I first heard of Caroline Newcomb and Anne Drysdale on a history walk of queer St Kilda. Neither lady has a connection to St Kilda, but there was general discussion about queer stories and history that doesn’t have a wider audience and they came up. Then, the same way when you buy a red car you see red cars everywhere, I came across them again only a week later at a talk on the history of Victoria in 100 LGBTQIA+ places, and the report that the talk was based on. Caroline and Anne featured together, along with the mourning brooch of Anne and Caroline’s hair woven together that Caroline had made in remembrance for a Mrs Thomson after Anne died. It is a thing of real beauty and you can see it below.
The brooch is held at the State Library of Victoria and I will come back to it a little later.
But to return to the beginning. Who were Caroline Newcombe and Anne Drysdale, and why have I decided to write a blog post about them…?
Anne was born in 1792 in Scotland. Her family were middle class farmers and business people, but very unusually for a woman at the time she chose to go out on her own. She rented a large farm in Ayrshire from the 1820s to the mid 1830s and lived in Craufurdland Castle where she became a close friend of the family. She came to Australia in 1840, ostensibly for her health (though her ‘cough’ disappeared mysteriously quickly) determined to be a squatter not a squatter’s wife. She had money from small inheritance from her father and some other sources, and quickly secured the rights to land to run sheep that belonged to Dr Alexander Thomson on what is now the Bellarine Peninsula. She was 47 when she arrived. There is no surviving photo of Anne that I could find.
Caroline was born in London in 1812. Her family were merchants. She had a slightly itinerant early life as she was brought up in Spain with her father, but when he died she returned to England to be raised by her paternal grandmother. There isn’t much known about her early years, but she sailed for Van Diemen’s Land in 1833 also ostensibly for her health. She wasn’t part of the cadre of women brought over to be wives for settlers. In fact there is no indication she was seeking a husband. In Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) she met Dr Alexander Thomson and his wife and became governess to their daughter. She sailed with them in 1836 as part of the Port Phillip Association’s journey to what would become Melbourne in what would become Victoria. She was one of only 35 women in a settlement of 117. She probably started the first school in Melbourne. In 1837 she moved to Geelong with the Thomsons where she could meet Anne, who came to stay with the Thomsons in 1840. You can see Geelong in relation to Melbourne below
I want to pause here to make one very clear and important point. The land that Anne and Caroline were arriving on was not empty. It was occupied by Australia’s First Nations people. This is especially important in the case of Caroline. The Port Phillip Association’s expedition was based on John Batman’s ‘treaty’ which was with the Wurundjeri people and which is incredibly problematic. The ‘treaty’ he drew up was not worth the paper it was written on. I won’t go into all the details as to why, but you can find out more here https://ergo.slv.vic.gov.au/explore-history/colonial-melbourne/pioneers/batmans-treaty.
This is also true of Anne and Caroline’s settlement on the Bellarine Peninsula. Anne came over to Australia operating under the concept that there was all this free land available. It wasn’t free. It was occupied, on the Bellarine Peninsula, by the Wathawurrung. The movement of settlers, like Caroline and Anne, into these lands continued the process of dispossession, invasion and colonisation. The Wathawarrung and the Wurundjeri (along with all First Nations people) suffered immensely at the hands of settlers and the Crown, dispossessed of their lands, killed and forced into missions off Country, their languages banned. This is the story that needs to be told alongside any ‘pioneer’ narratives of this period. Anne and Caroline were not moving into virgin territory.
The other point I need to raise here is Anne and Caroline’s relationship. As you’ll have realised from my opening Anne and Caroline were in a relationship. The nature of this relationship has to be considered through the lens of how they themselves would have viewed it. For example neither would have described themselves as lesbians, it wasn’t a term that they would likely have been aware of. But they were committed lifelong friends and partners, in business and life. We know most of what we know about them from Anne’s diary which has survived in the collection of the State Library of Victoria. I’ll be using the diary to tell the remainder of Anne and Caroline’s story. In it in 1841 Anne describes Caroline as “Miss Newcomb who is my partner, I hope, for life, is the best & most clever person I have ever met”. The diary quickly begins using ‘we’ and ‘our’ language, Anne describes her and Caroline’s life together. They lived together, built a house together, ran the farms together, shared a bed (though this wasn’t uncommon in the era) and were buried together, even though Caroline died 21 years after Anne and had married in the meantime (Caroline was 20 years younger). They were in a committed life long relationship, by any definition, but they were not the Australian equivalents of the infamous Ladies of Llangollen . This is in no way intended to dismiss the importance of their relationship, it is just to clarify.
So this brings us back to why I decided to write about Anne and Caroline. They were both unusual in their time, both for their relationship and in the roles they chose in life. Known as the Lady Squatters they were a novelty in their own time, but they were also pillars of their community, innovators and remarkable women in many way. Theirs is also just such an interesting story, I felt it fits right in with Historical Ragbag.
The other key reason I wanted to write about Anne and Caroline was the incredible house they built. I will come back to it when I continue their story, but I wanted to highlight it here. Coriyule was built for Anne and Caroline in 1849- it’s made of Barrabool Sandstone and is fantastically eccentric as well as beautiful. I was lucky enough to be able to visit and take photos and I want to give my heartfelt thanks to Isobel and Bryce, the current owners, who were kind enough to show me around their incredible home and to let me take photos. You can see Coriyule below, but I promise there’ll be more pictures later.
But let’s return to Anne and Caroline’s story first. We left them meeting in 1840. But how did this come about? Caroline had moved with the Thomsons to their sheep run at Kardina House (on the edge of Geelong) in 1837. The house Dr Thomson built is still standing, you can see it below.
Caroline was their governess. In 1840 the Thomsons were in Melbourne and they met the newly arrived Anne Drysdale. She was looking for land and sheep, Dr Thomson offered to give her one of his runs for lease. She came back to Kardina with him, to stay and to look at her new run. Her diary describes it as “Doctor drove me to see my future station, with which I am well pleased.” Anne stayed with the Thomsons while she got things sorted. And when she moved into a small stone hut on Boronggoop, her new 10 000 acre run, in 1841 she wasn’t alone. She’d invited Caroline Newcomb to join her and thus began the partnership that would last the remainder of Anne’s life.
Boronggoop wasn’t far from Geelong and Anne’s diary is a parade of visitors, especially as Caroline and Anne continued to teach some of the neighbourhood’s children. They were also both extremely devout and hosted an array of ministers and held religious services. They also took people in, including two of John Batman’s children (who were left virtually destitute after his death). At one point there were thirteen people sleeping in the hut. It’s clear that the ladies were a little bit of a novelty, with people visiting to meet the ‘Lady Squatters’. What the diary highlights more than anything else is the strength of their partnership. They arrived in August 1841 and by December ‘Miss Newcomb’ has become Caroline and the diary gives a lovely picture of how they worked. Caroline is a veritable dynamo, she’s always riding somewhere, or growing something, or building things (an energy that Caroline would carry all her life). Anne was definitely involved, but not always as physically (she was twenty years older), she keeps the practical background side of things going and the business side. It’s worth noting that the holding was Anne’s, Caroline didn’t bring money to their partnership. Their mutual respect and reliance on each other is clear, with Anne declaring how dismal it would be to be to always have to dine alone (on one night when Caroline wasn’t there). The diary is full of domestic detail of running a sheep property and their house, like the ‘tolerably good piano’ they managed to acquire and the 47 sheep who go missing much to their shepherd’s distress. They embarked on this journey together with real optimism, summed up by Anne declaring shortly after they moved in “I think with the blessing of God, we have every prospect of being very happy here.”
By 1844 they were without doubt happy, but were looking for more space having outgrown the hut. Anne also wanted to own her land not just be leasing it. She described the end of three years at Boronggoop as “We certainly have not made any money, but we keep out of debt & have much cause for gratitude to the Almighty who has furnished us with all things needful & and enables us to be to useful to many of our fellow creatures. We live very happily & have no wish except to have a piece of land & a stone cottage.”
So this stone cottage brings us back to Coriyule. Though, as you’ll have seen from the photo above, Coriyule is no cottage. Anne and Caroline were determined to own land and they took a deliberate camping holiday at Coriyule in 1846 to test it out. They returned “determined if possible to buy Coriyule.” And buy they did, they had obtained the lease for some of the land in 1843 but secured the free hold in 1847. This is where we hit a very frustrating gap in the diaries. There is one missing volume and unfortunately it is the late 1847-mid 1851 which was the years that they had Coriyule built and moved in. So we don’t have the detail we do about the rest of their lives. What we do know is that they commissioned the house to be designed by Charles Laing in 1849, and the plans are signed by both Caroline and Anne and in both their names. You can see them below.
We also know that a builder named John Henderson was contracted for the sum of 219 pounds to build the ‘cottage’. You can see the first page and final page of the contract below (including Anne and Caroline’s signatures).
Anne and Caroline probably moved in, in late 1849 (quite likely while the house was somewhat of a building site). So apart from the fact that it is one of the earliest houses in the district and built for Caroline and Anne, why is Coriyule special? It really is a remarkable house. It’s built with a basalt foundation, with the walls a mixture of sandstone, ironstone and others with the windows and chimneys dressed in local Barrabool sandstone. You can see the windows below.
In the images above you can also see the incredibly unusual windows frames as they are made from cast iron. Local legend is that this extra strength was to protect the ladies from any possible attack. You can see that the windows were an integral part of the original design in the plans for your reference below.
On this note lets take a step back from the small detail of the house to look at it a bit more broadly. You can see its beauty and idiosyncrasy below.
One of the other quirks you can see above is the roof. It’s made of galvanised iron tiles, possibly the earliest use of galvanised iron for roofing in Victoria. It was very much built for Anne and Caroline. It’s split level with a kitchen area downstairs (where you can still see the original bread oven).
A maid’s quarters was accessed by a ladder from this area (now accessed from an incredibly steep stairway- which was probably installed while Anne and Caroline owned Coriyule)
There is a set of stairs that provides access to all levels of the house
The middle level was the one used by Anne and Caroline (including the room they shared) and is truly incredible. As well as smooth heavy walls, there is an octagonal lantern, used for light and ventilation. I’ve never seen one outside of the a cathedral before.
The house is gothic revivial and it really shows it.
The doors are have been brushed with a comb to make them look like they’re oak.
It’s a little hard to make out in the photos, but there are two levels in the main house. The upper areas are less ornate than the main area, and it’s possible to lock the main area off. It’s likely the reason for this addition was the sheer number of long term houseguests that Anne and Caroline put up. Coriyule was twelve miles out of Geelong so if people came to stay, they stayed. Like their hut, visitors were clergy, local worthies, friends and people visiting from Melbourne. They continued to host children too, including again the Batman children, and the story is that Ellen and Adelaide Batman painted the flowers that survive on the door you can see in the picture below.
Other original survivors in the upstairs area include a fireplace with the original paint
As well as most of the interior walls and doors. Coriyule is very much a house that has been lived in. From remnant wall paper, to a mysterious ship called the Nelson etched into the plaster wall.
There is also an incredible cellar that runs beneath the whole building.
You can see some of the hooks in the ceiling that show it was used for hanging and preserving food.
Currently Coriyule sits in 40 acres of land, with extensive gardens and livestock. You can see some of it below. None of the garden is original, apart from the occasional tree such as the Port Jackson fig in the second last photo. You can also see the original water tank in the last image.
Although this is large, it’s a fraction of the land would have been when Coriyule was first established. Some of that land is part now part of Drysdale, named for Anne. When Isobel and Bryce bought Coriyule in 2007 it was in severe disrepair and completely overgrown. They have done an incredible job of rebuilding the house, using original materials and methods, and establishing the garden. There would have been an extensive garden when Anne and Caroline owned the house. A lot of the diary entries are recording what they plant when and what they did with it. Most of the garden sadly hasn’t survived, but Isobel and Bryce have been using the diaries to determine some of the plants that might have been there. The photo below of the gardeners cottage, gives you an idea of the state the house was in.
So I hope it is clear just how remarkable Coriyule is. It’s registered on the Victorian Heritage Database and I wanted to include the citation as I think it gives a really clear outline of why Coriyule is so important
“As one of the earliest and finest homesteads in Victoria. Its picturesque Gothic Revival style was not common in Victoria, particularly in country areas. It is significant as an important early work of the celebrated colonial architect Charles Laing. This asymmetrically planned mansion with unusual entry hall and stair-case has few counterparts in Australia.
Coriyule is historically significant as a reminder of the partnership of the women squatters Anne Drysdale and Caroline Newcomb, who were important in the history of squatting in Victoria. It is a remarkable reflection of the close involvement of women in a pioneering pastoral enterprise.”
So now we have explored Coriyule let’s continue with the life Anne and Caroline lived there. They had more crops and less sheep than their previous run and, as they were twelve miles out of the Geelong, Caroline couldn’t ride in everyday and visitors just dropping around was less common, though as I’ve noted above plenty stayed longer term. Anne’s diary from 1851 is the working life of a farm. They dealt with the labour shortage brought on by the gold rush, they planted roses and fruit and vegetables, they commented on the weather, they complained about the state of the roads and they continued with their close partnership. Then on the 8th of July 1852 about breakfast time Anne “was seized with a stroke of the palsy in the right arm & leg and she fell down in the parlour.” Anne convalesced at home with Caroline and did slowly recover, but Caroline took over the diary for about a month. Caroline’s entries are more succinct, never giving anything beyond the basic detail. Though you can see her excitement when Anne was up to weeding in the vineyard as she includes a rare !! after the exciting news. Anne took back over the diary in August and they continued their life at Coriyule. With Anne recording on December 9th after they return from a holiday at Kardinia that they are “happy to get back to our own dear house.”
Caroline takes over the diary again on the 16th of February 1853, with the faint note “Here ends Miss Drysdale’s journal.” On the 9th of April Anne has another stroke and this time she’s not so lucky. In a terse note on the 11th of May Caroline records “Fine. Men as yesterday. At noon Miss Drysdale was taken suddenly ill. I sent Frank for Dr. Bailey, but before he returned, she expired at 2 o’clock pm.”
This was the end of the extraordinary partnership between the two women. This incredibly brief line shouldn’t be taken as indicative of a lack of feeling on Caroline’s behalf, it’s typical of the succinct nature of her part of the journal. She continued writing it after Anne’s death and she in fact stayed at Coriyule. Anne was buried on the property and you can see a lithograph of her mausoleum below. (nothing remains of it now).
You can see Coriyule itself in the distance. Anne left the house and lands in their entirety to Caroline, Caroline was also her executor. You can see Anne’s probate below
This brings us back to the brooch where we began
The brooch was made from Anne and Caroline’s hair in c.1853 probably not that long after Anne died. It was made in remembrance for a Mrs Thomson, possibly the wife of Dr Thomson who introduced Anne and Caroline at Kardinia all those years ago. It is an exquisite piece and a testimony to the relationship between the two women.
Anne’s family were not happy with everything being left to Caroline. Her brothers in particular were vocal (in letters) in their opinion that as a spinster Anne should have at best left Caroline a life interest. Thankfully this didn’t happen. Caroline continued on at Coriyule for eight years, though she only continued the diary until 1854. The last of the entries are succinct but also sad. While she continues the practicalities of her life, it is clear how much Caroline missing Anne. She buries a loved pet under “dear Anne’s favourite rose” and almost her last entry is that a friend’s last child “is to be named after my dear Anne.”
This isn’t to say that Caroline was languishing at home for eight years pining. She was heavily involved in the local area. She scooped most of the fruit and vegetable prizes at the Geelong show in 1856. She was also an outspoken political activist, and through her involvement with the Roads Board was probably one of the first women involved in government in Victoria. She was also the president of the benevolent society for the women of Geelong the Western District (and she founded the organisation). All of this while continuing to run Coriyule. Then in 1857 Reverend James Dodgson came into the area and stayed with Caroline at Coriyule as he was occupying the position of minister at Drysdale. He was said to have been of a sickly constitution. In 1861 Caroline and James were married. Apparently to the universal astonishment of everyone who knew them. Caroline was known to have said that she married him for God not for herself. James was twelve years younger and for him Caroline was a catch as one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in the region. They lived at Coriyule until James was well enough to take up his calling again. In 1864 they left Coriyule as he was appointed to the Maldon circuit. Caroline was described as the perfect minister’s wife (you get the feeling Caroline never did anything by halves). Caroline died in 1874 in Brunswick and, tellingly, was buried back at Coriyule with Anne. Sometime before his own death James had Anne and Caroline re-interred in East Geelong Cemetery, where he too was buried. As you can see in the photo below Anne’s inscription feels like an afterthought (possibly deliberate) her name is spelt wrong, her date of death is wrong and James didn’t even include the bible verse that Caroline had chosen for Anne and which had been included on the original tomb- just a reference to it. For the record the verse is she opened her mouth with wisdom and in her tongue was the law of kindness.
And that brings us to the end of Anne and Caroline’s story. Caroline left Coriyule to James and he sold it in the early 1900s. It passed through a few hands, slowly sinking into further disrepair, until it was bought by Isobel and Bryce in 2007 and restored.
Coriyule in all its idiosyncratic glory is a fitting legacy to these two most unusual women.
It is not their only legacy though. As I mentioned earlier the suburb of Drysdale is named after Anne, and Caroline now has her own suburb too (Newcomb). They also have a legacy of partnership, dedication and love (however you want to define it) that through Anne’s diaries and the brooch comes down to us and still resonates. If nothing else their legacy is of remarkable women, who stepped outside the roles of their time and lived a life on their own terms. And I think that’s as good a legacy as can be wished for.
I especially want to thank Bryce Raworth and Isobel Williams for their extraordinary generosity in letting me not only come and have a look at their house, but also Isobel’s kindness in showing me around, letting me take photos, answering my questions and her enthusiasm and knowledge about Anne and Caroline. I’d like to commend the incredible job they have done and continue to do in restoring Coriyule. I also want to make it clear that Coriyule is a private home and not open to the public like a National Trust owned property for example
The brooch is from the SLV http://search.slv.vic.gov.au/permalink/f/1cl35st/SLV_ROSETTAIE1510891
The photo of Caroline is found loose in Anne’s diary which is held at the State Library of Victoria. The library scanned it for me.
The image of Anne’s tomb comes from a photo of a copy of a lithograph that can be found in the State Library of NSW https://collection.sl.nsw.gov.au/record/n88D2dPn
The image of the plans and building agreement comes from this collection at the State Library of Victoria. I photographed the original with permission and have included them for reference. http://search.slv.vic.gov.au/permalink/f/1cl35st/SLV_VOYAGER1640713
Anne’s probate is from PROV: https://prov.vic.gov.au/archive/7C180659-F1D8-11E9-AE98-215D9AAC04CC?image=1
Map from Google Maps.
I took all the photos of Coriyule.
History of Victorian in 100 LGBTQIA+ Places https://www.heritage.vic.gov.au/our-programs-and-initiatives/a-history-of-lgbtiq-victoria
Coriyule: Victorian Heritage database: https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/342
Ladies of Llangollen: https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/desire-love-and-identity/ladies-llangollen
Batman’s treaty: https://ergo.slv.vic.gov.au/explore-history/colonial-melbourne/pioneers/batmans-treaty
Kardinia house: https://www.realestatesource.com.au/genu-lists-geelongs-high-profile-and-historic-kardinia-house/
Anne Drysdale’s probate: https://prov.vic.gov.au/archive/7C180659-F1D8-11E9-AE98-215D9AAC04CC?image=1
Caroline Newcomb’s probate: https://prov.vic.gov.au/archive/51F55693-F537-11E9-AE98-517762B3151B?image=5
Caroline Newcomb Obit: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/201534295?searchTerm=caroline%20newcomb
Australian National Dictionary: https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/drysdale-anne-2000
National heritage award: https://trove.nla.gov.au/work/212639050?keyword=coriyule
Women of substance: http://barwonblogger.blogspot.com/2011/06/women-of-substance.html
Short bio of Anne and Caroline https://www.monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/people/settlement/display/31093-anne-drysdale-and-caroline-newcomb
Short bio of Anne and Caroline https://ergo.slv.vic.gov.au/explore-history/land-exploration/pastoral-practices/ladies-boronggoop
The Lady Squatters by John Richardson
Miss D & Miss N: An extraordinary partnership: The diary of Anne Drysdale edited by Bev Roberts.