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Desailly, George Peter (1823–1876)

by K. J. Swan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

This is a shared entry with Francis William Desailly

Francis William Wisdom Desailly (1816?-1889) and George Peter Desailly (1823?-1876), pastoralists, were the sons of Francis Desailly (d.1864), physician, and his wife Ann, née Pigott. Francis junior was born in England and on 13 March 1821 arrived with his parents in Van Diemen's Land where George was born at Brighton. With their father the brothers moved to the mainland in 1839 in the Britannia which was wrecked in Port Phillip Bay; George established a station at Arthur's Seat on the Mornington Peninsula with the sheep rescued and later moved to Gippsland, where Francis joined him. In 1849 they visited California but by 1850 had taken up Coree station of 119,000 acres (48,158 ha) in the Riverina and Gunningrah in the Monaro. In 1858 angry squatters marched upstream and cut their large dam on Billabong Creek. George repaired it and built a log fortress on the summit. He threatened to shoot 'anyone who might attempt to open the dam'. It was again cut in 1860. Next year the Desaillys bought Bundure on Yanko Creek and in 1863 advertised its merino rams for sale. In the early 1860s they acquired either separately or in partnership many other runs, including Pomingalarna, near Wagga. By 1865 they held forty stations amounting to 1,118,000 acres (452,443 ha). Both brothers were justices of the peace and active supporters of the Riverine Association, which aimed at separation from New South Wales. In 1863 they contributed £500 to its funds and George was for a time its president.

About 1864 the Desaillys sold Coree and Bundure for a reputed £80,000 and moved further west where they established the Mossgiel and Booligal stations on the Lachlan. They employed 300 men to fence, dig tanks and sink wells, and imported the first centrifugal pump and steam engine in the Riverina. By 1865 their Willanthry cut took water eleven miles (18 km) from the Lachlan to their backblocks. George's dam was again breached by raiders chanting,

So now my dear Desailly
You've put up your dam in vain
If you put up another
Why we'll have to come again.

Despite the alleged £130,000 they had spent on water conservation and other improvements, the Desaillys were beaten by drought and in 1869 the mortgagees foreclosed. As they left the station it began to rain and their vehicles bogged. After a short and unsuccessful venture as stock and station agents in Melbourne, they bought Trida station, next to Mossgiel, with the assistance of their brother-in-law, William Brodribb. By the mid-1870s they had prospered enough to retire to Melbourne 'on modest competences'.

George, who had been ailing for some time, died on 19 September 1876 at Brighton, Victoria, leaving five sons and four daughters. He had married Emma Jane Kennedy about 1856. He left her half his income and about £11,000 in trust. Francis died at his home in St Kilda on 2 August 1889 survived by his second wife Maria Jane, née Welsh, and at least three sons and three daughters who were all minors. His first wife, née Spottiswoode, had borne him a son.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 3, vols 6, 26-27
  • J. Gormly, Exploration and Settlement in Australia (Syd, 1921)
  • R. B. Ronald, The Riverina: People and Properties (Melb, 1960)
  • A. Barnard, The Simple Fleece (Melb, 1962)
  • A. McKay (ed), Journals of the Land Commissioners for Van Diemen's Land, 1826-28 (Hob, 1962)
  • Riverine Herald, 12 Aug 1863
  • Wagga Wagga Advertiser, 30 June 1869, 27 Sept 1876
  • Australasian, 10, 17 Aug 1889.

Citation details

K. J. Swan, 'Desailly, George Peter (1823–1876)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/desailly-george-peter-3882/text5161, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 10 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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