Excerpts from Memoirs of Anna Newsom Bage and Edward Bage

compiled by their son, Charles Bage, 1928


In the same year, 1855, my father, whose work took him for long periods to distant parts of the Western district, moved to Colac, the centre of a rich pastoral district. There ensued a few months residence in a very lonely house with a lunatic for a neighbour, and when my father was absent my mother would put out the lights and pile her furniture against the doors in her fear of the unfortunate madman, who walked the roads at night.

It was not long, however, before my father bought a piece of land overlooking the lake and built a comfortable house into which they moved on April the 28th 1856, and where for six or seven years my mother enjoyed the pleasures of gardening and rural life, besides making acquaintance with many of the squatters’ families round about and being able to afford hospitable entertainment to her friends. This house, much enlarged and now known as Thornbank, is situated on a promontory to the west of the Colac Botanic Gardens.

Her husband was often away for months at a time, surveying new roads, mapping the edge of the desert mallee, laying out the road from Hamilton to Portland, and marking out telegraph lines through the roughest country of the Otway ranges. On one occasion as he opened the gate on his return from Apollo Bay his own children ran away from him, and reported that there was a strange man in the yard with a saddle on his head.

Among the friends in Colac and the surrounding districts were the brothers Andrew and Hugh Murray, the former a fine, bluff genial and hospitable squatter whose homestead lay in the region between Lakes Colac and Corangamite at the foot of the Warrion Hills, a small aggregation of extinct volcanoes.

When subsequently Mr and Mrs Bage went to live in town, they still kept up an intimate acquaintance with the Andrew Murrays, although the latter were leading figures in the fashionable world of Melbourne. Mrs Andrew Murray’s mother, Mrs Stoddart was a near neighbour on the shores of Lake Colac, and her exceeding kindness to children was long remembered in our family. She had the pioneer spirit, and many were the stories of her courage and her daring adventures in Van Diemen’s Land.

Hugh Murray of Barongarook was a Cambridge graduate and his superior education made him a valued friend. There often stayed at his house his relative, Robert Murray Smith, whose after-career as a public man in Melbourne and as Agent General in London for Victoria was made notable by his fine character and cultured personality.

Hugh Blair, the Presbyterian Minister and his wife, afterwards migrated to Canada. He christened me, but I remember him only when about 1866 he was our guest in Melbourne, and the one visual recollection I have of him is seeing him sparring with my brother Robert in the back verandah of Cuba Cottage and receiving a bruise, which he took in good part, on his very long upper lip. 

Then there was Mr Matthews, the local school master of the National School, Mr Venables and Mr Orlebar, school inspectors, afterwards known in this town. Several kindly and hospitable squatters such as the Dennises, the Beales, the Robertsons, Rutherford and others, some who became famous afterwards by their wealth. I should mention Dr Stoddart, brother of Mrs Andrew Murray, and Mr and Mrs Bromfield.

Once when my brothers sat round the fire while their mother told a tale of Dick Whittington, little Billy, then the youngest, began to weep. He would not admit that he was affected by Dick’s misfortunes, but held out that he was crying because his Papa had beaten him when he had not done “anything”. He was referring to an occurrence of some weeks before when he had in fact received a slap in error. “What would you do if you were all alone like Dick Whittington?” he was asked. The answer was immediate and direct: “I’d go to Mrs Stoddart”.

My father employed five or six men constantly in his surveying and they camped wherever his work was in progress. Among them two at least were gentlemen, Cecil Colquhoun and Charles Arden, the latter an attractive and mysterious person who had undergone bad times and privation before coming into my father’s employment; the former acted as overseer and assistant.

But the overseer, in great demand in local society, trained Easton Johnstone to do his work so that he could have more time to fulfil his social engagements. So Johnstone, always known as Charlie Johnstone, became overseer instead of Colquhoun, was trained by my father, and after my father’s retirement became district surveyor, first of Horsham, then of Colac and prospered exceedingly.

Charlie Johnstone was a great personage in our young lives. He was an unerring shot, a most accomplished bushman, and a good companion.  He could turn somersaults from the springboard and swim like a seal. No wonder that we trailed after him and believed all of his stories. He persuaded me that the carcases in the butchers’ shops were live lions stuffed with straw, and I remember submitting patiently and credulously to his pretence of cutting my head off, on his assuring me that I would be none the worse when he had put it on again.

His wedding was the first I ever saw. I was about six years old and I gazed at the feast which was spread in the room where the ceremony was performed. At the critical moment when the ring was being put on the bride’s finger, I attracted all attention to myself by asking in a clear voice if I might have an orange.

Besides the camp overseers there were female domestics who passed through the Colac home in endless procession. So many were incompetent or otherwise unsatisfactory that the good ones were fondly remembered and their names were familiar to me long after. A lad named Mick Kelly, whatever his other duties, was occasionally my nurse, and he sometimes let old King Curkekine (sic) of the Warrions tribe hold me in his arms.

More than 20 years later Mick, a prosperous young farmer, visited our home in St Kilda to see my mother and show her his young wife, and he expressed surprise at finding me as tall as himself. His marriage had a sad sequel, for one Christmas day when there was a family gathering at his farm and they were all happy and romping around after dinner, his wife threw a knife across the table. It struck Mick in the groin and he bled to death in a few minutes.


Visits from Mrs Fleck, who had arrived in the Colony in 1854, and from Mr Byron Moore and his sister, afterwards Mrs Morres, mother of Miss Elsie Morres, added to the pleasure of life in Colac. Relatives also made their appearance. An elderly lady, a connection by marriage of my mother’s came to stay with us in 1862 ad remained for some years, without making much impression on my memory. On the same day, the 10th of June, 1862, Joseph Godwin arrived unexpectedly in Colac to live in our house for five or six months. He received a small salary from my father for teaching the boys.

About the same time my mother’s youngest brother Richard found his way to Melbourne and there made a very unsatisfactory marriage. My father and mother did their best to befriend him and his wife, going to town to help the newly married couple to settle down comfortably, and assisting them with money as generously as they could After we had moved to town Richard went to the Maori War in the 40th Regiment. When the war was over he and other soldiers were settled on land at Taranaki.

His little daughter Annie, was sent to New Zealand by my mother, I remember well the preparation for the child’s voyage, the making of the garments and their being packed into a chest; and the visit to the ship “Auckland” at the Queen’s Wharf, the interview with the stewardess, and watching the ship swing round and start on her voyage for New Zealand. She was a vessel of 600 tons burthen; her deck was below the level of the wharf, and it was a strange experience for me to be taken down the steep companion stairs to the saloon into which all of the cabins opened, as was the fashion of the day.

Richard Godwin died in the following year, and my mother sent for Annie from New Zealand and kept her as a member of the family for some years. We were all relieved when Annie Godwin passed out of our lives, my mother at length handing her over to trustworthy guardians at Williamstown.


To return to the Colac days I should have recorded that my mother’s family of four sons was completed by my birth at Colac on the 7th October 1859. No comets brandished their crystal tresses in the sky and no portents of good or evil were chronicled. But even unimportant events never occur singly. My three brothers aged 8½, 7 and 4½ were sent to Mrs Calvert’s station homestead to be out of the way. After breakfast next morning they were not to be found. An alarm was given, ponds were examined and horsemen sent out in search.

At last the messenger who was sent to their home found them playing in the garden. They had a pet kangaroo rat, and thought of this attraction, as well as their longing for home, had induced them to walk from the Calverts’ back to Colac, a distance of several miles. As they were playing with their pet, it hopped into a waterhole and was drowned; the disaster sent them weeping into the house where, early in the afternoon I was presented to them as a substitute for their little friend. I do not know whether they were satisfied with the exchange or not, but in after years they often declared that the soul of their kangaroo rat had been bestowed on me.

My father left the Government service about 1859 for the more lucrative contract work of laying out townships, marking out roads and mapping lakes and streams for the government, as well as making surveys in connection with the squatters’ purchases of lands which they were entitled to buy under their pre-emptive rights. Either for his boys’ education or because Melbourne offered better prospects, he decided in 1862 to move into that city.

The move began on the 1st of December, an auction sale was held on the 2nd, the survey camp was broken up. Easton Johnstone alone being retained, and the members of our family were invited to stay with hospitable neighbours. On the 5th December at 6 a.m. my mother and her family said farewell to Colac and left in Mr Andrew Murray’s dray for the Barwon River, whence the regular coach took them on to Geelong. My father had gone three days before to secure a house in Melbourne.