State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 25 April 1980


The Winter Cooke Papers: A Valuable Record of The Pastoral Age in Western Victoria

During the past year I have been fortunate enough to be able to undertake a detailed study of a collection of Western District family records that have generally been referred to as the Winter Cooke papers.1 This rather unusual and historically significant collection is currently in the possession of Mr. and Mrs. S. R. Winter Cooke of ‘Murndal’, Tahara, approximately thirty kilometres north-west of the Western District town of Hamilton.2 The Winter Cooke papers were last studied in detail by the late Margaret Loch Kiddle, who spent a week at Murndal in May, 1950. Miss Kiddle made extensive use of the information contained in this collection in her highly regarded social history of the Western District during the Pastoral Age, Men of Yesterday,3 first published in 1954. Miss Kiddle made a brief inventory of the Winter Cooke papers based on the location of the documents at the time. Copies of this inventory together with notes made by Miss Kiddle in preparation for her book were lodged at Murndal and at the Melbourne University Library in February 1953. Unfortunately for students of the Pastoral Age in Victoria, the Winter Cooke papers have not generally been available for study since Miss Kiddle's work until I was granted permission to use them as the basis for a thesis I am writing on the family's history.4
The following comment by Margaret Kiddle in the introduction to her notes might also serve as part explanation for the writing of this article on the papers:
When I began making these notes on the Winter Cooke records I had no thought that they would be used by anyone but myself. It was not until I put all the extracts together that I realised how useful they might be to others.5
It is hoped that by the time of publication of this article the Winter Cooke papers will have been transferred from Murndal to the Australian Manuscript Collection of the La Trobe Library. In order to facilitate future use of these records, the writer has spent considerable time reorganising the papers and is in the process of preparing a detailed inventory of the collection. A copy of this inventory is now held by the La Trobe Library.
This article and the inventory should be of assistance to anyone who might wish to study these records in the future.
The Winter Cooke papers consist of the private and official papers of two generations of the Winter, Cooke and Winter Cooke families who pioneered and developed a number of pastoral enterprises in the Western District of Victoria during the last century.6 Most of the papers contained in this collection can be dated from the 1830s when the three Winter brothers emigrated to Van Diemen's Land from Ireland to 1895 when Cecil Pybus Cooke, the last surviving member of the pioneering generation died at Murndal. The members of the first or pioneering generation are the three Winter brothers George, Samuel Pratt and Trevor, their sister, Arbella, and her husband Cecil Pybus Cooke, all of whom pioneered runs in the Portland Bay district. The second generation consists of the five sons of Cecil and Arbella Cooke; William Francis, Samuel Winter, Cecil Trevor, Herbert Pybus and Edmund Gerald, who died in 1875 when only fifteen.
The Winters (Wyntours, Wintours) in the fifteenth century were an aristocratic Gloucestershire family who claimed descent from one of William's Norman knights. Later generations also claimed to be direct decendents of Sir George Winter, an admiral of Drake's who was knighted by Elizabeth I after the Armada's defeat. In 1603 the Reverend Dr. Samuel Winter was summoned to Ireland by Cromwell's Commissioners and made Provost of Trinity College, Dublin.

Winter Cookes

Dr. Winter and his descendants as members of the ruling protestant elite were granted extensive lands in County Meath to the south of Dublin. By the beginning of the nineteeth century the family had lost much of its property and by the 1830s it had become obvious that the three sons of the late Samuel Winter would have to leave Ireland to retain or improve their situation. In 1833, Samuel Pratt Winter emigrated to Van Dieman's Land under the auspices of a family friend, Mr. William Bryan who held considerable estates at Carrick, near Launceston. After gaining colonial experience through managing the Bryan's property ‘Cluan’ for three years, Winter crossed Bass Strait and selected a run, Tahara, at the eastern end of the fertile Wannon River valley, approximately fifty miles north of Portland. In 1837 Samuel was joined by his younger brother Trevor and in 1839 his elder brother George with whom he entered into partnership. His younger sister, Arbella, who emigrated with George, married a fellow passenger, Cecil Pybus Cooke in Launceston and the two of them took up the Pine Hills run near the present township of Harrow. Samuel Winter installed a manager on his section of the run and returned to manage his business enterprises at Carrick and did not make his permanent home on the Wannon till the early 1850s. By the mid-fifties Trevor had failed at squatting and gone to seek his fortunes on the Ballarat goldfields. George, after a brief term in the Victorian parliament, had left the colony to settle permanently in Fiji and Arbella and Cecil, after failing at Pine Hills, had with Sam Winter's help, re-established themselves on a cattle run at Lake Condah.7
In contrast to the hardworking dour Scots who pioneered much of the Western District, Samuel Winter was a strange pioneering squatter having a marked dislike of station work and a strong interest in matters cultural and intellectual. Charles Griffith claimed that Winter, who reminded him of a knight errant, mounted on a splendid blood horse, once confessed to him that when sheep shearing took place he used to run away.8 Fortunately, Winter who seemed to spend only a few weeks at a time at Murndal, was blessed with the art of persuading others to capably manage Murndal on his behalf. In this fashion, Winter, an astute businessman,
was able to purchase freehold, a considerable portion of his run during the fifties and sixties and became a wealthy man. From 1850–1854 Winter travelled extensively through Europe and the Americas, including Panama, where he contracted yellow fever. While in Europe on this trip Winter began seriously collecting paintings and books to be shipped to his home at Murndal. His friends and relatives were surprised when Winter returned to the Wannon late in 1854, as it was generally expected that he would sell his station and retire to Ireland. Instead Winter indulged his passion for building and his rambling blue-stone mansion at Murndal with its numerous outbuildings and groves of European trees became one of the most beautiful estates in the Western District.
Though wealthy and regarded as extremely handsome and charming, Winter never married or left any record of romantic attachments. He enjoyed a close relationship with his younger sister, Arbella, whom he persuaded to live more or less permanently at Murndal in the early seventies. After visiting Europe a third time in 1865–1870, Winter's health, which had never fully recovered from the attack of yellow fever, deteriorated on his return to the colony. After staying with various acquaintances in Victoria and New South Wales, Winter purchased ‘Fern Lodge’ at Mount Macedon near Melbourne in 1878. A few months after this move Winter's condition rapidly worsened and he died of fibroid phthisis on Christmas Day, 1878. It was generally expected that Winter would leave Murndal to Arbella's eldest son, William Francis Cooke, who had been managing the property for the past nine years. However, his will left all his personal and real estate to the second son, his namesake and godson, Samuel Winter Cooke. After a bitter quarrel on the day of Winter's funeral, William and his wife left the district and remained permanently estranged from the rest of the family. Winter's final instructions also caused a considerable reaction amongst the local population as it instructed his brother, Trevor, to:
… on no account bury me in any cemetery, and if my body is taken to Murndal I would like to be buried in the stones where the blacks are buried …9 Trevor, never a strong character, gave in to shocked and disapproving local comment and had his brother buried in what became the family burial plot at Murndal.
Meanwhile Samuel Winter Cooke, who had read law at Cambridge, installed his brother Cecil as manager of Murndal and, accompanied by his wife, undertook a prolonged grand tour of Europe. Unlike his somewhat aloof uncle, Winter Cooke on his return to the colony played an active role in public and church affairs and was a member of the first Federal Parliament.
Trevor's somewhat sad life ended in 1885. Arbella, dogmatic and critical to the end, died in 1893 while her kindly husband Cecil survived her by two years which was surprising as he had been plagued with asthma for most of his adult life. Samuel Winter Cooke, though he married twice, died in 1926 without issue and once again the property went to a nephew, William Lempriere Winter Cooke, whose son Samuel Robert Winter Cooke now runs Murndal.
The Winter Cooke papers are unusual insofar as they have remained in the one location and in the possession of the same family. Unlike many similar collections these records have not simply aggregated as family members set aside personal and official papers they considered important. The fact is that some of the most interesting documents to be found in this collection were acquired as a result of deliberate effort on the part of Samuel Pratt Winter and Samuel Winter Cooke. Both these gentlemen used their extensive overseas travels to acquire the original or copy of any document or painting that was concerned with the origins of the Winter or Cooke families. The nature of the documents that a family or person deliberately acquire or preserve as important does of course provide an insight into the attitudes of that family or person. In the case of both generations of the Winter and Cooke families, while considerable time, effort and expense was expended in collecting anything concerned with the families’ genealogy, apparently very significant business
papers were not thought worthy of preservation. Thus the collection contains a wealth of material for anyone wishing to study the families’ English and Irish origins, but very little concerning the business side of establishing and developing several large pastoral concerns.
While visiting Ireland in the early 'fifties, Samuel Pratt Winter was frequently a guest at Agher, the Winters’ ancestral home near Enfield, in County Meath. Winter was apparently able to persuade his Irish relatives at Agher, whom he claimed had “no interest in family history”, to let him take several fourteenth and fifteenth century manuscripts. These documents, now at Murndal, include a marriage contract, property deeds and family trees. Where he could not obtain the original, Winter copied or had copies made of any document or extracts from documents relating to the history of the Winter and Pratt families. Winter visited family graves to copy inscriptions, made pencil sketches of Agher and drew or painted the various family coats of arms. It was also on this trip that Winter began commissioning such English artists as Stephen Pearce and Oswald Brierly to copy family portraits or undertake new works featuring his most famous ancestors. Samuel Winter Cooke used his visits to England to research the origins of the Cooke family and employed the professional genealogist, J. Farnham Burke, to carry out investigations for him.10 When they returned to the colony both men continued to make enquiries into their family pedigrees by corresponding with relatives or possible relatives.
As previously noted, far less zeal was demonstrated by the family in collecting and preserving business records showing the development and consolidation of the Winter Cookes’ pastoral enterprises which were considerable. The collection contains virtually no business papers relating to developments before 1850 except for two account notebooks and one journal containing details of Winter's personal finances and the management of “Cluan” in Van Diemen's Land. Unfortunately, wage books from 1876 on and notebooks containing details of the Murndal wool clip referred to in Miss Kiddle's inventory have not as yet been re-located in the re-organisation of the papers.11 The collection does, however, contain a number of station diaries dating from the late 1840's relating to the day to day management of Pine Hills, Lake Condah, Condah Hills and Murndal. The Lake Condah diaries contain many interesting references to the apparently successful employment of local aborigines as station workers on the property. The Murndal station diaries consist mainly of routine entries kept by whoever was manager during Winter's frequent and prolonged absences from the property. These accounts understandably reflect the manager's desire to convince his employer that everyone on the Murndal payroll was being properly and profitably employed about the station. The horse and cattle stud books before 1898 appear to have been kept in a fairly haphazard fashion mainly by Trevor Winter and Cecil Pybus Cooke, who seemed to regard this activity more as an interesting hobby than an important aspect of stock management.
The legal documents in the collection contain copies of the various wills and codicils family members had drawn up, probate statements, property deeds, mortgage agreements and powers of attorney Winter had drawn up to enable his business to be properly conducted while he was absent from the colony. The wills and probate statements are particularly useful as they indicate fairly precisely just what money and property each family member had managed to acquire and retain during his or her lifetime. From the human interest point of view, probably the most interesting legal documents are Samuel Winter's last will and instructions previously mentioned and Arbella's will in which she attempted to ensure that her deceased eldest son's family would not be able to make any claim on her property.
The extent and variety of the private correspondence section of the collection is largely due to the lengthy periods of time family members spent overseas. The family obviously thought most private correspondence

Samuel Pratt Winter

worth keeping, though the pages of many letters have become separated and envelopes detached from letters they once contained. From 1841 to 1870, Winter spent more than ten years travelling overseas while Arbella made two extended visits to Europe and her sons Samuel, Cecil and Herbert all travelled extensively. These lengthy absences from home not only generated regular correspondence between family members, but resulted in both Winter and the Cookes maintaining ties with British relatives and establishing friendships with various acquaintances with whom they continued to correspond when they returned home.
Detailed correspondence with managers and overseers was also required whenever the owners of the family's pastoral concerns were absent from the Portland Bay District for any length of time. Samuel Pratt Winter's decision to remain in Van Diemen's Land during the 'forties resulted in an interesting set of accounts from his manager, Thomas Murphy. A series of letters from Murphy between 1844–1848 contain vivid descriptions of the pioneering life on the Wannon. Murphy's detailed reports to Winter, who only visited his run about once a year, contain frequent references to the shortage of workers, wild dog attacks, spearing of Winter's sheep by aborigines, encroachments of neighbouring squatters and virtually every letter refers to the manager's unending battle to keep the sheep free of scab. Murphy, who seemed to regard Winter more as a friend than employer, was obviously very lonely and on one occasion wrote,
I wish something would induce you to give up V.D. and come and live here altogether. It is very lonesome to be living here by oneself particularly on Sundays when I am not employed. I have four cows milking and have lots of butter and cream for my tea. Don't you wish you were here. Mrs. Monihan is raising lots of fowls and young Turkeys so that if you come over now you can live like a king …12
Another interesting set of letters are those between Arbella and Cecil Pybus Cooke and their young sons, Willy and Sammy, who have been left to attend a private school at Cheltenham in England. Arbella, who never missed a chance a exhort her boys to make the most of this opportunity and to influence their developing characters, wrote to Willy,
… if any of your brains are not properly developed it will be because I taught you too early. I hope you are helping yourself to learn all you can and are beginning to believe your elders know better than you do and that you do not give saucy answers.13
The collection contains letters to Winter from a wide range of colonial and overseas acquaintances. Winter corresponded with several fellow Anglo-Irish gentlemen who emigrated to the Port Phillip District, including Foster Fyans, Acheson French, Henry and William Dana, Samuel and William Bryan and Dr. Cusack Russell.14 Winter's correspondence also includes witty and informed accounts of European affairs from the liberal minded Hanovarian aristocrat, Count Ernest Von Loseke and his friend Baron Biel as well as letters from such colonial notables as the explorer Ernest Giles and the noted priest, educationist and scientist, Julian Tenison-Woods.15 Samuel Winter Cooke's correspondence is generally politely Victorian and far less interesting to read than the letters received by his scholarly, humanist uncle. Winter undoubtedly tempered the intellectual loneliness he experienced at Murndal by corresponding with men of similar intellectual capacity and outlook. Probably the most interesting letters addressed to Samuel Winter Cooke are from his brother Cecil who as one of a group of Western District younger sons sought at various times to establish pastoral runs in Gippsland, Queensland, New Zealand and New Mexico.
In addition to the types of items already described, the papers at Murndal contain a number of sketches, a sizable collection of photographs, several family keepsakes and a number of hand drawn and printed maps relating to developments at Murndal. One of these maps was exquisitely drawn by Samuel Pratt Winter in 1848 to indicate to Foster Fyans as Commissioner of Crown Lands how the Spring Valley run might be legally divided between himself and his
brother George Winter, with whom he had quarrelled.
Though not part of the actual collection, some mention ought to be made of the impressive collections of paintings and books that were developed at Murndal during the second half of the last century. Samuel Winter Cooke, though he lacked his uncle's fervour for collecting and commissioning works of art, made detailed notes on the paintings at Murndal (c. 1900) and this information will be included in the inventory. The paintings, which vary considerably in value and quality, are mainly copies of family portraits commissioned by Winter. The Murndal library, which was recently catalogued by Mr. Kenneth Hince, contains over three thousand volumes, including a number of rare books and many with annotations by Samuel Pratt Winter. The works purchased by Winter in Europe reveal his broad literary taste and his strong interest in the British monarchy.
It is now many years since Margaret Kiddle worked on these papers. Friends of the La Trobe Library will no doubt share the writer's sense of pleasure when the reorganised collection has been deposited in the Library fulfilling Miss Kiddle's hope for the Winter Cooke papers “… that one day the bulk of them will be given to the Victorian Public Library”.
Gordon Forth


Samuel Winter Cooke assumed the surname Winter Cooke shortly after the death of his uncle and godfather Samuel Pratt Winter in 1878. Miss Kiddle refers to the collection of documents at Murndal as the Winter Cooke papers in all references to these records.


I am grateful to Mr. and Mrs. S. R. Winter Cooke for allowing me to study these papers and their permission should be asked before any quotations included in this article are published.


Kiddle, M. L., Men of Yesterday: A Social History of the Western District of Victoria, 1834–1890, Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1974.


The writer is currently enrolled as a Ph.D. student with the Department of History, Monash University. The thesis topic is The Winter Cookes of Murndal and Lake Condah (1813–1895).


Kiddle, M. L., Notes on the Winter Cooke Papers, February, 1953. Copies were lodged with the University of Melbourne Library, at Murndal and at the State Library of Victoria.


Billis, R. V., and Kenyon, A. S., Pastoral Pioneers of Port Phillip, second edition, Melbourne, Stockland Press, 1974, list the following information under Cecil Pybus Cooke and the Winter Brothers.
Port Phillip Dist. 1840–2.
COOKE, Cecil Pybus: b. Madras, 1813; arr. Portland, 1839; m. Arbella, sister of S. P. Winter, of Murndal, 1842–3; d. Condah Hills, 1895: — Wannon R., July 1840 to 1844; The Pine Hill, 1844 to Feb. 1850; Lake Condah, July 1850 to June 1867; Whittlebury, Apr. 1857 to Feb. 1872, final. WINTER Bros. (Geo. J.P., b. Ireland 1815; arr. Aug. 1837; m. Elizabeth, dau. of Jas. Cox, J.P., M.L.C.; d. Fiji, 1879; Ben. Pratt, D.Dec., 1844; Sam. Pratt, b. King Co., Ireland, 1816; arr. Aug. 1837; d. Dec. 1878; Trevor, arr. 1837; d. Murndal, 1885). GEO.: — Tahara, Aug. 1838 to 1847; Glenaulin, 1842–3; with SAM: — Tahara, 1847 to Mar. 1849. BENJ.: —Mullagh, Sept. 1844 to Aug. 1845; Norbury, 1844. SAM.: — Spring Valley, Murndal, 1837 to Feb. 1874. TREVOR: — Baynton, 1845–7; Nigretta, Jan. 1845 to May 1848.


There is some confusion regarding the name of Cooke's property which was at first referred to as Lake Condon and later as Lake Condah. A. Massola, Journey to Aboriginal Victoria, Melbourne, Rigby, 1964, p. 57, claims that C. P. Cooke chose the name Condah for the area ‘… erroneously believing that the name meant Black Swan in the native language’.


Samuel Griffith's Diary, 1 February 1841. MS 9393. La Trobe Collection, State Library of Victoria.


Instructions from Samuel Pratt Winter to Trevor Winter given 22 December, 1978 at Fern Lodge, Mount Macedon. These instructions are attached to Samuel Pratt Winter's last will.


H. Farnham Burke wrote to Samuel Winter Cooke in 1885 to inform him that Sir John Bernard Burke's A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Colonial Gentry, 2 vols., London 1891 and 1895, was in preparation and to suggest that the Cooke family might be included.


Kiddle, M. L., Notes on the Winter Cooke Papers, pp. 11–13.


Thomas Murphy to Samuel Pratt Winter, 20 September 1845.


Arbella Cooke to William Francis Cooke, 4 April 1855.


Foster Fyans, son of an Irish-Anglican family, was appointed the first police magistrate at Geelong in 1837 and as commissioner for crown lands in the Portland Bay District in 1840. Acheson French was police magistrate at Hamilton in the early 'forties until resigning to take up his Monivae run near Hamilton. Henry Edward Pulteny and William Dana were both civil officers of aristocratic Anglo-Irish descent. Samuel and William Bryan were also Protestant Irish who emigrated to Van Diemen's Land in 1824 and held considerable estates near Launceston till forced to leave the colony in the mid 1830's after a quarrel with Governor Arthur. Dr. Francis T. Cusack Russell was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and in 1847 became the first Anglican parson in the Wannon area.


Count or Captain Ernest Von Losecke would have met Winter through his association with Captain Stanley Carr of Lynne in the Western District, whose daughter Emily he married. For a witty description of Losecke see Boldrewood, R., Old Melbourne Memories, London, 1899, reprint Melbourne (T. A. Browne). Heinemann, 1969, p. 137. Ernest Giles was an English explorer who succeeded in making an overland crossing from South to Western Australia in 1875 and was a land classifier in the Western District of Victoria in 1877–1879. Julian Edmund Tenison-Woods was an English Catholic priest, educationist and scientist who was the author of several works on Australian geology and palaeontology as well as establishing the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in 1874.