BILLIS & KENYON - PIONEER PASTORAL HISTORIANS


Eighty years ago a book was published in Melbourne which has become a standard reference work for anyone researching the early settlement of Victoria. The book was "Pastoral Pioneers of Port Phillip" and its authors were Ralph Vincent Billis and Alfred Stephen Kenyon. Both men were senior Public Servants with long careers in government departments involved in rural affairs.

[Ralph Vincent Billis]

Ralph Vincent Billis was born in 1879 at Castlemaine, Victoria, the youngest son of John Billis and his wife Jessie, nee MacDonald. At the time of his father's death in 1892 the family were living in the Melbourne suburb of Auburn.

After leaving school Bills began a career in the Victorian State Public Service. In May 1910, while holding the position of private secretary to the Chairman of the Water Supply Commission, Mr. Elwood Mead, he sailed on the "Orvieto" as part of a State immigration mission to Europe, America and Canada. The object of the delegation was to make known the opportunities awaiting farmers in the irrigation districts of Victoria.

On 24 December 1910, at St. John's Presbyterian Church, Paddington, London, England, he married Hilda May Henry, third daughter of Lt.-Col. Douglas Lennox Henry and his wife Mary Agnes, nee McCarthy. They lived in Highgate, London for a time before eventually arriving back in Australia per "Osterley" in August 1911.

His wife had been born in 1883 at Castlemaine, Victoria. Her father had joined the Castlemaine Rifles in 1875 and received promotions as Captain (1888); Major (1892) and Lieutenant-Colonel (1896). He was in command of the Victoria Volunteer Cadet Forces when the Commonwealth took over. In 1909 he resigned his appointment because of ill-health, but when his health improved he became associated with the Education Department.

Billis's career in the Victoria Public Service also included periods acting as private secretary to George Swinburne, while Minister for Lands and Water Supply, and private secretary to William Alexander Watt, while Premier of Victoria. He made further trips to Europe in the early 1920s. Later as secretary of Australian Farms Ltd., a non-profit organisation formed to bring overseas settlers to this country, he was associated with a plan to settle Indian Army officers on subdivided estates.

As "R.V.B." of the "Australasian" he was known to readers of "The Argus" publications from 1930 for his wide and discerning knowledge of pastoral subjects. He was regarded as a leading authority on sheep and wool.

He died on 17 November 1947 at his residence, 7 Creswick Street, Hawthorn, Victoria, aged 68 years, and was privately interred. His wife died in 1966 at Kew, Victoria aged 80 years. They had a number of children.


[Alfred Stephen Kenyon]

Alfred Stephen Kenyon was born on 7 December 1867 at Homebush, Victoria, the second son of Alfred Henderson Kenyon and his wife Agnes Fleming, nee Agnew. His father was originally from Manchester, Lancashire, England and his mother from Glasgow, Scotland.

Kenyon spent his early years on the land in the Wimmera. In 1881 his family moved to Melbourne where he was enrolled at St. Stephen's Grammar School, Richmond before going on to study civil engineering at Melbourne University. He entered the Victorian Public Works Department in 1887 and transferred to the newly formed Victorian Water Supply Department in 1888, eventually becoming Senior Engineer of the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission in 1911.

On 2 April 1895 in Victoria he married Alexandrine Amelie Leontine Delepine, daughter of F. Delepine and his wife Justine of St. Heliers, Channel Islands. They had one daughter, Justine Agnes Delepine Kenyon, born 1897 in Richmond, Victoria, married in August 1938 in Victoria to Otto Colerio Tyrer, and died on 3 October 1988 in Victoria.

Apart from his qualifications and memberships in the Engineering profession, he spent terms as President of the Historical Society of Victoria; the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria; the Anthropological Society of Victoria; and the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy. He also held positions in a number of other organisations and published a number of books. With Billis he published over 200 squatter biographies in "The Argus" and "Australasian" newspapers.

Prior to his retirement on superannuation in 1935 he would regularly spend a few hours on Saturday afternoons at the Melbourne Public Library to open their Coin Room to the public. Following his retirement he became their honorary numismatist. In 1940, as the National Museum's Numismatist and Historian, he was reportedly having "Ku Huo Fu Weng" engraved in Chinese and put over the door to his office, a phrase which translated as "the venerable gentleman of the ancient coins."

He died on 14 May 1943 at his residence, "Warringal," Lower Plenty Road, Heidelberg, Victoria aged 75 years. He was buried the following day at Heidelberg Cemetery. His wife had predeceased him on 20 August 1940 at Heidelberg, Victoria.


[Pastures New]

"Pastures New" was the first book jointly compiled by Billis and Kenyon and was published in 1930 in Melbourne by Macmillan & Co. It is a history of the pastoral settlement of Port Phillip and includes extracts from the diaries and notes of pioneer pastoralists. It also contains an account of the Merino wool and wool-growing industry in Port Phillip. The Foreword was written by General Sir Harry Chauvel, G.C.M.G., K.C.B. A second edition was published in 1974 by the Stockland Press Ltd., and a computerised edition on CD has since been produced.


[Pastoral Pioneers of Port Phillip]

"Pastoral Pioneers of Port Phillip" was their second book. It was first published in Melbourne in 1932 by Macmillan & Co. It is divided into two parts. The first part contains an A - Z listing of the surnames of the pioneer pastoralists with details of the properties they held together with some biographical information about them. The second part contains an A - Z listing of the names of the properties or runs with information about their size, number of livestock, successive owners, etc. An important feature being that an entry in one part of the book can be cross-checked against an entry in the other part.

A second edition was published in 1974 by the Stockland Press Ltd. For this edition Paul de Serville updated many of the entries using information from copies of the first edition which contained extensive revisions and annotations made by A. S. Kenyon before his death. He also sought to correct any misprints or obvious biographical errors. Paul de Serville's editorship of this book obviously provided him with a sound knowledge of the period for use in his own works "Port Phillip Gentlemen" (1980) and "Pounds and Pedigrees" (1991).

In 1983 a sequel to "Pastoral Pioneers of Port Phillip" was published in Melbourne by Red Rooster Press. Compiled by Robert Spreadborough and Hugh Anderson and entitled "Victorian Squatters" it extends the history of individual pastoral runs into the 1850s. Like Billis and Kenyon, both authors had careers in the State Public Service, Spreadborough as an historical expert with the Lands Department and Anderson as a head teacher.

Notes compiled by A. S. Kenyon and used in the compilation of these books are held by the State Library of Victoria and the Royal Historical Society of Victoria. The State Library of Victoria also has on open access a card index compiled by Kenyon in an attempt to produce an index to all arrivals in the Port Phillip District prior to Separation in 1851. It is housed in six drawers of a metal filing cabinet in the Reference Section of the La Trobe Library, off the domed Reading Room.

Contributed by Alexander Romanov-Hughes ( PPPG Member No. 52 )


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