BARON KARL von SWAINE, ORCHARDIST at LANCASTER via KYABRAM, VIC.
A very ordinary 1885 South Australia Newspaper Only wrapper with a purple printed One Penny stamp with an indecipherable date is addressed to Baron von Swaine, P.O. Lancaster via Kyabram Victoria (Figure 1).
It is a coincidence that the only other paper I have written featuring a member of the baronage was also addressed on a newspaper wrapper, namely to Baroness von Koenneritz of Rose Bay N.S.W. She found it convenient to change her name from ‘von’ to ‘de’ prior to World War I, but this was not necessary in Karl’s case, for he returned to Germany in May 1914, because his property was confiscated under the Enemy Aliens Act prior to the start of WWI in August 1914. The Kyabram Free Press described Karl as the “mysterious” Baron, although he was involved in the Kyabram community, but his home is now better known than the man.
Kyabram, is in northern Victoria 200 km from Melbourne and its name is derived from the Yota-yota Aborigines, meaning “thick forest” in their language. The town is attractive to retirees, has a population of 5,500 and the area produces fruit, vegetables, grain and dairy products. The first squatter took up land in the area in 1840 and the land was made available to selectors in the 1870s. Fruit orchards arrived with the first irrigation water in the 1890s. Lancaster [red arrow] is very much smaller, and is situated less than 10 kms from Kyabram [green arrow] (Figure 2).
Baron Karl Alexander von Swaine was born in Dusseldorf, Germany on 21 April, 1870, and it is believed that he arrived in Australia, probably around 1892, at the age of 22. He settled in Lancaster, and in 1893 converted a 4 room cottage into a heritage mansion in the form of the Queen Anne Domestic Revival, a style more commonly associated with suburban Melbourne. His home has gone through many owners and is still known as Karlsruhe. It is situated on the Byrneside/Kyabram Road, Lancaster 8 km east of Kyabram. To-day, the homestead is magnificent and road signs upon entrance to Lancaster proudly announce: Lancaster: Karlsruhe Country. Karlesruhe is dominated by the tower and some of the original palm trees (Figure 3).
Karl quickly became involved in fruit orchards and he had over 700 acres of land, of which 120 acres were planted chiefly with lemons, apricots, peaches, apples and pears. The remainder of his land was devoted to mixed farming. He had an estate manager, a Mr. E.N. Barton, and there were 12 men employed permanently, whereas in the fruit-picking season more than double the men were employed. Karl frequently returned to Germany in his relatively short stay in Australia and he married his wife, a Countess (in her own right) Alice in Switzerland in 1902. Their first son, Henry Ernst Alfred Richard Hermann Barthold von Swaine was born in 1904 in East Melbourne, and he remained an Australian citizen, until his death. During the 10 years between 1903 and 1913 he only returned to his property 3 or 4 times, leaving its management in the hands of Mr. Barton. His wife did not settle long in Lancaster for she returned to Germany in 1905 where she gave birth to their second son in Munich. Karl’s last visit to his property was in May 1914.
Karl was described as a wealthy man who obtained his income from iron mines in Germany. He chose the rural Lancaster area as the climate suited his health. The Historical Society described that the Baron was interested in innovative implements for in 1901 there was a trial of Barger’s patent orchard cultivator conducted at his property. The implement was made in two sizes, for one-horse and two-horse, and it was fitted so that it could be extended and worked within a couple inches of the fruit trees.
Life was not all work and no play, for Karl was a patron of the Kyabram Turf Club and the Lancaster Cricket Club. He also entertained the S.A. Premier Mr. Price, the Chief Secretary, and the Minister of Water Supply with their wives on the property, and all expressed surprise and pleasure the results of irrigation on the shape of the orchards and lucerne production.
So, there are many gaps in our knowledge about Baron Karl von Swaine, but there is one postscript that should be added. In May 1985, the second born son (Alexander August Leopold Denis Robert von Swaine) of the Baron was located. “Baron” Alexander von Swaine, who was 79 at that time, was written to where he lived in Mexico, by the German Embassy in Canberra, telling him that the old mansion was being renovated!
Alexander had become a “premier dancer” and in this capacity had visited Australia in ca. 1960 under the auspices of the Council of Adult Education, and he stated “I failed to find the place where father once lived.” In a letter Alexander remarked: “My father very often talked to me about his life in Australia, which must have covered the happiest time in his life. He often showed me the photos of his house and his garden and he was always hoping that one day I would visit...(the) country and see the home he once owned.... (In) 1942 my father died (at) 72.”
Karl never inherited the title of Baron himself, but he was the nephew of the second Baron and brother of the third Baron. The history of the family is recorded in great detail back to at least to “Baron” Karl Alexander’s great-grandfather, Edward Swaine who was born in Halifax, Yorkshire and went to Weimar, Germany in 1823. He married the daughter of the prime minister of the Grand Duchy of Saxe-Weimar. The marriage must have taken place some thirty or more years before the migration for the couple’s third son was born in London in 1797.
The third son, Henry Joseph Swaine was ‘en-nobled’ in 1858 and in 1874 he was granted the title of the first Baron (Freiherr) with the right to add ‘von’ before the surname. Henry had two sons, the first son Richard born in 1830 became the second Baron von Swaine, but he died without issue. Richard’s brother had a son, Viktor Henry who married and had issue, and the latter became the third Baron, on the death of his uncle, and was known as Richard Heinrich Ascan von Swaine who died in 1954, when the title ceased to have the significance that he enjoyed when he inherited it. Richard had a brother, our Karl Alexander of Lancaster who named himself “Baron”. This abbreviated summary does not do justice to the 3 generations of Barons who married well! Two photos of Baron Karl von Swaine are seen in Figure 4.