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Saumarez Station

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Location: Armidale, New South Wales, Australia
Saumarez Station, situated about five kilometres south of Armidale, was one of the earliest grazing runs established on the New England tablelands during the 1830s.
Henry Dumaresq, a former army officer and brother-in-law of Governor Ralph Darling, arrived in New South Wales in 1825. Keen to make his fortune from Australia’s so-called ‘empty’ lands, Dumaresq in his official capacity as private secretary to Governor Darling was well placed to achieve this objective. With his brother William, he received a free land grant, St Heliers, in the Hunter Valley shortly after arriving in Australia. As Commissioner of the Australian Agricultural Company from 1831, Dumaresq not only relocated the company’s sheep breeding operation to the Liverpool Plains but also developed a close knowledge of the New England tablelands in the hope of furthering his own business interests.
Thus, in 1835, Dumaresq, after first claiming a squatting station for himself on the New England tablelands, sent a large contingent of men, livestock and machinery to occupy Samaurez, a vast property of about 100,000 acres which he named in memory of his family connections with the Seigneur de Sausmarez in the Channel Isles. Under the control of his superintendant, AS Wightman, a head station, store and stables were set up above Saumarez Creek. Within a few years Wightman had also built a shearing shed and men’s huts. The operation, even in its early years, was a successful one, but in 1838 Dumaresq died, leaving Saumarez to his widow, Elizabeth Sophia. William Dumaresq, whose New England property Tilbuster adjoined Samaurez, managed his brother’s deceased estate after Sophie returned to England in 1841 to educate her family.
In 1857, Sophie White sold the licensed pastoral run with its improvements to Henry Arding Thomas, who arrived with his young wife, Caroline, and their first son, William, in April the following year. As the property’s first resident owners, they worked hard to make the existing slab homestead a comfortable retreat for their (growing) family. In due time, a brick three-roomed cottage with surrounding verandahs was added to the homestead. In the meantime, Thomas supervised the sheep work on Samaurez and pursued a vigorous policy of land acquisition. Most of the property was still designated as Crown land, but over the next seveteen years Thomas used every means at his disposal – including the much-hated practice of ‘dummying’ – to purchase as much of the estate as possible. By the 1870s, Saumarez had been consolidated as a freehold estate of over 23,000 acres. Thomas also purchased a leasedhold on Rampsbeck, a property nearby, and played a pioneering role in the development of Armidale. He sat as a Magistrate on the Armidale Bench; with fellow Board members helped to conceive the New England Hospital; and as President of the Agricultural Society initiated the first Agricultural Show on the northern tablelands.
Having built the property from the ground up, Thomas sold Saumarez in 1874 for the princely sum of £40,000 and moved to Camden west of Sydney to enjoy a more relaxed life as a gentleman farmer. The property’s new owner was Francis White, a second generation Australian whose family had developed a highly successful sheep farming business across New South Wales. His father, James, had been employed fifty years earlier to bring a shipload of sheep to the colony, and since that time Francis and his brothers had acquired a prosperous chain of properties extending out from the Hunter Valley. Now, with the acquisition of Samaurez, Francis White looked to further consolidating these interests.
No sooner had the sale gone through, however, than Francis White died suddenly at his home in Edinglassie. His eldest son, Francis John White – known to the family and subsequent generations as FJ – took charge of Samaurez. A twenty-three year old bachelor, FJ arrived in 1878 and over the next decade continued to manage the property in the same successful manner as Henry Arding Thomas. A new woolshed was built in 1883, and five years later, FJ, his wife Margaret (they had married in 1881), and their five children moved into a larger house further up from the creek. Maggie, as FJ called her, bore two more babies in the new house and spent much of her time supervising the family of seven children and entertaining guests such as their cousins from Booloominbah.
Meanwhile, FJ continued to make improvements to the property; over the next decade, a saddle horse stable, wagon shed, blacksmith’s shop, milking shed, fowl pens and ensilage pit were added to the property. These years were not without their difficulties. The depression of the 1890s was made worse by drought, and although the Whites, like all well-established pastoralists, felt the impact of these changes, they were in a much stronger position to adapt to the crisis. Thus, while forced to reduce sheep numbers from 21,000 in 1892 to 15,000 in 1906, FJ was over the same period able to increase his cattle numbers from 7,000 to 9,000. He was, in fact, so comfortable that in 1906, as the crisis was receding, he added a second storey to the Samaurez homestead. With gas lighting, interior flushing lavatories, a system of heating bath water and an improved telephone line to Armidale, the renovated homestead possessed all the ‘mod cons’ which befitted the White family’s leading social status in the community.
In 1934, FJ died at the age of eighty and Margaret followed two years later. Saumarez was left to their five daughters, two of whom, Mary and Elsie, would continue to live in the house while the property itself was managed by their brother Harold Fletcher White, of Bald Blair near Guyra. As the Australian wool industry experienced increasing difficulties during the second half of the twentieth century, parts of Samaurez were sold off. A section of the property at Chiswick was purchased by the federal government after World War Two to allow the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to establish a pastoral research station there, while demands from the state government in the 1950s that the White family surrender large portions of the property for soldier settlement resulted in Samaurez being further reduced to about 8,000 acres by the early-1960s.
Mary, a socialite by nature who founded the Country Women’s Association in Armidale and represented the White family on the first Council of the New England University College, died in 1948, but Elsie continued to occupy the homestead at Samaurez. A stickler for her father’s ways, she took an active role in the management of the property to ensure that FJ’s standards were maintained and resisted change to the point of refusing to alter the accustomed furnishings or routine of Samaurez. When Elsie died in 1981 at the age of ninety-seven, FJ’s grandchildren were so impressed with the pristine state of the homestead that they donated it to the Australian National Trust as an example of a late-nineteenth century Australian pastoral station. The remaining 3,000 acres surrounding Saumarez homestead is still run by the descendants of FJ White.

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Ann Philp, The Ladies of Saumarez: The Story of an Australian Country House and the Women who Called it Home During the Past Century (Sydney: Kangaroo Press, 1988); Bruce Mitchell and Jillian Oppenheimer, Saumarez: A History of the Property and Its People (Armidale: Saumarez Advisory Committee of the National Trust of Australia, 1995); Mitchell and Barry McDonald, Working Saumarez: People and Places on a Cattle and Sheep Station (Armidale: Saumarez Advisory Committee of the National Trust of Australia, 1996).

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Structure based on ISAAR(CPF) - click here for an explanation of the fields.Prepared by: Sophie Patrick
Created: 26 June 2002
Modified: 21 June 2006

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

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