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Rediscovering Ginninderra:

Malton was the homestead of John Butler (Senior), his wife Phoebe (nee Gillespie) and their family for around 40 years after they first acquired the land in 1859 and built a house on it. It is not known exactly when the family ceased using Malton as their residence but John Butler's death in 1884, and the depression of the 1890's may have encouraged their departure well before the land was resumed in 1915. According to Gillespie, who visited the site around 1970, only a few fruit trees and some surface irregularities were visible then. However a significant archaeological survey was undertaken in 1992 before the site was obliterated by arterial road construction.[Heffernan, 1993].

Butler's initial purchase of 100 acres in 1859, where the homestead was built, was followed by further purchases in 1861 and 1875, amounting to a holding of 280 acres by the time the property was resumed by the Commonwealth government. A report on the initial purchase states that: Part of these Portions [the adjacent Portion of 320 acres to the south was sold to Anthony Rolfe at the same time] is well suited for farming purposes and they are very well grassed. Water is plentiful and permanent. They are lightly timbered'. However, John Gale records that during this period there were droughts or dry spells in 1859, 1865-66, 1868, 1875-79, 1881-85. In 1902 there was a severe drought and grasshopper plague.

Investigation revealed a home of very basic colonial design and typical bush dwelling of that time. The main house was around 6 m x 4.7 m, divided into a living / cooking area, and a sleeping area, with a stone and brick chimney in the middle of the long side. Artefacts included many with agricultural functions - remains of a horse bit, a chisel plough blade, numerous horseshoes with toe pieces for ploughing traction, a harvesting scythe blade, and section of a rabbit trap. Yewen's Directory of Landholders of NSW 1900 shows John Butler, Malton, as growing wheat, maize, barley and oats. Plough marks were identified on the slopes around the homestead, and the 1915 ACT Feature map notes the use for cultivation of lands in the vicinity.

Heffernan concludes that:

"the construction and occupation of Malton was substantial, especially given the probably limited capital of its occupants and the relatively short period of 40m years it represents........The artefacts .....represent a range of domestic tasks and patterns of household consumption which was probably typical of small scale settlement in Ginninderra in the late 19th century. They also emphasise the agricultural foundation of the residents' work, and the importance of the draught horse in that livelihood"

There is a plaque on the verge of Mirabei Drive, Gungahlin, identifying the site of their nearby homestead and garden. The inscription reads as follows:

'Malton'. John and Ann Butler purchased Portion 2 of the Parish of Goorooyarooin 1859 and built their home 50 metres to the south-east of this plaque in 1860. The two pear tress to the north east were planted over 100 years ago. The Butlers and their descendants live at Malton until early this century [evidently the plaque was installed last century!]

Related Photos


Heffernan, K. Archaeological Excavations at the Settlement of John and Ann Butler, Gungahlin, ACT. Report for the Canberra Archaeological Society Inc. Canberra, 1993

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