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Abington Station (c. 1836 - )

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Location: Armidale, New South Wales, Australia
Abington, a pastoral station situated on the western slopes of the New England tablelands in northern New South Wales, about 45 kilomtres north-west of Armidale and 20 kilometres south-east of Bundarra, was first occupied by Europeans in 1836.
The area, originally occupied by the Anaiwan tribe of Aborigines, was in that year inundated with new settlers seeking fertile land on which to pasture their stock. Following the example set by Edward Clerk and John Rankin, who had already taken up a vast tract of land stretching from present-day Bundarra in the south to Newstead near present-day Inverell in the north, John Cameron in 1836 drove his cattle from Dartbrook, Invermein, in the Hunter Valley, to an area now known as Abington Creek. Characterised by extensive waterholes and small flats of rich alluvial soil, Cameron was sufficiently pleased with what he found to claim the place as a run. He called it Lochiel, and for three or four years Cameron with a herd of about 500 cattle enjoyed some prosperity. Like so many New England graziers, however, Cameron was hit hard by the depression and drought of the early-1840s, and, having already been closely associated with the exploration of the Darling Downs, in 1841 he purchased a property on the western side of Cunningham’s Gap in Queensland. He then sold Lochiel to Alexander Barlow.
Barlow, the youngest son of the Reverend George Barlow, Vicar of the parishes of Great and Little Abington, about ten kilometres from Cambridge, had arrived in the colony in 1840. He renamed the property Abington, after his old home in England, and soon prospered. By 1845, Abington, with an estimated area of 53,000 acres, carried about 800 head of cattle and seven horses. Barlow, however, recognised the station’s potential for carrying sheep and was soon concentrating his efforts on wool production. This proved very successful; in 1852, there were only a thousand head of cattle on Abington but more than 10,000 sheep. That same year, Barlow, keen to focus on a nearby property, sold Abington for the handsome sum of £1,200 to William Henry and George Phillips Morse.
The Morse brothers, trading under that name, took the same approach as Barlow and developed Abington as a sheep station. By 1856, the number of cattle on the property had been reduced to 400, while the number of sheep had increased to 14,500. They at first lived in Barlow’s old homestead, but after George was married to May Sperling in 1872, a new brick building with a corrugated iron roof and shingled verandah was erected nearby. It was surrounded by nearly an acre of gardens replete with a stream, rustic bridges and fruit trees. Behind the homestead were the station’s work buildings; stables with cobbled floors, a coach house, smithy, granary, pigeon house and stores. There was also a wine cellar, stockyards, a footbridge and further up the hill the woolshed.
The Morses were keen viticulturalists, and a vineyard was planted across the creek from the homestead. From that time on, George Morse always bottled his own wine and in 1876 the Agricultural Society of New South Wales awarded the brothers a handsome broze medal for the product developed on Abington Station.
After the passage of the Robertson Land Acts in 1861, George and Henry Morse bought small areas of freehold land around the homestead but for the most part continued the practice of leasing Crown land. Their failure to invest in the run resulted in parts of the property being selected during the 1870s and 1880s. The uncertainty created by these circumstances, Henry’s death in 1885, and, most importantly, the worsening economic crisis, convinced George and May Morse that they should sell up. By chance, FR White of Booloominbah, Armidale, was dining with the family in 1891, and during the course of the meal asked, ‘Would you sell this place, Mr Morse?’ Before George could answer, May replied from the other end of the table, ‘Yes we would, Mr White, do you want to buy it?’
Thus, in 1891, FR White purchased Abington Station at a cost of £11,000. George and May Morse, with their eight children, left shortly thereafter and built a house in Armidale. The property passed into the hands of White’s son-in-law, Thomas Richmond Forster, an employee of the Commercial Banking Company who had married Kate White in 1891. The area of Abington was now about 43,000 acres. Of this a mere 3,400 acres was freehold country. Forster, keen to build a new cottage, immediately purchased a nearby block which he was ‘well pleased with … , for though the ground is not fit for gardening it is nice and dry … and will command a pretty view of the creek and homestead’. Accordingly, in 1893, after becoming acquainted with the run and taking care of ‘unavoidable improvements’, Foster moved Kate and their first child, Frederick, into their new cottage. After several years of solid work on the property, which by the mid-1890s carried 400 cattle and nearly 11,000 sheep, the first stage of a new homestead was built nearby. Over the years it would undergo extensive additions and become the almost rambling but certainly magnificent homestead of today.
Forster continued to work hard at improving the productivity of Abington Station. By 1908, this aspect of the property’s management was a clear success. Where originally there had been seven paddocks there were now over seventy. Half of the run had been cleared and 200 acres each of lucerne and Sheep’s Burnet was being cultivated. The station also produced oats and wheat each year for hay. Forster had accumulated approximately 30,000 acres of secure land since taking up Abington, which now carried 1,200 head of cattle, 200 horses and over 30,000 sheep. The woolshed had been altered from a small slab building for a few hand shearers to a shed of 14 stands equipped for machine shearing and capable of providing shelter for up to 2,000 sheep. The property’s success allowed Forster to concentrate on more civic-oriented pursuits. A firm believer in what he called ‘the Aristocracy of brains’, Forster frequently subsidised The Armidale School and played a central role in establishing the New England University College. When in 1933 Booloominbah was left vacant by the death of FR White’s widow, Sarah, Forster offered to purchase the estate and donate it to Sydney University on the condition that a University College was opened in Armidale. After protracted negotiations with Sydney University and the state government, classes began at the New England University College – the first of its kind outside an Australian capital city – in March 1938. In typically modest fashion, Forster, who would serve on the University College’s Advisory Council for over a decade, justified his actions by acknowledging the generosity and support of ‘my wife and my sons and employees’, ‘the buildier of Booloominbah’ and the ‘Armidale district and my country’.
In 1951, Thomas Forster died at the age of eighty-nine. He was survived by only one son, Geoffrey. Frederick had been killed in action during World War One, while Kate and their second son, Norman (suffering from muscular dystrophy), had both died in 1949. Geoffrey Forster had already obtained virtual control of the property during the 1920s, and with his wife, Ethel, and only daughter, Anne, moved into the old homestead shortly after his father’s death. Geoffrey, convinced that improvements to the property would allow him to carry the same stock numbers on a smaller area, now sold large portions of Abington Station. With about 10,000 acres remaining, paddocks were cleared to make room for new pastures and during the early-1950s Geoffrey sowed the first of these paddocks with a mixture of subterranean clover, white clover, lucerne and perennial rye grass. Superphosphate was dropped by aeroplane and countless dams put down for water. These improvements had the desired effect. By the 1960s, Abington Station was still carrying about a thousand head of cattle and 15,000 sheep.
Anne married Richard Harris in 1952, and after the death of her father in 1976, moved back to Abington Station with her three sons, James, Michael and Anthony (Richard Harris had died in 1970). The property is today managed by James Harris.

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Anne Harris, Abington: A History of a Station and its People (Armidale: University of New England, 1982).

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Structure based on ISAAR(CPF) - click here for an explanation of the fields.Prepared by: James Crowley
Created: 3 December 2003
Modified: 7 July 2006

Published by The Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, 5 April 2004
Prepared by: Acknowledgements
Updated: 23 February 2010

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