Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Cooke, Cecil Pybus (1813–1895)

by J. Ann Hone

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Cecil Pybus Cooke (1813-1895), pastoralist, was born on 10 July 1813 in India, eldest son of William Cooke of the Madras Civil Service and his wife Martha. Educated in England, Cecil was drawn to Port Phillip by Major Sir Thomas Mitchell's account of Australia Felix and arrived at Hobart Town in April 1839 in the London. In May he married Arbella Winter; they soon went to Portland where Cooke took up a run on the Smoky River. His flock was reduced by attacks from Aboriginals and wild dogs and he moved to the Wannon. In 1840 he held a share in Bochara station, a venture that left him with only a large pictorial Bible. He rejoined his family at Portland and with a timely shipment of goods from his father set up a store.

In April 1845 Cooke formed the Pine Hills run near Harrow, but sold out after his house was burnt. In 1849 he acquired Lake Condah station. In his first years there he suffered loss from severe bush fires and the early gold rushes deprived him of labour, but cattle prices rose rapidly and by October 1853 Cooke was selling 250 a year at £7 each. In 1854 the Cookes took their sons to England and settled them at Cheltenham College. In 1857 they returned with some Durham cattle, sporting dogs and £1000 from Cooke's father. In 1864 Lake Condah was sold; it returned to Cooke's hands when the buyer could not complete payments.

As a justice of the peace Cooke regularly attended the Branxholme court. He always treated the natives well, and in 1867 the Church of England Mission to the Aborigines chose Lake Condah as its site partly because of the good relations already established there. He gave land for the Anglican Church, built the brick church, endowed it with £2000, and took the services when the minister could not attend. A chronic sufferer from asthma he grew increasingly frail. He died on 30 September 1895, 'much loved and honoured and retaining his mind clear and vigorous to the end'.

His wife, Arbella (Arabella), was born on 21 March 1821 at Clarkeston, County Meath, Ireland, the daughter of Samuel Pratt Winter and his wife Frances Rose, née Bomford, both of whom died while their children were young. Arbella's brother, Samuel Pratt Winter, emigrated to Australia in 1833 and, when the younger brothers George and Trevor followed him, she refused to be left behind. Her guardian, Rev. Francis Winter, gave Arbella £1000, her share of her father's fortune.

Soon after her marriage Arbella proved that she could cope with pioneering life. She helped with mustering and branding, cooked and kept house for the men, bore and raised her children, and managed Samuel's affairs when he was overseas in the 1850s. Her letters reveal her aggressive spirit; colonial life had left her with no illusions. She resented the insecure tenure of the squatters and almost despaired of any alleviation of the great hardships she and her husband had suffered for fourteen years. She taught her children and other local children every morning, and continued after her sons went to England. In 1854 and 1869 Arbella visited Britain but her heart was in her new country. She especially loved Lake Condah, where she enjoyed boating, and wild birds, pigs and fish varied the station diet. In old age she was white-haired but still erect and formidable. Her death on 1 May 1892 was regretted throughout the district because of her courage in adversity and ready care for all in need. Of her three surviving sons, Samuel Winter inherited Condah Hills and his uncle's property, Murndal; Cecil Trevor became manager; and Herbert took holy orders.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Henderson (ed), Early Pioneer Families of Victoria and Riverina (Melb, 1936)
  • M. L. Kiddle, Men of Yesterday (Melb, 1961)
  • A. Massola, ‘A history of Lake Condah Aboriginal reserve’, Victorian Historical Magazine, 34 (1963)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 1 Oct 1895
  • Western Agriculturist, 7 May 1892, 12 Oct 1895
  • Kiddle papers, Winter Cooke collection (University of Melbourne Archives).

Additional Resources

  • diaries, 1846-82, MS 8862 (State Library of Victoria)
  • will, Argus (Melbourne), 20 November 1895, p 6

Citation details

J. Ann Hone, 'Cooke, Cecil Pybus (1813–1895)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cooke-cecil-pybus-243/text4919, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 17 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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