Litchfield & Witchipool

(information gleaned from “Litchfield Carron – A Century of Settlement 1874-1974” compiled by Ron. and Honor Falla and other local history publications)

The area we call Litchfield was originally known as Witchipool. In 1892, the railway came to the area and residents were surprised to find the new station called “Litchfield”. At the time the Post Office still bore the name “Witchipool” and this created some confusion. In 1907 the post office was officially renamed “Litchfield”.

Europeans  came to this area in 1845 when squatter Charles Wedge began the “Banyenong West” run. This run was passed to Robert Macredie the following year and was divided up into “Carron” and “Papp” runs. These  runs were eventually acquired by George Pyers of Lawler. The squatters made very little improvement to the land as they were only temporary pastoral tenants.

The 1869 Land Act allowed the areas around Donald to be opened up to smaller selectors. Between March and the end of 1873, 14 selectors had taken up approximately 4,000 acres of Crown Land in the Parish of Witchipool.

The original selectors included:

  • Patrick O’Dowd. He later built “The Lady of the Lake” hotel.
  • Sullivan Bros. They had previously farmed at Moliagul.
  • Hegarty Bros. who came from Talbot.
  • McGowan Bros. They had previously farmed at Jan Juc.
  • Elizabeth Buckley. She married Mr. Sutcliffe.
  • D. McCormack. Originally from Kingower, selected near Lake Buloke and in 1885 built a blacksmith’s shop.
  • John Downes. A Smeaton farmer who pegged out 320 acres but did not receive his “Licence to Occupy” until the following year.

In 1874 the area was further populated when most of the remaining Crown Land was selected. According to the local publication “Litchfield Carron – A Century of Settlement 1874-1974” (compiled by Ron and Honor Falla)  licences “to occupy” were recommended to:

  • Thomas Melican from Mt. Moriac.
  • J.A. and Allen Hepworth from Smeaton Plains.
  • John and Joseph Litchfield from Ballarat.
  • John and James McGannon from Ballarat.
  • J.H. Bolden from Campbelltown near Smeaton.
  • Michael Moloney an emigrant from Ireland.
  • The Baensch family who took up blocks close to Donald.
  • Alex. Kelly from Smeaton. His daughter Agnes Kelly obtained the adjoining block.

Many selectors had been farming in other districts prior to their arrival. Under the land act people from all walks of life were able to obtain up to 320 acres of land. Once the application was approved, a “Licence to Occupy” was issued.

Under this Licence the selectors were required to make various improvements to their blocks including building a residence, fencing and clearing. The Licencee also had to cultivate one acre in ten by the end of three years. A fee of 2/- was paid each year and at the end of the three years the selector was able to acquire an additional  lease at 2/- each year for 7 years, after which time they owned the title outright.

If the selector had been successful during the initial 3 year lease he/she had the option of purchasing the title outright by paying the balance of 14/-.

Whilst many did succeed, others found the difficulties and hardships of pioneer life too much and walked off their land.