The Pearsons of Mount Ridley

Aerial view of Mt. Ridley

Photos courtesy of Vic Spano and

(Mt Ridley Station with Captain Pearson's sons dated 1875 - 1886)

Written and researched by Jenni Clohesy


Many thanks to Jenny who researched and wrote these pages and allowed the use of on this site.

With acknowledgements to the descendants of the characters within this page.

Ross Pearson of Burwood (a descendant of the good captain) Ross allowed access to the Journals of Captain Pearson and F. R. Godfrey assisted the research task enormously.  The personal accounts detailed herein would not have been possible without these private family papers.

Noel Williams of Ballarat - his ancestors John Williams and Lillius Alexander of Mickleham.  John was employed at the Mt. Ridley Station and is believed to have planted the boundary pine trees, his second wife, Lillius Alexander was a housemaid and local midwife and spent most of her life in the Mt. Ridley area.  Lillius was the 5th daughter of of the stonemason, James Alexander and Marion Collins whom Captain Pearson brought out from Scotland to work at the station in 1855.

On the 12th of June, 1799 in Furris, Kincardin, Scotland, a son was born to Peter Patrick & Elizabeth (nee Pride) Pearson and was named James.

As an adolescent, James was put to work in a Liverpool Shipping Office and not enjoying his position, ran away to sea.  Family records detail he traded with the East for some years, voyaging to China and India.

His hard work was soon rewarded as at 29 years of age, he is noted as Captain of the vessel 'Lady of the Lake" which was chartered by the British Government in March 1829 to deliver a consignment of female prisoners to Hobart, Van Diemens Land.

Captain Pearson voyage brought him into contact with the developments in the colony of New South Wales.  A remarkable expansion in the N. S. W. pastoral industry was taking place.  During the 1830's sheep farming had become firmly established as the staple industry, with fine wool becoming the most profitable export commodity.

Exploration of the continent was well under way, settlements had earlier been formed at Western Port, Albany and Swan River- all successfully but reports of vast, rich pastures of Port Philip, tempted the fates of Sydneysiders and Van Demonians alike.

Against the backdrop of change, expansion & development in the new colony, Captain James Pearson met and married a Sydney girl, Jane Mackey, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Mackey.  The ceremony was officiated by the Rev. R. Hill at the St. James Church, Sydney on June 27th, 1835.  In the captains own words " a tie for life".  The celebratory bells of St. James ringing out the joyous union of the Capt. and his new wife also heralded the beginning of a tragic 6 year period of the Captain's life.

April the 26th saw the birth of the 1st son, Jamie who died of dysentery before reaching 6 months of age.  The infant was interred in the Mackey Family Vault in Sydney.

The second child a daughter, Janet was born on March 27th 1838, possibly while on a sea voyage as she was christened in Calcutta.  The following year, in Perth, W. A., the third and final child born to the captain and Jane, was a son who came into the world three weeks early on November 6th.  Mother Jane was very poorly, her body wasted away and so racked with pain and experiencing breathing difficulties that the Captain prayed to the Almighty to ease her from her earthly existence.  The Captain was obliged when on November 25, 1839 the idyllic life with his beloved Jane came to an end "closing the scene of all happiness" that had been promised for life and ended after only four short years.

The newborn son quickly became ill with inflammation of the bowel and on Dec 3rd, the four week old bairn was laid to rest, united with Mother Jane in the Perth Cemetery. The remaining child, Janet, stayed with her Father until her early death in June 1841.  The three year old was interred with the first born, Jamie in the Mackey Vault in Sydney.

The good Captain resumed his voyaging and on return to Sydney from Port Philip in March 1842, the captain found his father-in-law had fallen extremely ill.  When Mr. Mackey died in the captain's arms on March 8th, the Mackey family where left destitute.  Pearson set the family up in Sydney and made provision for one hundred pounds annuity per annum.  This arrangement continued even after the Mackey family returned to England and the Captain made provision in his will for the annual bequest.

The 1840's was a time when the frontiers and suburbs of Port Philip were being taken up with the residences of the wealthy and near-wealthy.  The newness of Melbourne attracted those men and their families who had fared well for a generation or so.  In the land of limitless horizons, they saw space and opportunity and the chance of fulfillment.

Captain Pearson who had accumulated his wealth through hard work and pitting his fortunes against the challenges of the sea, recognized the prospects Melbourne offered and undertook a Leasing Arrangement from Duncan Cameron on December 21st 1842 for a period of 5 years at seventy pounds per annum.  This 640 acre (a square mile) portion No.12 Parish of Kalkallo, encompassed the north and eastern slopes of the crest of Kinlochewe Hill.

A miniature community of tenant farmers had developed at one mile to the east of a natural ford on the Merri Creek.  The settlement was located just north of present day Summerhill Road of the properties of Thomas Walker's "Banchor Farm" and William Mackenzie's "Kinlochewe Estate" (crown allotments 10 & 11) and had come to be known as Kinlochewe.  The natural ford was used by the northwest travelers who had taken the route from Darebin (Epping), Pikes Water Hole (Wollert), and a north westerly track across the open country to Kinlochewe (using Kinloch Hill as the land mark), Rocky Water Holes, the Big Hill (Kilmore) and beyond. 

Enterprising colonists had taken advantage of the passing trade and serviced the thirst travelers and stock at wayside stop-overs along the route, with Kinlochewe being no exception.  Frances Murison's wooden Kinlochewe Inn, provided a convenient location for social discourse and quenching of the thirst while collecting the mail.  The location and potential of the growing settlement and commercial premises (on the Sydney - Port Philip road), directly opposite Cameron's station assured Captain Pearson of a convenient accessible, pastoral leasehold.

With the leasing business settled, the Captain returned to sea again.  His associations with sea-faring folk led to his second marriage to Augusta Sarah Godfrey - the daughter of John Race Godfrey, Captain R. N. (Dartmouth)

At the age of 26 years, Augusta (or Gussie as she was affectionately known) married Captain James Pearson at St.  Petrox Church, Dartsmouth, Devon on June 30th, 1846 and immediately began preparations to sail to Port Philip District with her new husband and 18 year old cousin Frederick Race Godfrey (1826 - 1910).

The Pearson's long journey to port Philip was very rough and hampered by intermittent ill winds and becalmed seas.  Gussie was 3 - 4 months pregnant and was not traveling well at all. She had fallen ill and remained that way for three weeks, her tongue was so covered with blisters that she couldn't swallow food or liquid.

F. R. Godfrey recorded in a letter to his father Colonel Race Godfrey

"...Augusta has been a bad sufferer.  I feared at one time that she was not going to live, she was so weak...but am happy to say is better now, and sitting up in her cabin today..." [November 21, 1846]

Captain and Augusta stayed in Port Philip for the imminent birth of their first child, a daughter, Augusta Janet who was born April 12th, 1847 within five weeks of docking at Port Philip.

At the Government land sales held December 30th later that year, the Captain purchased four separate sections of land representing a total holding of 1547 acres in the parish of Yuroke. The holdings were situated on the south side of Somerton Road, from Pascoe Vale Road west to the Mickleham Road.

As the leasehold on Kinloch Hill was becoming due for renewal, Captain Pearson purchased the previously leased property from Cameron and establishing a squatting run on the land adjoining the western boundary.  With the acquisition of Kinloch Hill completed, Pearson renamed the geographical feature "Mt. Ridley" after a rocky outcrop behind Augusta's family house in Dartmouth, Devonshire.

The Captain and Gussie's second child, a son, James Godfrey Pearson was born in Melbourne on August 22nd, 1848.

The Pearsons moved to Mount Ridley Station and lived in a house on the run leased from the Crown, west of the present homestead block.  When eventually offered for sale, occupation of a homestead on the allotment often allowed a pre-emptive right at an upset price (usually one pound per acre).

Frederick Race Godfrey visited on many occasions, using the Pearson's house as an over night stop on his journeys from the 180 square mile Boort station in the Loddan District.  His business was usually transacted the next day in Melbourne and culminated in "tea" with the Chambers, then riding back to Mt. Ridley 17 miles for the night.

On one such visit in 1849, Godfrey found Pearson planting trees in the shrubbery prior to the Captain's departure to Sydney.  Godfrey had been appointed in charge during the Captain's absence and was wanting instructions regarding his duties.  The months of July and August five small indications of Godfrey's daily life at Mt. Ridley

July 29th:  Walking the six miles around the garden at evening

July 31st:  Calling to the Inn to collect the incoming mail (probably Parnell's Inn)

August 1st: Riding to the top of Bald Hill (east of Rocky Water Holes) and viewing the surrounding countryside, all under cultivation, "much like home but on a grander scale".

Little Freddy Pearson was born April 1850, to Gussie and the Captain and like the previous births, delivered in Melbourne.  The family returned to Mt. Ridley to supervise the construction of the new residence, Frederick R. Godfrey recorded the plastering, windows in and flooring being laid in Mid June, 1850.  Towards the end of the month, Godfrey assisted the Captain with the assembly of the beautiful marble fireplaces with once graced the expansive living areas.

The outer bluestone walls of the home are said to have been quarried from the grounds of Mt. Ridley Station and the Victorian Gazette of 1871 noted...

"...A good bluestone quarry lies within a quarter mile west of Sydney Road..."

Godfrey's business commitments kept him busy in Boort and it appears, away from Mt. Ridley.  Reference to Mt. Ridley is not made in his journal until a visit on the 15th of November later that year (1850) and

"...found the Pearsons settled into their big new house...the piano and Gussie's voice sounded to great advantage in the large drawing room..."

A little daughter, Emily Lillias Pearson was born to the Captain and Gussie at Mt Ridley 24 December 1851.

The fact that Mt. Ridley received so many guests, speaks in part, to the Pearsons good connections with Port Philip society.  The Pearsons entertained many large house parties including the bishop and his wife in 1853.

Yet, despite the house parties, the servants and the apparent refinements from home, conditions could be harsh and uncompromising.  It seems that nature fought back in every way it could, refusing to be tames.  In February 1850, Godfrey noted in his diary that conditions were '..very sultry and hot with thousands of flies, fleas and reptiles of every sort, color and kind at Mt. Ridley and crowds of vermin flying about at night"

The threat of bush fire was also a major concern for the Pearson's, given the lack of any significant water supply nearby. On Thursday February 6, 1851, their worst fears came perilously close to being realised.  On that day the Yuroke Plains were devastated by a bushfire that burned all the way from Melbourne, past Mt. Ridley and further northward.

Remarkably, though the fire was heading directly towards Mt. Ridley it actually changed course and only burned the lower reaches of the eastern side of the hill, leaving the homestead untouched, while the nearby village of Kinlochewe was burned to the ground.  Watching the fire approaching from the vantage point of Mt. Ridley must have been a terrifying experience for the Pearsons.

Just two months later the family would receive a much harsher blow, when two year old Freddy died on March the 3rd 1851.  Freddy was buried in Melbourne at the Old Cemetery site.  In 1854 a little son was born at Mt. Ridley and the Captain and Gussie named him Alexander William Pearson.  Just a year later in 1855 another daughter Caroline Maria Josephine was born at Mt. Ridley.

On the 19th of June 1855 James Alexander a stone mason arrived from Scotland to work on the station he is employed for three months with rations.

After 15 years at Mt. Ridley the Pearsons left for England in 1858 to educate their sons. Sending the boys home was fairly common for pastoralists. Frederick Race Godfrey, leased the property (1858 - 1875) for the duration of their time away from Australia.

In 1860 David Chambers Pearson was born to the Captain and Gussie and in 1862 Blanche Alice was born, both in Suffolk, England.

As always planned, the Pearson boys took over the running of the 'Mt. Ridley" and "Wheatlands" property when they returned from England.  In 1875 James Godfrey Pearson the eldest son of the Captain returned to Australia, he and another brother took over the Mt. Ridley and Wheatlands properties.

Mt. Ridley was sold out of the family and out of the Pearson name in 1885. After the Pearsons sold Mt. Ridley the home had a succession of owners.  The house detereated rapidly up until the 1970s when several Australian Film production companies used the house as a set, and offered to restore sections of it.

Additions to Mt. Ridley have been -  building blocks found in the upper storey indicate the second storey and double storey stable were built 1880 - 1890.  The frieze scene in one of the rooms has been dated 1910.  The kitchen, once a courtyard between two wings of the house in believed to have been added around 1930.

Newer alterations such as the 1930 period decorated drawing room were completed for the filming of Phar Lap in November of 1982.  The producers of this film brought in many English plants, a fountain and constucted a circular drive.

Recent times have as seen scenes for Mad Max and Squizzy Taylor filmed on the premises and in the extensive grounds.

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