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JOHN STUART HEPBURN, SEA-FARER, PASTORALIST/LANDHOLDER, VICTORIA

The entire is addressed Captain Hepburn of the Loddon, 17th Feby. 1850. It is stampless and has an oval framed postmark of MOUNT MACEDON/ [CROWN]/ FE 20/ 1848/ PORT PHILLIP. The entire is headed ‘Smeaton Hill’ and is signed ‘John Hepburn’ and it was sent to the Supreme Court, and was rated ‘4' (Figure 1).

John Stuart Hepburn was born in Scotland in 1800. And initially became a sea-faring man from the age of 13and progressed to become a Master of a 226 ton brig, The Alice, which sailed for Hobart, and it was well-known in Australian waters. On board was John Gardiner, an ex-banker who talked Hepburn into joining him in a pastoral business. Hepburn joined Gardiner and Joseph Hawdon in a successful and celebrated venture to overland cattle from New South Wale to Port Phillip.

Hepburn had previously met up with Captain John Coghill and his brother William who were settled at Kirkham and Strathallan, 283 km south-west of Sydney, which later became Braidwood, New South Wales. In 1837, Hepburn and William Coghill became partners in a plan to overland 1400 ewes, 50 rams and 200 wethers to central Victoria. Shortly after leaving Gundagai N.S.W., they met William Bowman and the parties travelled southward, crossing the Murray River near Albury. Major Mitchell’s tracks were picked up near Wangaratta, Victoria and followed to Mount Alexander, where they set up a lambing camp in April. From Mount Alexander, Hepburn moved on and established the Smeaton Hill Station on 15 April 1838, and he named his homestead Smeaton House after a small hamlet which lay near his birthplace. The Argus (Melbourne) of 1851 stated that "The captain’s domicile has the appearance of an English gentleman’s park". The house is still standing to-day and is occupied bu a prosperous dairy farmer.

Captain Hepburn and his wife were married in London in 1830. Of their 4 sons and six daughters, all but two were born at Smeaton Hill. Benjamin Hepburn was John’s half-brother and many year’s his junior. He spent some time at Smeaton Hill to gain the experience which enabled him to set up a stock and station agency in Ballarat. One of the best known features at Smeaton Hill was the water-mill on Birch’s Creek, erected by Captain Hepburn about 1841. It was used to crush grain from neighbouring properties. During his stay in Smeaton, Hepburn bought an estate of about 33,000 acres.

John Hepburn’s sheep run consisted of several stations, each consisting of its hut, its shepherd and flock. The supply of reliable shepherds was inadequate and his diary abounds with expressions of anxiety on that subject. At night the sheep were folded inside hurdles, and there were watch-boxes for the men as many sheep were lost owing to "rushes" of native dogs, to straying and to smothering during panic due to storms, fires and floods. Another problem was the finding of gold in the area which led to a large influx of miners into the area. Many of the goldmines in the Smeaton area had the Hepburn family attached to them, for example: "Hepburn Home Paddock Nos. 1 and 2, Captain Hepburn and Lady Hepburn".

The rural town of Hepburn Springs is named after him. John Hepburn died in 1860 at the age of 57, and he and members of his family are buried in a small cemetery on the property.

A picture of Captain John Hepburn is seen in Figure 2.

 
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