MELBOURNE'S MYSTERY MAN


[George Mackillop]

In Melbourne's early days there were two McKillops, one named Alexander, the other George. Both were from Edinburgh, Scotland but were not related. Alexander was a Roman Catholic and in his earlier days had studied at the Vatican for the priesthood. However he migrated to Melbourne and first lived at Fitzroy. Afterwards he moved to Bundoora where he established a dairy farm. His claim to fame is as the father of Mary McKillop, Australia's first Saint. On the other hand, George McKillop made a significant contribution in shaping the destiny of Melbourne, but how those contributions fully fit together remains a mystery.

He was a very dynamic settler whose contributions included being the first to explore eastern Gippsland; making superior economic evaluations of the Melbourne settlement; arranging the first overlanding of cattle from New South Wales; and persuading the British Government to hold the first series of land sales in Melbourne. It was known that he had explored the region around Lake Omeo in early 1835 but no detail was known about that episode, or his exploration skills. McKillop came from a wealthy family with strong links with Charles Swanston, George Mercer, and possibly with Governors Richard Bourke and George Arthur. He came to Hobart, Van Diemen's Land in the early 1830's and became interested in finding an overland route to the south coast of the Port Phillip District ( Victoria ) in order to shorten the freighting of cattle by sea from the Monaro in south-east N.S.W. The unsuitability of V.D.L. for raising cattle meant that the imports from the Monaro were a vital element in the V.D.L. economy. The Imlay brothers had pastoral runs at Twofold Bay whence they operated a weekly shipping service for freighting cattle to V.D.L., and it was first thought that McKillop used this service as his entry point for his exploration of Omeo. However, his exploration began in Sydney, but how it tied in with John Batman's first exploration at Port Phillip remains a mystery.

When George Bass discovered Westernport Bay in 1798, Sir Joseph Banks envisaged a grand highway linking it with Sydney. Little did he realise that his straight line on the map passed through the Australian Alps. Nevertheless, from early times, one of the corridors of exploration south from Sydney was through the mountain passes towards Bass Strait. This was encouraged by the Aborigines who told about the fine green pastures "beyond the white capped mountains."

By 1829 most of the Monaro high plains had been settled, and a few years later, the frontier of settlement had reached the Snowy River near Bombala. Along the coastal fringe, Twofold Bay had attracted attention as a suitable port for the Monaro region. In 1834, James Atkinson unsuccessfully sought to form an official settlement there, and Governor Bourke explored the region, no doubt to see the area first hand. Meanwhile Dr. John Lhotsky had pioneered a route between Mount Kosciusko and the Great Dividing Range, across a short distance into eastern Victoria. He crossed the Snowy River at a ford which he named 'Pass Britannia' but returned to Sydney without going further to Omeo.

At the same time in V.D.L., interest in crossing Bass Strait was mounting and entrepreneurs like George McKillop were enthusing about the fine pastures at Port Phillip. In January 1835, Swanston wrote to Mercer in Edinburgh that McKillop had gone to Sydney with the intention of going to southern N.S.W. At Sydney McKillop organised an exploration party which included James McFarlane, Livingston and Jeanes together with at least one Aborigine. The party followed Lhotsky's route into Victoria, crossed the Snowy River at Deddick (Pass Britannia) known nowadays as McKillop's Crossing. Thence along today's McKillop's Way past McFarlane's Lookout and reached the "green pastures" at Lake Omeo [ he named it 'Omis' ]. Afterwards they went south to the ranges north of Orbost to view the coast of Bass Strait. In the process McKillop found the area unsuitable not only as a port, but also for marshalling cattle, and so the party prepared to retrace their steps. From this point on the story becomes confusing.

Back In V.D.L. on 6 June 1835 ( the day when Batman was negotiating the treaties at Port Phillip ) Swanston wrote to Mercer that "McKillop had just returned from N.S.W." and so there is an interim period of about 10 weeks in which McKillop's movements remain a mystery and the sporadic reports are hard to reconcile with the main thrust of events at Port Phillip. There is a hint that McKillop explored around the Mitta Mitta River but this could be anywhere between Omeo and the Murray River. In V.D.L. James Simpson told John Helder Wedge that he had seen one of McKillop's party named Jeanes who told him about "the very fine country running south towards Westernport" [ did he mean Port Phillip Bay? ]. The "True Colonist" newspaper at Hobart on 17 September 1835 provides an answer but in doing so raises further tantalising questions. "McKillop has travelled overland with 11 horses and baggage from Sydney to the settlement --- out 11 weeks. He speaks very favourably of the 800 miles of country being well watered, very level and good grazing land except for about 30 miles of very scrubby land. His objective was to ascertain if sheep could be driven from Sydney to the settlement." There is also a hint that he visited Camden [ to see the MacArthurs? ].

At first glance, this appears to cover the period from February / March to early June as stated by Swanston. However, if this were the case, then McKillop should have made contact with Batman, whom he preceded to Port Phillip. On the other hand, if the journey was taken after his return to V.D.L. ( and mention of "the settlement" suggests this ) then there is scarcely enough time to fit the journey between early June and 17 September when the report was published. In either case the question of how he travelled across Bass Strait remains unanswered. Furthermore if the journey took place after June, then what McKillop did after February / March still has to be accounted for. In both cases McKillop became the first overlander of cattle and not John Gardiner, Joseph Hawdon and John Hepburn. Overriding all this is the puzzle why the episode is not even mentioned in mainstream historical records.

From "As I Understand It . . . . - Essays Relating to the Founding of Melbourne" by Rex Harcourt.


GEORGE MACKILLOP

George Mackillop was born in Scotland c1790. George married Jean Eleanora Hutton. Until the early 1830s they lived in Edinburgh, Scotland where George was a merchant trading in India, particularly in Calcutta. He also bought and sold properties.

In the early 1830s George, with his family, travelled to Van Diemens Land ( now Tasmania ) and for a number of years lived in Hobart where they were neighbours of the Learmonths, another early pioneering family in Victoria. In 1835 George and his party travelled south from Sydney, New South Wales and explored land near Lake Omeo. During the next few years George was involved in the early establishment of the new settlement of Port Phillip, owning a number of properties before deciding in the early 1840s to sell his properties in Van Diemens Land and Port Phillip and return to England.

George and his family settled at 26 Grosvenor Place, Bath, Somerset, England. George died at Torquay, Devon, England on the 10th July 1865.

Two of his sons, Charles and John Mackillop, continued the family association with India by attending the East India Company College and then working in India. John died at the Siege of Cawnpore in 1857.

Two of George's daughters returned to Australia to live. Eleanora Mackillop married William Forbes Hutton, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Madras Army. William Forbes Hutton travelled to Australia in 1871 and Eleanora arrived with the children three years later. The Huttons settled on a property, 'Cooring Yerring,' at Lilydale, Victoria. Georgina Mackillop married Colonel Thomas Bruce Hutton, also from the Indian Army, and they settled in Dandenong, Victoria.

( Biographical Notes and Photograph from his Great-Granddaughter, Vicki Court of Melbourne. )


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