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William Hay (1816–1908)

William Hay, n.d.

William Hay, n.d.

from Pastoralists' Review, 15 October 1908

It is with deep regret that we have to record the death of one of the few remaining great personalities amongst the pioneer pastoralists of Riverina in the person of Mr. William Hay, of Boomanoomana and Collendina Stations, who passed away at Brighton (Vic.) on the 14th September at the age of ninety-two, greatly beloved by many friends and respected by all who knew him.

Born in 1816 near Banff, Scotland, William Hay was a man who would have made his mark in any sphere in life. Showing at an early stage exceptional brain power, he was sent to the Aberdeen University with the idea that he should devote his talents to the ministry. However, after taking honours in classics in 1834, and in chemistry and natural sciences in 1836, an accidental injury to his hip, resulting in permanent lameness, rendered it imperative that he should seek a more genial climate than that of his native land. As his trend of thought was more philosophic and scientific than devotional, it was perhaps as well that he missed being a minister. He, therefore, decided to come out to Australia, and landed in Sydney in 1839. He spent a few months in New South Wales, and then went to Tasmania, where he started a school, and successfully conducted it for some years.

His pastoral life began in 1851, when (he had crossed over to Victoria some five years previously) he became the owner of the Glenlyon Station, to the east of Seymour. It was rough, hilly country, and not very promising from a squatter's point of view, but he went there to be near his brothers-in-law, William and Arthur Ruffy, and by his untiring energy made a success of it. At that time hired labour was almost unprocurable, as nearly every able-bodied man was "off to the digging." Nothing daunted, however, and ably assisted by his wife, he faced the situation, shepherded his own sheep by day, and taught his sons the Latin grammar and Euclid by night. The following story belongs to this period of his life, and serves as an illustration of his adaptability to circumstances and his unflagging industry. He disliked the old cumbrous lever press for packing wool, and resolved to have a screw press. Money was scarce, and he could not buy one, so he started out with one assistant, cut down a large red gum tree, hewed therefrom a sound piece of timber about 12 ft. long, improvised a turning lathe, and produced a screw of about 6 in. diameter, by means of which he pressed his wool for some three years.

Having in three years cleared off the purchase-money of Glenlyon, he sold out to a neighbour, the late Gideon Stewart, of Habbies Howe, and after a short residence in St. Kilda, about the year 1858 took his family home to Scotland for educational purposes. Mainly owing to the rigour of the climate proving too severe for a member of his family, but also partly from "the call of the wind" proving too strong, he returned to Australia about 1860, and acquired Pine Lodge Station, on the Broken River. Here his pioneering work had practically to be repeated as the place was unfenced and unimproved. His first work was to get rid as far as he could of the shepherds, and let his sheep run at large. (It should be mentioned that he also did this when he first went into the Glenlyon property.) He was too impatient to wait for the completion of his fences, and kept men walking the boundaries and following up and returning any stragglers to their own pasture.

Mr. Hay sold out from Pine Lodge about 1862, and after staying for a year or so in Kew, near Melbourne, to educate his sons, he again got tired of inaction, and bought the Boomanoomana Station, on the New South Wales side of the Murray, nearly midway between Albury and Echuca. It was at the time a cattle station, like nearly all the properties then fronting the Murray. He hastened to get rid of the cattle and replace them with sheep. The cattle sold (at rather poor prices, as there was a slump in the market at that time), he first went up to Yass, and bought some old Merino ewes from the late Harry O'Brien, of Douro Station. A little later he bought some ewes from the Osbornes, of Momalong, and about the same time some from Illillawa, near Hay. He personally took delivery of these sheep, and travelled with them to their destination. The drought period of 1865-8 followed his purchases, and sheep fell in prices to such an extent that they could hardly be given away. He in common with others felt the depressed times acutely, but wasting nothing in extravagances, was able to weather the storm.

Boomanoomana was in those days a box forest run, and Mr. Hay was amongst the first to conceive the idea of ringbarking. This action on Boomanoomana was practically the saving of the situation, and enabled him later on to buy the freehold of the greater portion. The station was little improved when Mr. Hay took it. It was unfenced, except for a cattle fence on the boundaries, and the sheep were allowed to run in comparative freedom until fences could be erected. It was really not until 1870 that he really began to take things more easily.

It was about this period that he began to work hard for the local A. and P. Society. A show was held at Corowa in 1868 and 1869, but seeing that the position was not sufficiently central, Mr. Hay, with the help of the late Robert Lowes, of Corowa, as secretary, moved the whole affair to Jerilderie, where the first show under the new regime was held in 1870. At that time Jerilderie was but a small hamlet, and lacking in accommodation for a large influx of visitors. To make sure of some sort of houseroom, he provided tents, &c., and dispensed abundant hospitality during the two or three days of the show week. Amongst others who were to the front on this occasion may be mentioned George Peppin, John James, and George R. Metford, J. M. Sanger, Alexander Sloane, P. McFarland, A. N. Gilbert, Irving Winter and his nephew, W. Thomson, his two sons, and others whose names cannot be recalled. Many of these have joined the great majority.

In 1873 he bought Collendina Station, some 30 miles further up the Murray.

In the mid seventies Mr. Hay was elected member for the Murray in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, and was instrumental in getting the bill for the construction of the Deniliquin and Moama railway carried. He refused a nomination for the Upper House, as the vacating of his seat in the Lower House at that time would, he thought, have been detrimental to the interests of his constituency.

This imperfect chronicle ends the phases of his squatting life. For over twenty-five years he had his home in Brighton, Victoria. He was one of the first members of the Australian Club, and will always be kindly remembered by those to whom he was personally known. He was a man of deep reading, averse from display or pretension, and liked the companionship of young people as well as that of men of his own age and experience. The mere possession of wealth was no passport to his friendship; his friends were of all classes and conditions. It needed no long association to cement a friendship with him—a chance acquaintance on board ship has often experienced such life-long friendship. His marvellous faculties were maintained to the end. His mind did not wander to the last.

Original publication

Citation details

'Hay, William (1816–1908)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 April 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

William Hay, n.d.

William Hay, n.d.

from Pastoralists' Review, 15 October 1908

Life Summary [details]


Banff, Banffshire, Scotland


14 September, 1908 (aged ~ 92)
Brighton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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