BELGIAN, HENRY BERNARD SIMON, THE ALMOST MYTHICAL PIONEER OF DROMANA , VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA.
Cr. John Davies of Balnarring got the myth rolling when he stated at a gathering of the Peninsula's earliest pioneers at the Balnarring hall in 1913 that a Frenchman named Simon lived in a large hollow tree for years and died there. This quotation and other information from pages 153-4 of A DREAMTIME OF DROMANA, under the heading of "Simon The Belgian or, as Others Say, Frenchman", will be transcribed later in the journal, along with a passage from Helen Blakeley's W.H.BLAKELEY: PIONEER SAW MAKER, FARMER AND TRADE UNIONIST, which shows how frightening it could be for early pioneers living in the bush and how hospitable Henry, the so-called hermit could be.
Not one of the 130 death records for SIMON on Victorian BDM ONLINE is that of our mythical pioneer, nor was he the father of any of the others whose deaths were recorded. Unsurprisingly, as records were lost, there is no record of him being buried at Dromana.
Henry's two grants are shown on the Kangerong parish map:
There were three cuttings between Boundary Rd and Arthurs Seat Rd: Eaton's, Simon's and Bryan's.
Simon's Cutting obviously gave access between Henry's two grants.
Colin McLear knew where Henry's grants were, as demonstrated on page 153 of his book, but may not have been able to read the INITIALS of the grantee on the parish map: H.B.SIMON. He wrote to council in 1882 complaining that the valuation on his property was too high and luckily I suspected that his second given name in the article, "Barnard", was actually Bernard.
DROMANA POLICE COURT
The notice regarding the probate of Henry's estate in 1885 shows that he was almost certainly a native of BELGIUM.
HENRY BERNARD SIMON- STATUARY NOTICE to CREDITORS and OTHERS. — Pursuant to the Sixtieth Section of the "Statute of Trusts, I864,"notice is hereby given that all Creditors and other Persons having any CLAIMS or DEMANDS upon or against the ESTATE of Henry Bernard Simon, late of Dromana, in the colony of Victoria, farmer, deceased (who died on the 28th day of August last, and Probate of whose Will was granted by the Supreme Court of the said colony in its Probate Jurisdiction on the 22nd day of September last to JULES RENARD. of Melbourne, in the colony of Victoria, Belgian Consul, the sole executor named in and appointed by the said Will, are hereby
requested to SEND the PARTICULARS of such claims to the said Jules Renard, at the office of Messrs. Malleson, England and Stewart, 24 Queen-street, Melbourne, on or before the second day of November next, and notice is hereby also given that at the expiration of the last mentioned day the said Jules Renard will be at liberty to distribute the assets of the said Henry Bernard Simon, or any part thereof, amongst the parties entitled thereto, having regard only to the claims and demands of which he shall then have had notice, and the said Jules Renard will not be liable for the assets or any part thereof so paid, applied, or distributed to any person of whose claim he shall not have had notice at the time of such distribution.
Dated this first day of October, 1885.
MALLESON. ENGLAND and STEWART, 24 Queen-street, Melbourne, Proctors for the said Executors.
P.8, The Age,2-11-1885.
Henry certainly did not die a pauper.
LAW COURTS. PROBATES AND LETTERS OF ADMINISTRATION. (Before Mr. Justice Molesworth.) THURSDAY, 24TH SEPTEMBER.
Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 - 1918) Saturday 26 September 1885 p 29 Detailed Lists, Results, Guides
... ; John Charles Lowrie, £257 ; Bridget Austin, £58 ; Henry Bernard Simon, £411; John Stephen Garrett
PAGES 153-4, A DREAMTIME OF DROMANA.Colin McLear.
CHARACTERS IN DROMANA'S PAST.
Simon The Belgian or, as Others Say, Frenchman.
In Georgiana McCrae's journal, she several times refers to a Simon as being on Jamieson's Special Survey or as visiting Arthurs Seat Station from the Survey.
The Simon hereafter discussed lived and worked on the side of Arthurs Seat. It is a matter for conjecture thathe may have been occupied on the Special Survey at some time.His eccentricities, coupled with his broken English, saw him become a figure of folklore far and wide throughout the Peninsula- a lesser Paul Bunyan of the Antipodes. Tall tales were affectionately told of him by septuagenarian and octagenarian pioneers when they gathered at Balnarring in 1913 to recall the early days. These recollections were gathered into print and published by the Peninsula Post under the title, The Men Who Blazed the Track.Councillor J.Davies then said of him:
Not many years ago there lived in a large hollow tree in the vicinity a Frenchman named Simon. On one occasion he was asked by a minister how he lived. Simon's answer was short and to the point. He said, "Two goannas and one possum last me a week." (Laughter from the audience) He lived in the tree for years and died there. (A voice: "He was as strong as a giant.")
At the same gathering, Mr B.Tonkin said that the Simon referred to by Mr Davies lived on the mountain, Arthurs Seat. He carried all the posts and rails for fencing on his back up the hill and also walked to Dromana and carried a bag of flour up the hill on his back. Simon purchased lot 3 of section 3 in the Parish of Kangerong on May 1, 1877. This 27 acre block fronted Boundary Road. Adjoining it and higher up the hill, he purchased lot 33 of 43 acres on March 4,1881. Above this was George McLear's 82 acres block, and, above that again, on the top of the hill, Simon purchased lot 6, which was 142 acres in area. The latter block fronted Arthurs Seat Road.
In his early days on the mountain, Simon did live in a hollow tree, though not one standing as depicted in some sketches. His house was built some 230 yards above Boundary Road and beside the creek that once bore his name.
When Simon died, his house was purchased by the Shire Rate Collector, Mr Hazeldine (Hazledine)who moved it onto his land in Foote Street, Dromana, and with his family, took up residence therein. His descendants occupied it until comparatively recently when it was removed to make way for the new Roman Catholic Church. Then the old wooden church was converted for use as a hall.
It is said that Simon had a long body and short legs, was very strong and could carry a post on a shoulder over a long distance. Regularly he is said to have carried large bags of chips* to his home from various points on the mountain. Allegedly he was not averse to eating goannas and possums.(*Fuel for his fire, not French fries!)
It was also said that the Gallic settler's behavior was unpredictable. As mentioned earlier, George McLear owned a block between two of Simon's (paraphrased-and another beside Simon's lower blocks near Boundary Rd.)It was a shorter journey between George's two blocks if he could take his bullock team across the top corner of one of Simon's blocks. Permission was sought to do just this. When George's smaller brother, John (born in 1846 six years after George*)attempted to follow at a distance, Simon chased him with a stick.
*This information that I've added would suggest that the incident happened in about 1860.
Simon seems to have had a penchant for pears*. Indeed his orchard by his house contained numerous varieties of this fruit. On one occasion, Nelon Rudduck was riding by one of Simon's boundaries when he noticed him cutting a bough that was hanging over an intended fence line. Nelson was anxious for the axeman's safety for the latter was standing on the offending branch on the outer side of the cut he was making. He tried to draw his attention to the danger he was creating for himself. "Simon! You're standing on the wrong side of the cut," he called by way of drawing Simon's attention to his imminent danger, There was no acknowledgement of repeated warnings, until, at last the Frenchman came to earth, branch and all.
*Pears can be used to make mead. See Helen Blakeley's story.
John Townsend once camped at Simon's, whilst splitting posts on the mountain. One evening he shot a possum, intending to feed it to his dog in due course. Late the next day, John returned to camp in time to find Simon rolling on his bed, moaning and groaning all the while. When he enquired as to the cause of this distress, Simom replied that he had eaten too much possum. "But," insisted Townsend, "that possum was for my dog. What did you give him?" "I gave him the stomach," was the reply.
In 1882, Henry's land was described as being 140 acres when he complained that the valuation was too high. This was almost certainly the 142 acres. In the first Kangerong Road Board assessment of 3-9-1864, Henry Bernard Simon was rated on property in Kangerong with a nett annual value of 12 pounds which the 1865 rate record described as 122 acres and a hut. In 1879, Henry Bernard Simon was assessed on 70 acres leased from the Crown.
He would seem to have been occupying the Arthurs Seat Rd block at first and some time soon after he assisted William Henry Blakeley (as detailed below)he had moved to his land near Boundary Rd. The incident involving Nelson Rudduck (who arrived at Dromana in 1871) most likely happened on the property near Boundary Road.
Joseph William Hazledine, who'd arrived in the area to teach at Rosebud State School moved to Dromana in the mid 1890's and lived for some time in Dromana Villa, Alex Haldan's original Dromana Post Office. The statement that he'd bought Simon's old house upon the latter's death is seriously misleading given that there is no death record for Henry Bernard Simon on the Victorian BDM online records.Henry died in 1885 (exact date in the notice re probate by the Belgian Consul.)
William Henry Blakeley's "Ecclesall" was on the east corner of Arthurs Seat and Mornington-Flinders Rds being crown allotment 70A, Balnarring, partly occupied since about 1950 by the Red Hill Consolidated School.
To see the parish map, paste digital.slv.vic.gov.au/dtl_publish/simpleimages/36/1191007.html into your search bar and click on the first result.
Blakeley, who'd bought c/a 70A from the grantee Richard Henry Holding on 24-3-1874, spent much time in Melbourne running his sawmaking business and on this occasion had returned home by Steamer. He had to walk from the jetty (Melway 159H5)to Eatons Cutting Rd (160D9)which ends at 190E3 right across Arthurs Seat Road from "Ecclesall". Hopelessly lost, he finished up spending the night at Simon's place at 190 A 2, now the Seaforth Vineyard over Arthurs Seat Rd from Heath Lane, the original north end of Main Creek Rd.
PAGE 53-4, W.H.BLAKELY, PIONEER SAWMAKER, FARMER AND TRADE UNIONIST.Helen L.Blakeley.
William himself had difficulty finding Ecclesall at night. On one such occasion he left the bay steamer at Dromana and walked up the Eatons Cutting track to the top of the hill. It was a pitch black night and when William thought he might be near Ecclesall he called out 'coo-ee' several times in the hope that Edward Barker* would answer him and he could get his bearings. There being no reply William continued along the top track , Arthurs Seat Road, heading in a westerly direction and was in fact with each step walking further away from the farm. After groping his way along for about two miles, he saw a dim light shining through a window. He went over to where the light came from and knocked on the door.
It was opened by Simon, a hermit after whom Simon's cutting was named. Simon was an early settler in the district. William told Simon that he was 'bushed' (lost) and he was invited inside, given a meal and told that he was welcome to stay the night. Simon was noted for distilling mead, an alcoholic beverage whose main ingredient is fermented honey.
Local legend had Simon eating bandicoots and possums but William would have noted this if it had been on his bill of fare. In the morning, Simon pointed the way home and upon arrival William asked his father in law had he heard someone calling out in the bush. The answer was yes but he had been afraid to answer in case it was a robber who would come back and attack him.
I guess that would prove that the hermit, Henry Bernard Simon, had been brave as well as hospitable to answer William's knock on his door.
on 2019-01-06 13:21:36
Itellya is researching local history on the Mornington Peninsula and is willing to help family historians with information about the area between Somerville and Blairgowrie. He has extensive information about Henry Gomm of Somerville, Joseph Porta (Victoria's first bellows manufacturer) and Captain Adams of Rosebud.