JOHN & ANN FRASER BON, WAPPAN STATION, DELATITE RIVER
This inward bound letter had three stamps from England postmarked with a duplex of LONDON-N/ X/ NO 25/ 60 with a barred obliterator N/ 16 addressed to John Bon Esq, Wappan, Delatite River, Melbourne Australia (Figure 1).
Interestingly the Australian Dictionary of Biography was for his wife Ann Fraser Bonn with limited information about her husband. Ann was born 9 April 1838 at Dunning, Scotland the daughter of David Dougall, physician and his wife Jane, née Fraser. In 1858 she married a family friend John Bon at Dunning, who was thirty-three years her senior. He was a partner in a Scottish pastoral company with extensive properties in the Port Phillip District raising stud cattle at Wappan on the Delatite River and John Bon managed to buy the holdings from his partners in 1845, and he became a rich man. Many of the Aboriginal men worked as stockmen for John Bon who was described as a fair and compassionate man. He was one of the few pastoralists who paid his indigenous workforce and allowed them to continue their traditional lifestyle. A picture of John Bon is seen in Figure 2.
He went to Scotland for a short visit, married Ann and he returned to Australia with his bride in 1858. In spite of the birth of 3 sons and 2 daughters between 1860 and 1868, Ann was increasingly active in station management, and in this she was encouraged by her husband, who was described as a humane and greatly respected man. He died suddenly on 21 November 1868, and she took over the management of Wappan completely, still directing the management when her sons were old enough to share in the work. A drawing of Wappan Station ca. 1880 is shown in Figure 3.
She was devoutly religious, imperious in manner, lonely with few close friends, but those in need, particularly to the Aboriginals, she showed compassion and generosity. Her home at Kew, Melbourne was a refuge for the sick and needy and she regularly visited sick Aboriginals in Melbourne hospitals. She campaigned vigorously for the rights of Aboriginals and she antagonised the members of the Board for the Protection of Aborigines, so that she was blocked from joining the Board. This did not stop her from continuing direct intercessions with government members on their behalf. In 1904 she did become a board member and attended meetings regularly until 1936.
She maintained a voluminous correspondence with Aboriginals all over Victoria, and she earned reprimands for ‘disloyalty’ on three occasions when she protested her to the minister that her colleagues’ decisions had caused injustice or hardship. Ann was described as a philanthropist for she was a benefactor to the Austin Hospital, Melbourne, the Salvation Army, a school for Chinese children, Presbyterian churches and in World War One she donated an ambulance to the Belgian army., for which she was decorated by King Leopold.
When it was clear that the construction of the Sugar Loaf Weir and Lake Eildon would eventually flood much of Wappan land, Mrs Bon retired to the Windsor Hotel, Melbourne, where she lived as a virtual recluse. She died, aged 98, on 5 June 1936 and was buried in Kew cemetery. In her later years she had been visited daily by William, the younger of her two surviving sons, who took up residence in Menzies Hotel, Melbourne when water reached the Wappan homestead, and he too lived as a recluse.
The majority of this account was derived from the on-line Australian Dictionary of Biography.