daub shingle roofed hut known as Scots Church was completed and served the area until 1855 when it was replaced by the bluestone church which still stands near Sydney Road.

In December 1843, it was reported a shinty match would be held at ‘Mr. Crow’s premises, Campbellfield.’ However, anywhere within a mile or two east of the Merri Creek could have been classed as Campbellfield during the 1840s and in 1845 his address was again recorded as Merri Creek. From 1845-48, he held an occupation licence for Section 22 in the Parish of Keelbundora, where the Thomas family later settled.

In 1848, when a fire burnt some of his crop, Crowe’s address was given as Darebin Creek. He was probably still living in the same place, although he could have moved to one of Charles or Robert Campbell Jr.’s sections further east. The occupation lease Crowe held on Section 22 may have caused his address to be reported as Darebin Creek. In an era without street numbers, near enough was good enough, as everyone in a neighbourhood knew each other and could direct visitors to the required location.

Crowe, a foundation member of the Port Phillip Farmers’ Society in 1848, purchased land in 1851 in the Parish of Yuroke, west of Craigieburn, where he died in 1857 aged 54. His widow Agnes later returned to Scotland. The Crowes had three children – a daughter Margaret and two sons – John Webster Crowe whose birthplace in 1845 was given as Campbellfield and Robert Colombo Crowe who was born at Darebin Creek in 1849. Both sons later moved to India.


The Fullerton family, from Glenmoriston near Inverness, arrived in Australia aboard the Australia in November 1853. John and Catherine Fullerton and their eight children arrived as assisted immigrants and initially lived at Moonee Ponds. By the late 1850s they had settled at Epping.

By 1863, John Fullerton farmed 575 acres of Charles Campbell’s land in Section 3, Parish of Wollert and eldest son Donald, who married Margaret Smith the same year, leased 375 acres in the southern half of Section 26 at Thomastown from John Campbell. Donald Fullerton and his family farmed there almost continuously until 1906, only leaving briefly when the land was sold during the late 1880s for the unsuccessful Preston Heights subdivision. When this failed, the land reverted back to the Campbell family and Donald resumed his tenancy in early 1892.

Donald Fullerton served on the Darebin Shire Council from 1885-91. His father John died in 1872 aged 73 and mother Catherine in 1881 aged 86. Both are buried at Epping. The Fullerton family left Thomastown in 1907, soon after the Campbell family subdivided and sold Section 26. Donald died in 1915 and Margaret in 1922.


Alexander McKillop (sometimes spelt MacKillop) was born at Lochaber in 1812 and arrived in Sydney aboard the bounty ship Brilliant in January 1838. He had trained in Rome and Aberdeen to be a priest, but did not continue to ordination, recorded as a schoolteacher when he arrived in Australia. He is said to have found a position with merchants Campbell & Co. and appears to have worked for them at Sydney and Queanbeyan, then Melbourne after moving there in 1839.

In April 1840 McKillop purchased 820 acres on the Plenty River in the Parish of Morang for £533. Three months later, he married Flora McDonald at St Francis’ Church, Melbourne. Over the next few years he was active in business, community and religious affairs at Port Phillip.

By 1841 he had bought a house at Fitzroy, but shortly after the birth of daughter Mary in January 1842, he was caught up in the economic downturn, having acted as a guarantor with others for businessman William Rucker, who became insolvent. As a result, McKillop moved his family to a farm named Duntroon on the Darebin Creek at or near Thomastown.

Alexander McKillop appears to have leased land on the Darebin Creek from as early as 1841. In April 1842 Robert Campbell sued him for six months unpaid rent on 900 acres. This was probably Section 14 in the Parish of Keelbundora. In December 1844 McKillop was reported to be grazing the adjoining unsold Sections 21, 22 and 25 in the Parish of Keelbundora and Sections 4, 9 and 10 of the Parish of Wollert, under an occupation licence granted by the Commissioner for Crown Lands.

McKillop, who had sold his house at Fitzroy in 1842 and land on the Plenty River in 1843, was declared insolvent in January 1844. Robert Campbell sued him again for rent in March 1844. From 1 January 1845, Alexander and his brother Peter leased Leamington, a farm owned by Thomas Dyer Edwards at today’s suburb of Reservoir. Early maps suggest Alexander’s house at Reservoir stood on the west bank of the Darebin Creek just north of Plenty Road. Alexander also leased a farm at Merriang during the late 1840s from William Lithgow. By the mid 1850s, however, Alexander and his family had left the district and he died at Hamilton in 1868. Daughter Mary MacKillop is Australia’s only Saint.


John and Jane McKimmie and their young sons John and Walter arrived in Melbourne aboard the Thomas Arbuthnot in October 1841. Born at Perthshire in 1812, John married Jane Mills in 1833, at Glasgow. A house painter by trade, John was living on the Darebin Creek in 1847, probably as a tenant farmer. During the 1850s he also worked as a carrier to the goldfields and did contract ploughing and timber cutting with his sons.

In 1855, John completed the purchase of the farm the family occupied in Section 27, Parish of Keelbundora and it soon became known as Violet Farm. When John died in 1905, aged 92, Violet Farm was described as 176 acres. He also owned a 315 acre farm at Arthur’s Creek he had selected during the 1870s. John was buried with Jane, who died in 1887 aged 70, in the Preston Cemetery, along with his parents who followed them to Australia.

Eight children were born in Australia and one, James McKimmie, married Christina Thomas, daughter of Alfred and Christina Thomas of Thomastown. In 1910 James purchased the old Mahoney farm at Thomastown and the McKimmie family farmed there for many years. James and Christina’s youngest son, Colin McKimmie, enlisted during the First World War and was killed in France in 1916. His nephew, named after him, served in the Second World War.


The McLeod family, bounty immigrants from Skye, arrived in Sydney aboard the William Nichol in October 1837. First employed by W. Matthews of Sydney, for £30 per annum plus rations, then on a pastoral run near Queanbeyan, the McLeods travelled overland to Port Phillip in about 1840. In 1847 Alexander was recorded as farming at Darebin Creek and an early 1850s survey map of the Yan Yean pipeline shows him occupying 320 acres in Section 14, Parish of Keelbundora, owned by Robert Campbell.

By 1851, Alexander’s wife Christina (née McKinnon) had died and he married Maria Zimmer, of Westgarthtown. In 1855 they moved to Broadford where he died in 1863. He had a son William and daughter Christina by his first marriage, then five children with second wife Maria, whose sister Agnes Zwar also lived at Broadford. Maria, who remarried in 1867 to William Whyte following Alexander’s death, died at Broadford in 1905 and was buried with her husbands there. Son Alexander McLeod, born at Epping, was a councillor for the Shire of Broadford for many years.

In 1851, Alexander’s daughter Christina married Alfred Thomas at the Presbyterian Church, Campbellfield. Alfred took over the 320 acre lease after his father-in-law moved to Broadford and remained at what became known as Darebin Farm for 50 years until they retired and moved into the Thomastown township.


John and James Mann arrived in Australia from Carseburn in Forfarshire on the Ellen Stuart in September 1857. By 1861 they were leasing 164 acres of Alexander Brock’s land in Sections 19 and 20 for £45 per year. This farm, known as Overton, was located on both sides of the Darebin Creek in the area of today’s Metropolitan Ring Road.

John married neighbour Violet McKimmie on 25 September 1862 and they had seven children before John drowned in the Yarra River in 1875 aged 37. In 1874 John had selected 311 acres at Arthur’s Creek, which they named Carseburn, but they retained the lease on Overton. In 1876, Violet married John and James’ brother David, who had returned from New Zealand on hearing of John’s death. A further four children were born at Carseburn before David died in 1883 aged 48 and was buried with his brother John at Preston. Violet died at Yan Yean in 1925 aged 83.

James Mann married Jane Main in 1865 at the Janefield Presbyterian Church. They first farmed at Epping, then Yan Yean, before finally selecting land at Arthurs Creek, where they raised a large family. James died there in 1916 aged 80 and Jane in 1924 aged 82 and both are buried at Arthurs Creek.

In 1895, John and Violet Mann’s son David married May Thomas, daughter of Alfred and Christina Thomas of Thomastown and they farmed at Overton until 1902. In 1906, they purchased 136 acres in Section 26 at Thomastown when the Campbell family subdivided and sold that section to small farmers. David and May Mann, who later purchased more land, remained there until their deaths and Mann’s Crossing, David Street and May Road at Lalor mark their former presence.

David and May Mann’s son David enlisted during the First World War and younger sons Jack and Ken served in the Second World War. Another son, Bill Mann, was a councillor for the Shire of Whittlesea from 1954-61.