Caroline Newcomb

Greetings, good people.

I would assume that you have come here today to visit the place that I have resided this past 141 years. I was lain to rest here by my husband, the Rev James Dodgson… Can you see? There’s his name written in the stone.

But it was not as the wife of a church minister that I am best remembered, or entered into the history books – indeed, had one of Geelong’s eastern suburbs to carry my name.

No, it was as one of the famous ‘Lady Squatters’ of the Bellarine Peninsula that I achieved fame – or some would say, notoriety.

Allow me, if you may, five minutes of your time to tell my story.

I was born in London in 1812, to a family of minor means. My father was rarely home – being the British Commissar to Spain. I had a pious upbringing in the Wesleyan faith and remained devout throughout my life. In my youth I was considered quick-witted and resourceful and I was proud of my reputation as an excellent horsewoman. But I had a somewhat weak chest and was advised to move to a warmer, drier climate for the benefit of my health. So it was that I migrated to the Australian colonies in 1833 at the age of 21.

I had obtained employment as English governess to the children of Mr John Batman, the founder of Melbourne. It was in this capacity that I visited the home of Dr Alexander Thompson here in Geelong, and there met the lady who was to become my partner and constant companion for the next 17 years, Miss Anne Drysdale. She was also a houseguest of the good doctor.

Anne was, like Dr. Thomson, Scottish and an experienced, efficient farm manager. She was 20 years older than me, in her prime early forties – and a woman of some means.

From Dr Thomson we bought the Booronggoop sheep run of 10,000 acres and ran it as efficiently as any man could have. We improved and extended until our station covered most of the Bellarine peninsula from Moolap and Point Henry to the Barwon River and down to the outskirts of Portarlington.

On our property we built our mansion, Coriyule, overlooking the Bay at a place now known as Drysdale. It was the latest Victorian style, Neo-Gothic, designed by the renowned architect Charles Laing and built from stones quarried on our own lands. It took three years to build, and during this time Anne and I lived in a single room above our stables.

Once our mansion was built, we were to enjoy only four years of its splendour before my beloved Anne was taken from me when God called her in 1853. I buried her in the grounds of Coriyule, and continued to run the station with sensible efficiency quite alone for the next eight years. But then I became enamoured by both the words and the charms of our local Methodist minister, the Reverend James Dodgson, who was then, 22 years my junior.

James and I married in 1861 and I left my beloved Coriyule to accompany him in ministering to the faithful of Brunswick, in Melbourne, where he was called by the Church.

I retained my Coriyule holdings in management, and enjoyed this arrangement for some 13 years until I died in Brunswick at the age of 62.

I have to say that my husband was always aware – and somewhat in envy of the feelings I had expressed toward my former partner Anne, and after my death, he interred me alongside her at Coriyule. But later, when he sold the estate, he exhumed the two of us and had us re-interred here in this brick grave. Then, when he died, he joined us in an unusual and somewhat uncomfortable threesome.

There, that’s my story. I must say that I am slightly affronted that today Anne and I are depicted simply as pioneering women squatters and pictured as staid, benign mature ladies, when, in our real lives, we were vibrant, active, challenging and always prepared to stand up for ourselves in what was very much a man’s world. In particular, I was prepared to argue my point against any adversary, and our reputation attracted both scandal and envy. But that is enough. You’re dismissed – go and meet some of the others. I have things to do.

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