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A Run Down Under

Looking for ancestors anyplace in the world means knowing where to begin. Geography is a big part of that. Searching for Australian ancestors means looking for "runs" – and knowing what one is!


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Resource: GenWeekly
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Think of rural life in Australia and sheep probably come to mind. Sheep do rule in Australia and they play a big role in genealogy.

Since 1900, Australia has required that every sheep station have its own run. A sheep station, in earlier days, referred to the sheep, or cattle rancher's residence. But a residence alone does not a sheep farm make. Each station must have its own run, or ranch. In essence, sheep can't run loose or graze at will.

Runs, or ranches, were given names just as towns traditionally have been. The title of a 1920 publication says it all, "The First Settlement of the Upper Murray, 1835 to 1845. With A Short Account of over Two Hundred Runs, 1835-1880," making it clear that ranches boomed during that time period.

The book includes a list of a runs by name and history, in this area of Victoria, Australia. A run is not necessarily the same as legally-owned property, and the runs evolved over time. Women, especially widows, who owned runs rented them to sheep and cattle farmers. When it was advantageous, two sheep farmers would combine their run and even change the run's name. Many of the early runs bore their Aboriginal names. It was not until later that runs began to take on Anglicized names. Later still, companies were formed that lent their business name to their runs.

Unlike many parts of the world, the lessee's names have been preserved. Charles Cowper created the 12,000 acre Cowper's Heifer Run in 1840 on the Upper Murray. Over the years it was leased by Joseph Andrews, Archibald Thoms, Joseph Evans, Matt Hervey, D. and F. Whitehead, H. Waller and Thomas Nugent.

Don't assume that the lessee lived in the run's residence. Some run lessee's rented more than one property. Lessees in the Upper Murray were guaranteed rental of a run for eight years. If the property came up for sale, they were then allowed to purchase 320 acres. The Upper Murray is always referred to as "the" Upper Murray.

During the mid 1840s land regulation went into place in the Upper Murray. Every station was required to have a grazing license. A run was 25 square miles or less, unless an exception was applied for. Runs were separated by seven mile strips.

In 1848, William Henry Wells published A geographical dictionary; or Gazetteer of the Australian colonies, identifying station locations. This gazetteer includes a section devoted to district law in each part of the country.

While a run owner may have received the property in the form of a land grant, the renter needed money. At that time the entire year's rent for a run in New South Wales, for instance, had to be paid in advance. The amount of the rent was based on the number of sheep or cattle the run was estimated to capable of supporting, as determined by the governor.

As we can see from the rules in New South Wales, it took considerable effort and finances to become a sheep run renter on government-owned land. The lessee was responsible and had to choose a valuer, and the Commissioner of Crown Lands served as a valuer. To reach a consensus, the lessee could opt to choose an umpire "if necessary." The two valuers, assisted by an umpire, would hammer out how many sheep or cattle a run could support. The rent did not include taxation on livestock. In addition, the lessee had to buy livestock and hire help: a single person could not manage a very large herd on his or her own.

If your ancestors had a run down under, they had to be more than just farmers. They had to be a tenacious businessmen or women who could navigate the system. If they did, they could be found at the same address, or run, for as long as eight years when they needed to renew their lease, buy the property, or move on.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2010.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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