Cuthbert (senior) “The Old Governor” (1803-1892)

Cuthbert Fetherstonhaugh snr

Cuthbert snr was born at Grouse Lodge and lived the first 40 years of his life in County Westmeath, Ireland, and then spent another five years in Frankfurt, after which he emigrated to Australia. Here he became affectionately known as ‘The Governor” or “the Old Governor– and his cheery manner, straightforwardness and never-failing courtesy quickly gained for him the popularity he never subsequently forfeited” 1 Cuthbert snr has been noted to ‘have made a major contribution to the development of the Western District (in Victoria) through his civic leadership and his sponsorship of the arts, sport, religion and cultural life.’ 2

Cuthbert snr was born in 1803 at Grouse Lodge in County Westmeath3, the son of Theobald and Mary Fetherstonhaugh of Mosstown, and was one of 29 children. He was the 2nd son of the 17 children who reached adulthood, although John, who was born ahead of him, died unmarried. Cuthbert snr married Susan Curtis of Annaghmore in 1827 and they settled at his great grandfather’s estate of Dardistown in Killucan, County Westmeath, where he was High Sheriff in 1841.4

Cuthbert snr and Susan had eight children who lived to adulthood; three sons and five daughters who each made their own mark in the world, including the famous Lady Frances Colvin. The youngest son was Cuthbert jnr, the famous pastoralist and horseman, and Dick’s grandfather.

From Dardistown, Cuthbert snr and Susan took their eight children to Germany in 1843 to escape the sectarian violence in Ireland and to take advantage of the higher standard of living and cheaper education to be found in Germany.3

The Promenade Frankfurt am Maine (public domain) where Cuthbert, Susan and their children lived in the Burgenmeisterhaus, a large three storied house fronting the promenade.

In Frankfurt the family lived a “a very happy and cheerful life”3 where Cuthbert snr and Susan entertained both German and English families, including their neighbour and his son, the artist to be, Sir Frederick Leighton. Then a very young man and reputably the best waltzer in Rome, Frederick fell in love with Adelaide, Cuthbert snr’s oldest daughter. The boys attended schools where Cuthbert jnr described their tutors as enlightened, kind and fair and that one took them on holiday walking excursions. Instead of school, the girls were tutored at home. The family also indulged in many enjoyable pastimes such as ice skating and horse riding and the older children also went to balls and parties. Cuthbert snr and his friend Robert McCarthy would go on shooting excursions, and they imported “a fine upstanding Irish mare and a real jaunting car, which rather amazed the Germans and caused some amusement”. 3

Cuthbert Fetherstonhaugh snr Police Magistrate. Image from John Sadleir’s ‘Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer’, p103. The photo was likely taken just before Cuthbert snr’s departure to Australia.

Cuthbert snr took his family back to Ireland when the German revolution of 1848 broke out. With Dardistown having already been sold, they lived first in Rath Caslin and then in Kingstown by the sea in Dublin. In 1852 Cuthbert snr, his two older sons, Theobald and Alfred, and his nephew, Travers Adamson (who later became Crown Prosecutor), sailed to Melbourne on the ship the ‘Thomas Lowry’ to try their luck on the Victorian goldfields. By the late 1840s 85,000 people had sailed away from Irish ports to find better lives elsewhere. Susan and the other children remained in Ireland at this time, although their youngest son, Cuthbert jnr, followed his father out to Australia a year later in 1853.3

Bendigo Goldfields 1857

Cuthbert snr wrote a travel diary describing his journey (excerpt left).

May the 5th 1852 a day not to be forgotten. Theo, Alfred, Travers and I left for Dublin per the HM Penn for Plymouth on our way to Australia… the day was beautiful but oh what words can tell the anguish of parting with those we love. We had many friends to see us off, among them my three much loved brothers, and sisters Mary and Fanny, my dear son Cuthbert met us outside Kingstown harbour and how delighted were we to see my dear wife, daughters and Fanny ….

Cuthbert took with him to Melbourne £8000 (worth over £1.5 million in today’s money ). Although Cuthbert snr was very well educated in the classical sense, he unfortunately didn’t appear at this time to have much business acumen. Initially he was not lucky in finding gold at Bendigo so then became a gold buyer, only to have 800 ounces of his gold stolen, apparently from under his pillow!3

Cuthbert snr then made some bad property investments. Instead of buying land he built stone houses on leased land in Swanston Street, opposite the goal. Cuthbert jnr writes in his memoir “the cost of building these houses was very great, they paid well for a while. He got £1000 a year rent for one of them; but this did not last, and eventually the rent and upkeep of the houses barely covered the ground rent, and they were sold…. I remember taking my stand in 1854 in a window of one of these houses to see an unfortunate man hanged”. 3

Swanston Street Melbourne 1858 (Vic State Library)

After this shaky start, Cuthbert snr’s life began to change for the better when he was appointed the Goldfields Commissioner for the Buckland River District in December 1853, a position more in line with his education and experience. In 1854 Cuthbert snr was then transferred as Police Magistrate to the Grange District (now known as Hamilton), in the Western District of Victoria.1

Railway lines of 1884: Hamilton, Coleraine, Casterton and Braxholme

His jurisdiction extended from Hamilton west to the lands surrounding Coleraine and Casterton and south to Digby and Branxholme. During his time as Police Magistrate there were few good roads, nor bridges, and rail was not introduced to the area until 1877, long after he had been superannuated from his position in 1869.

From: Death of the Old Governor, Hamilton Spectator 1892

The rail map above shows Cuthbert snr had to administer a significant area of the country, through which ran rivers, creeks and ranges, all of which he traversed by horseback. He was an excellent horseman and despite the challenges of flooding creeks and the River Wannon (which sometimes he had to swim) he always met his appointments on time, saying “I have got to be there, and by God’s help I will.” Cuthbert jnr reflected: “he and his handsome little Tasmanian stallion, Phosphorus, were well known up and down the Sydney Road and across by the Ovens and the Buckland.”. 3

Shortly after arriving in Hamilton Cuthbert snr built the family homestead ‘Correagh’, which is now an historical site beautifully and faithfully maintained by Wes Rogers.6 The land around where Correagh was built had been described by Major Thomas Mitchell in 1836 as “A finer country could scarcely be imagined” and by 1840 it was part of the Wedge Brothers squatting run (a run being a large tract of land where livestock were grazed). However, in 1854 sections of the run were subdivided into lots of 100 acres allowing Cuthbert snr to purchase the rise of land on which Correagh was built (with Cor being the Irish prefix for hill or rise). The site was 5kms north-east of Hamilton and overlooked the Southern Grampian mountain range and what Major Mitchell named Lake Nivelle (now known as Doling Doling).1

In 1856, with Correagh built, Cuthbert snr was joined by his wife Susan, her maid Mary Brennan, their 5 daughters, and Theobald, the oldest son who had returned to Ireland after falling ill when he had first arrived with his father in Australia 1853. Correagh then became a centre for social life in the district where they conducted musical evenings (the women were accomplished pianists and singers), and fox hunts and horse races. Correagh could boast visitors such as the Chief Justice of Victoria – William Foster Statwell; the police inspector principal in the capture of Ned Kelly – John Sadlier; Rolf Bolderwood the novelist; the son of Charles Dickens – Alfred; and the Victorian premier John MacPherson who married Cuthbert snr’s 2nd daughter Louisa.6 Cuthbert snr was described as “belonging to a circle of Anglo-Irish intellectuals who injected an invaluable element of sophistication into the cultural life of the region for over 30 years, from its early development in the 1850s”. 5

From the Hamilton Spectator 1892: In ‘After Many Days’

Although Cuthbert was also a well known horseman and snipe shooter champion, and these anecdotes (left) were told of his exploits, he is most recognised for his civic leadership and the many social and cultural contributions he made to the community of Hamilton. After his retirement as a Police Magistrate and Crown Lands Commissioner Cuthbert snr continued to act as a relieving Territorial Magistrate. Other positions he also held at various times were: a returning officer for Normanby, a trustee of the Hamilton Savings Bank, Board President of the Hamilton Hospital, Chairman of the Public Cemetery and Coroner. He was also a local guardian of minors, belonged to the Free Kindergarten Union, was a patron of the National School, a committee member for the Pastoral and Agricultural Society, as well as a prime mover in the local Stockowner Meat Preserving and Export trade (which also took him on visits to America). Recreationally, Cuthbert was Trustee and President of the Cricket Club, a Race Club judge (including the Great Western Steeplechase at Coleraine), as well as President of the Horticultural Society and the Western District Coursing Club. Even two years before his death he was on the management committee of the Hamilton Cricket and Recreation Reserve.2

Cuthbert lived a full and healthy life until the age of 92 and was wont to say “I have never had a headache or taken a dose of physic in my life, and don’t know what a liver is”. 5 However he was ill for 5 or 6 weeks before he died, and one of his last requests was that his burial might be “as quiet a one as possible with no nodding plumes, no mourning coaches or other trappings of woe.5 He was buried alongside his wife Susan in the Church of England part of the Hamilton Cemetery. His oldest daughter Adelaide was also buried there when she died in 1899.

Cuthbert’s Family Members

Cuthbert’s wife Susan, their daughter’s and son, Cuthbert jnr, have their own pages. Other family members about which only a little is known are a younger sister Margaret (b1818), and Cuthbert’s other two sons, Alfred William (b1828) and Theobald (b1830).

Cuthbert’s sister, Margaret, (b1818) married John Barlow in 1846 whilst still living in Pembroke St, Dublin, and some time thereafter immigrated to Australia. Margaret was staying at Correagh at the time of her death in 1892 at 74y. Her husband John had died 14 years earlier in 1878 and they had two children.

Alfred traveled out to Australia with his father and brother Theobald in 1852, and in 1855 he married Catherine Cameron (b1838), the 17 year old daughter of settlers Donald and Christina Cameron, of Violet Creek in the Southern Grampians. Violet Creek was a squatting run of 9000 acres with 8,000 head of cattle and 4,000 sheep. After marriage Alfred worked as a stockman and drover on NSW stations, with Catherine remaining with her mother at their home in Violet Creek. Alfred’s obituary said he had been weak for some time and died at Yanko Station, Jerilderie, in 1875 of ‘congestion of the brain’ at 42 years of age. Catherine died in 1879. There were no living children.

Violet Creek homestead
Alfred’s grave at Yanko Station

Theobald was quite reclusive and little is known about him. Although originally traveling out to Australia with Alfred and his father in 1852, he soon returned to Ireland to be with his mother and sisters, only to sail again to Australia when they immigrated in 1856. He then lived out his life at Correagh, where his obituary described him as passing a quiet unobtrusive life. He never married, nor took part in public affairs, and was ‘familiarly know to comparatively few’. Despite his reputed delicate disposition he lived to the age of 92, dying in 1909. His headstone was as simple as his life had appeared to be.


  1. O’Brien B. Correagh, Cuthbert and the Pastoral ideal. Hamilton Spectator, Jan 14 2006 p 12-13.
  2. Heritage Council of Victoria: Correagh. Victorian heritage database
  3. Fetherstonhaugh C. After Many Days. E. W. Cole: Book Arcade, Sydney: 2017. Accessed Online Oct 2022
  4. Upton, H. (Catalogued 2012). Upton papers 21(24-25) Fetherstonhaugh Irish pedigree. IE RIA. Retrieved from:
  5. Hamilton Spectator, Dec 22 and 24, 1892. Death of the Old Governor, In: After Many Days, 1925, Ch IV p 52-56.
  6. Rogers W. Correagh 1855 -2005 [brochure]. Hamilton, Vic; 2005.

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