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Armytage, George (1795–1862)

George Armytage, by Foster & Martin, n.d

George Armytage, by Foster & Martin, n.d

University of Melbourne Archives, UMA/I/2796

Armytage, George, born A.D. 1795, died 1862. At the time of his birth Mr. Armytage’s family was resident on the Continent. An event of interest which occurred in his early days was the storming of his father’s house by insurgents in the troublous times of the first Napoleon. The home was defended by a number of poor folk who voluntarily gave their assistance to Mr. Armytage, who had always been their friend and benefactor. The defence was unavailing: the family was obliged to fly; the younger members being cared for either by their elder relations or the servants. They were never wholly reunited. One son, Alfred, was picked up by a German regiment; and, eventually joining the regiment, worked his way up from the rank of drummer-boy to that of colonel. Three of the daughters were placed in convents, embraced the Roman Catholic faith, and took the veil. Two rose to be lady-superiors, while Sophie founded the order of "Les Filles de la Croix." She rented a small cottage, and with only one canon and one old lady to help her made a beginning. She laboured heart and soul in her work for 50 years, and before her death, at the age of 79 in the year 1882, houses of her order had been established in England, Germany, India, &c. Two other sisters married, one to a Mr. Clark, resident in Brussels; the other, Elizabeth, to Baron Jolly, afterwards Lieutenant-General, and one of the three of the Provisional Government, whose son, now Major-General, is Aide-de-Camp to Leopold, King of Belgium. The son George, of whom we are writing, was sent to Yorkshire to a relative of his father, who kindly undertook to have him educated with his own sons. At school the fact of his being poorer than his cousins, and dependent, jarred on the boy’s mind, and he vowed that so soon as he was able he would go far away, and not return to England till he was as well off as they. At the age of 20 he was living in London studying engineering, when he decided to go to Australia, and on the 28th February 1815 he sailed in the Hebe, one of Burney’s ships, which arrived in Sydney early in August. In 1816, after a stay of but a few months, Mr. Armytage being dissatisfied with N.S.W., sailed for Van Diemen’s Land. Here the ship ran upon a sandbank in the Tamar, and as the tide was ebbing, it had to remain some hours. Mr. Armytage, wishing to reach the settlement as soon as possible, hired a boat, and putting his small stock of worldly possessions on board, landed. The boatman, having only agreed to take him to the shore, would not proceed up the river to the town; consequently he left his goods in the boat, and obtained a promise from the man to look after them till he should return on the morrow. Next day, when he came back, he found the man gone, the boat overturned, and the property nowhere to be seen. This was, indeed, disheartening at the outset, but with a stout heart and what little money he retained about his person, he made a fresh start in life. He made his way overland to Hobart Town and laid his case before the Governor. He was allotted a small portion of land at Bagdad, and in 1817 received a Government grant of 500 acres. Success now attended his efforts, and he was soon in a position to marry. His marriage in 1818 with Elizabeth Peters, brought him, besides a good wife, some money, with which latter he was enabled further to improve his land, and the Government rewarded him for these improvements with a further grant, in the year 1826, of 1000 acres. Now his engineering training came to his assistance. He built the first watermill in Tasmania. The millstream was quite one of the sights by the side of the old coach road, as it had the appearance of running up-hill. To this mill wheat in sheaf was brought in the morning and taken away as flour in the evening—a feat in those days talked of in all the country-side. In the rough times of early settlement no one could escape without his share of knocks, and Mr. Armytage was not one to shun his. He had to take his share of troubles from bushrangers and blacks. He was elected one of the leaders of ten in the celebrated but ineffectual "line" movement against the blacks in 1831. He lived at a time when, at night, with the blinds drawn, it was possible death to walk between them and the light. The blacks, lurking in the darkness outside, would hurl their spears at the shadows as they fell on the blinds. A sister-in-law of his was speared to death in his own garden. One day, returning from his duties as magistrate, he was informed that a party of bushrangers was “out” in the vicinity of Bagdad. As the sun was setting, he took the precaution to cut a thick stick for a weapon of defence in case of attack, and, not being desirous of meeting these gentry, he kept some distance off the road, lest they should be warned of his whereabouts by the sound of his horse’s footfalls. Suddenly he caught sight of a camp fire immediately before him, and the bushrangers all sitting near it, their guns being stacked some little distance away. Taking in the situation at a glance, he dashed his horse forward, reined it up short between the men and their arms, and presenting his stick at them as though it were a gun, commanded them to march, declaring he would shoot the first man who tried to escape. Fortunately it was now dusk, and in the uncertain light of evening the men did not perceive that the weapon Mr. Armytage carried was not a gun. They obeyed his command, and he marched them to the men’s hut at the homestead, where they were bound, and whence they were sent next day to the police station. Notwithstanding these hardships the world went very well with Mr. Armytage. His flocks and herds increased and his crops were good. He was already a man of weight in the local affairs of Bagdad. In 1835 the rush to Port Phillip began, and all the well-to-do Tasmanians were anticipating migration to this earthly paradise, as it was reported to be. In 1836 Mr. Armytage’s eldest son Thomas went over, forming one of the fifty who followed after the “Association.” Being pleased with the country, he went back to Van Diemen’s Land for sheep and stores. For these sheep he had to pay £2 a head; in the “boilingdown” time he was compelled to sell them at 2s. per head. He then returned to Port Phillip, and together with his two partners, Mr. Franks and Mr. Ricketts, took up land.  They were camped on the Werribee, below Mount Coterill. Occasion arose for Thomas to go to the nearest settlement—a place near where Williamstown now is— for stores. On his return to camp he was horrified to find his partner, Mr. Franks, and a shepherd speared to death by blacks. The sheep had all disappeared. He followed the tracks of the sheep and found most of them uninjured, but others were lying in a creek with their legs broken. About the time of this disaster Messrs. Gellibrand and Hesse were lost while exploring the country west of Geelong. Tom— who was a personal friend of Mr. Gellibrand, and, indeed, had been articled to him in Van Diemen’s Land—organised a search party to try and find the explorers. After wandering through the bush for ten days, and enduring great hardships, the party came out upon the upper reaches of the Barwon, at a place now called Ingleby. Here they gave up the search. Tom camped and took up a station—Ingleby—which now belongs to his brother George. In 1842, Thomas wrote over to say he was seriously ill, and would not be able to take command of the shed for shearing, which was then close at hand. The illness proved fatal, and he died of typhus fever on the 12th September 1842, having proved himself throughout a worthy son of his father. Mr. Armytage’s second son, George, was sent over to take Thomas’s place. He was so pleased with Victoria that he wrote to his father urging him to leave Van Diemen's Land and settle in this colony. Consequently, in 1847 Mr. Armytage left Bagdad, and settled, first at Ingleby, and afterwards, in 1851, in Geelong, where he built “The Hermitage,” which to this day remains one of the finest buildings of the town. There he resided till the time of his death, and there, too, his father joined him. Old Mrs. Armytage, the mother of our first colonist, died in Brussels in 1850, aged eighty. Her husband decided to break up all home associations, since they now retained so little charm for him, and to end his days with his son, who had prospered so well in a land that was yet to be known as "Greater Britain." In the year 1852, at the advanced age of eighty-seven, he sailed from England in the good ship Constance, and in due course arrived in Geelong. There are few instances, probably, of four generations of one family meeting on Australian soil at so early a date as 1833. Yet so it was with the Armytages. There was George, the father of the colonist; George, the colonist himself; George, his son; and George, his grandson. The old man did not long survive his arrival in the colony, and in 1853 he passed away. Mr. Armytage, the subject of this memoir, died in the year 1862, at the age of sixty-seven, the cause of death being erysipelas. The old companions of Mr. Armytage all agree in giving him the character of an upright and Godfearing man, clear-headed, firm of purpose, quick and vigorous in action; severe but scrupulously just, a man respected, honoured, and looked up to by all his neighbours. When we read this character, subscribed to by all who knew him; his marvellous worldly success ceases to be a matter of surprise. Mrs. Armytage, his widow, survived the death of her husband twelve years, and died in 1874, aged seventy-two, honoured and esteemed by all who knew her.

Original Publication

  • A. Sutherland, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2, 1888, pp 458-59 (view original)

Citation details

'Armytage, George (1795–1862)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/armytage-george-1715/text28219, accessed 19 September 2020.

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