Early settlers, the Ginnivan’s unite at family reunion

By Simon Ruppert

The Ensign published an article on the Ginnivan family reunion last week.

Since publication we have been contacted by the family historian, Kathy Gibson, who has provided a wealth of information on the Ginnivan's history.

They were one of Benalla's original families.

She also provided a bit more information on the reunion itself.

This is what she submitted:

During the weekend of October 4 and 5, more than 60 descendants of five Ginnivan brothers William, John, James, Daniel and Patrick, pioneers of the Benalla district, gathered in the Tatong Hall to trace the remarkable history of their forebears.

It was also a good opportunity to rekindle family connections.

The two eldest Ginnivan brothers, William and John selected and settled in the Parish of Kilfeera, on rich farming land along the Holland’s branch of the Broken River.

James, Daniel and Patrick followed soon after settling around Samaria and Tatong.

The Ginnivan family has had a continual farming presence in the Benalla district for more than 160 years.

Regrouping at Tatong proved to be a way of reconnecting those who did not know the place, their history or each other, with others who had vivid childhood and working life memories of living on the land and in the wider community.

Benalla’s Ginnivan Family reunited at a special family get together last weekend

In the late 1850s, when the first brothers arrived, North East Victoria was swarming with hordes of surveyors mapping out the land.

There were also labourers constructing the first buildings for settlement, gold miners trekking up to diggings, bushrangers terrorising gold coaches, squatters, settlers and whatever horse and carriage attracted their fancy.

Not to mention Aboriginal people preserving millennial lifestyles.

The area was a place of promise, opportunity and finally stability; a place to have a home, a wife and a family.

The establishment of the land office in Benalla had signalled that the area was designated as a major settlement area.

William and John’s initial land purchases were by auction, prior to, but under the terms of, the later Nicholson Land Act 1860, Victoria's first land legislation.

Settlement had become a priority for the government of the fledgling state of Victoria.

The influx of a population from across the globe to the Victorian goldfields had generated strident demands for smaller landholdings for families to settle and take up farming.

Surprising to some, was the backstory to the Benalla settlement.

Both William and John left Ireland at the time of the famine “Black 47”.

Not given much attention in our history classes, but the extent of this tragedy has now awakened much wider attention.

Both boys, John around 16 years, and William a couple of year older, along with many thousands of others jumped onto ships from the wharves of Dublin to sail across to America-New York and Boston.

William was the first to head off to Australia via Sydney, after getting wind of the opportunities burgeoning there especially in Victoria.

John came to Melbourne to join his brother in Benalla a couple of years later, forgoing his American citizenship so, fortuitously avoiding the Civil War.

James and Daniel each sailed independently in 1863 and Patrick and wife Hanorah in 1870.

Despite the difficulties of the times, none of brothers voyaged as part of any assisted passage scheme.

One of the principal aims of the reunion was to showcase the beautiful landscape of the Broken River Valley and the expanse of rich farmland on which the properties that the first Ginnivans, and subsequent generations, farmed along the Tatong Rd, Samaria Rd and on the northern side Benalla at Mount Ada and Winton.

At each of the properties, groups heard the story of who and how the land was acquired and accounts of farming activities conducted in each place and some yarns.

Tragedy struck the family when Dan Ginnivan was killed in 1873 when riding back to Samaria from his brothers property.

He rode into a recently constructed wire fence across a well known track.

Accidents like this were common where selectors were pressured to ensure fencing was in place as part of the conditions of land grants and to curb cattle and horses being impounded or stolen by unscrupulous elements in the area.

Childbirth was fraught with risk and Mary Barry, first wife of John Ginnivan, was one who succumbed to unattended medical care.

Life on the land was isolated. The accidental death by asphyxiation of Honorah, wife of Patrick was a tragic death.

Occupation health and safety education did not feature strongly at the time.

In 1873, when the railway came to Benalla, we were surprised to see the number of properties, houses and shops that family members occupied along Carrier St.

It must have been a stopping place to store and collect farm produce machinery and goods from rail transport.

Transporting farm produce was not the only occupation in town.

James Ginnivan complemented farming with running a hotel in Bridge St, the Vineyard.

His sons conducted several butcher shops in the vicinity, the Federal and the Somerset.

As if they didn’t have enough to manage on their own properties, interaction for the best interests of the local community was a theme of Ginnivan lives.

Civic leadership was especially featured in the life of William Ginnivan.

He was a Benalla Shire Councillor from 1873-1876 and 1887 -1896, a total of 13 years of service.

Another William, his nephew, would later become a Benalla Shire Councillor from 1918- 1924.

One of the amusing and confusing aspects of the stories was the nicknames for all the “Johns and Williams” that appeared in each branch of the family - Black Bill, Poddy Bill, Gentlemen Jack and Black Jack and White Jack.

The characters and their farming properties starting to resemble a chess board.

After a big day of tours, talks and displays, there was a full house and wonderful meal and drinks at the Tatong Tavern, where all could sit and talk to each other, sharing snippets of the story.

Sunday morning combined a Cemetery tour hosted by Leo Ginnivan, plus a visit to the FCJ Heritage Centre and the Benalla Art Gallery.

At the final gathering around Weary Dunlop’s memorial, plans were laid to take the story into the next generation with special attention to the reverence for the land as environment.