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Ohio, Walcha

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Location: Walcha, New South Wales, Australia
Ohio, a pastoral homestead situated several kilometres north of Walcha in the northern tablelands of New South Wales, is one of the oldest homes in New England.
Ohio was first taken up in 1836, four years after the invasion of the New England tablelands was begun by ‘squatters’ hungry for additional land on which to graze their stock. Following the example set by Hamilton Collins Semphill, a pastoralist from the Hunter Valley who in 1832 had established the first New England run at Walcha, John Herring Boughton, who lived at Tillimby on the Paterson River near Gresford, selected a parcel of land to the immediate north of Sempill’s property and transported his surplus stock there. Ohio, as the property was then known, was probably christened by Henry Dumaresq, who, in his official capacity as Secretary to Governor Ralph Darling, not only acquired his own run at Samaurez near Armidale in 1835 but also named many of the properties in the New England district. A military careerist who had fought against the Americans in 1814, Dumaresq may have called the homestead Ohio to commemorate the outposts of British civilisation in the Ohio Valley in the United States.
Under the distant management of Boughton, who remained at Tillimby, Ohio became a reasonably successful run. By 1839, when New England’s first Commissioner of Crown Lands, GJ Macdonald, visited the Walcha area, Ohio consisted of three slab huts occupied by eight workers, a five-acre paddock of wheat, 3,285 sheep, nine head of cattle and one horse. Three years later, fourteen men were working the property, most of whom were assigned shepherds. There were now eighteen acres under cultivation, five slab huts to accommodate the growing workforce and more than 4,000 sheep carried on the run.
Nevertheless, following the economic crisis of 1841, Boughton looked to sell Ohio. About this time, Boughton is said to have met Abraham Nivison, a Scotsman recently arrived in Australia from Sanquhar, Dumfriesshire, and offered him the property for £500. Nivison, according to family legend, said that he did not have that kind of money on him, to which Boughton reputedly replied, ‘Never mind, I’ll agree to sell it to you as you have an honest face’. The following year, Nivison purchased Ohio’s depasturing license from Boughton and with his new wife, Mary, and their two children, Jane and James, moved into their new primitive abode. While Abraham Nivison tended to his stock and learned about the peculiarities of his run, he also made plans to build a new homestead at Ohio. The first stage, finished in 1845 and comprising four bedrooms, a hipped roof structure and chimneys in every room, was built of stone rubble and covered with a lime mortar render. As a measure of the Nivison’s increasing prosperity, the homestead was renovated in the 1850s. A new kitchen and store were added, while the roof was raised to accommodate a loft. Six dormer windows were installed which remain a distinctive aspect of the home’s appearance.
As the ‘natural’ grandeur of the Nivison’s renovated home would suggest, Ohio was by the 1850s a very successful pastoral run. With an area of approximately 20,000 acres, the property now carried more than 5,000 sheep, over 200 head of cattle and 26 horses, while its sister station, Congi, a run of 16,000 acres which Nivison probably purchased from Boughton at the same time that he took up Ohio, carried about 4,000 sheep. With this new prosperity and security, Nivison not only purchased Tillimby from Boughton in 1854 but also looked to consolidating his existing holdings. In the early-1850s, Ohio was still classified as Crown land, and Nivison, like many of his fellow ‘squatters’, spent the next two decades doing everything within his power to buy up the rest of the estate. In 1854, he successfully applied for permission to purchase the head station of 160 acres as well as a further 304 and 320 acres along the property’s main waterways. Through the much-hated practice of ‘dummying’, Nivison used the names of family members, business acquaintances and even employees to purchase large chunks of the Ohio lands. By the end of the 1870s, Ohio had been consolidated as a freehold estate of more than 30,000 acres.
In 1873, Mary Nivison died. Abraham, however, lived for another twenty years, continuing to manage Ohio until his death in April 1895. The house then lay empty for some time due to legal complications associated with Abraham Nivison’s will, but in 1901, his eldest son, James, who until that time had lived at The Glen several miles up the Ohio Creek, took charge of the property of 16,632 acres and moved into the old homestead with his wife, Mary, and eleven children. He proved as diligent as his father, renovating the old house and erecting new station buildings; by the early years of the twentieth century, Ohio was a quite opulent homestead surrounded by exotic gardens, a tennis court (complete with tennis house), water tanks and an impressive array of work houses, including new stables and a new woolshed. When James Nivison died in 1913, his five sons continued to manage the property from their own stations on the Ohio property. The homestead itself remained the centre of family activities until 1931, when Mary died. Complications in James Nivison’s will saw the property acquired in 1935 by his grandson, Jim Nivison, who subsequently sold the homestead ‘by private treaty’. In 1950, the old house was thus taken over by the Church of England, which used it as a boys’ home, and later, as a conference centre.
When the Church placed the homestead on the market in 1970, it was bought back by the descendants of Abraham Nivison. Shortly thereafter, Ohio was classified by the National Trust of Australia, and in 1985, under the supervision of its new owner, Jillian Oppenheimer, a great-granddaughter of Abraham Nivison, the old homestead was extensively renovated. It is a private home once more. The surrounding property is still largely owned by the Nivison family.

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Related People:

Jillian Oppenheimer, ‘A History of Land Use in the Walcha District’, Unpublished BA (Hons) Thesis (Department of History: University of New England, 1970); Krista Mogensen and Ted Colville (eds.), New England Tablelands, NSW (Blackburn, Victoria: See Australia, 1986); Jillian Oppenheimer and Bruce Mitchell, An Australian Clan: The Nivisons of New England (Sydney: Kangaroo Press, 1989).


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