Shearing the flock Wandovale area circa 1900. Courtesy: The Vern McCallum Collection.

In the early days of settlement, pastoral leases were big business in what is now known as the Glenelg Shire.

And the famous Henty brothers certainly had a stranglehold on the industry, running hundreds of thousands of acres with many thousands of head of cattle and sheep.

From storemen to shepherds, shoemakers to poultry keepers, fencers, blacksmiths and storemen, the pastoral leases operated in the 1800s employed hundreds of people and were an early economic booster for the fledgling settlement.



Templeton's threshing machine at work at Wandovale in 1908. Courtesy: McCallum Collection.

They were such large-scale operations that they sometimes required hundreds of farm workers to keep them in business. Many of the 11,395 assisted immigrants who arrived in Portland Bay between 1851 and 1857 were snapped up by lease owners and managers desperate for more hands to run their land.

Portland Family History Society President Anne Grant says in the early days of settlement, the pastoral leases were vast tracts of land – one was more than 57,000 acres – with no fences, making the need for an adequate number of shepherds extremely important.

"Three shepherds were required for every 250-300 sheep – a day shepherd, a night shepherd and a hut keeper as well," Anne says.

"The shepherds were often required to be away for long periods in grazing areas that were far away from the homestead. The hut keeper, who was in some cases the wife of one of the shepherds, 'kept house' while they were away, cooking and looking after the team.

"The combination of no fences and hostile Aborigines made for a very dangerous life as a shepherd, and many were injured and some killed whilst carrying out their duties."



Scooping the loose clay out of the dam with the horse team. Courtesy: The Vern McCallum Collection.

Some of the earliest pastoral licences in Victoria, and what is now the Glenelg Shire, were those held by the Henty brothers. Edward Henty's property Muntham was around 28,600 hectares (57,300 acres) and ran 3000 cattle and 12,000 sheep with approximately 120 shepherds needed to look after the animals.

Anne says this massive pastoral operation would have required all the employees mentioned previously plus gardeners, dairymen, doggers, shoemakers, housemaids, butchers, cattlemen and saddlers. Edward Henty held Muntham between 1837 and 1866, making his family even more wealthy than it already was.

Anne says Francis Henty held Merino Downs, a property of some 23,500 acres, running 200 head of cattle and 14,000 sheep between 1837 and 1867. The property was purchased by Francis Henty's family after that, and it remains in their family to this day.

Another large-scale pastoral lease that operated during the early days of settlement was Sandford, also run by a Henty brother, this time John. Sandford ran 1000 head of cattle and 8000 sheep between 1843 and 1847.



Workers and family members in the backyard of the Merino Hotel. Courtesy: The Vern McCallum Collection.

With the amount of people employed and the vast amount of economic activity they generated, the Henty brothers' pastoral leases operating in the region at the time could have been considered their own, stand-alone towns.

But the Hentys didn't stop with those three pastoral leases, according to Anne. The Henty brothers also leased other holdings including Connell's Run, Richmond, Newlands, Ardachy, Kadnook, Koroite, Buckle Kupple, Mt Sturgeon Plains, Strathfillian, Talangour, Springbank and Cape Bridgewater at different times during the same period.

"Aside from those that the Henty brothers ran, there were many other local stations including Tahara, established in 1838 and Murndal, established in 1837, which the Winter brothers owned and ran," she says.

"There was Snizort, named after a village on the Isle of Skye, run by Hector McDonald, who went on to own Mac's Hotel in Portland, and Mt Eckersly near Heywood, established in 1843 and run by John Bell.

"And Crawford, which was first managed by Christopher Bassett, a man who was speared by Aborigines in the line of duty, and was then leased by Henry Monro and Andrew Cruikshank. Part of this pastoral lease is now Crawford River Wines near Condah."

The Glenelg Shire's pastoral history is indeed a rich one that could be credited with being one of the economic foundations that forged the region.

Why was the area now known as the Glenelg Shire so good for running sheep and cattle?

What happened during some of the battles between pastoral settlers, their staff and the local Indigenous population?

To find the answers to all these questions and more, visit Glenelg Shire Council's museum and research centre History House, where you will find information, documents, paintings and books about Glenelg Shire's pastoral history.


And you'll also find passionate volunteers willing to share their immense knowledge with you!


History House – Museum and Research Centre
Cliff Street, Portland VIC 3305 (PO Box 409)

Phone: (03) 5522 2266

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Open daily 10am-noon and 1pm-4pm. Closed Good Friday and Christmas Day.


For information about pastoral leases in the north, contact:

Casterton Visitor Information Centre

3 Racecourse Road, Casterton VIC 3311

Phone: (03) 5581 2070

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Open daily 9-5 except Good Friday and Christmas Day.


For information about the photographs on this page contact:

The Vern McCallum Collection

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