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Deschamps, Victor Joseph (1812–1878)

by David Dunstan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Victor Joseph Clement Deschamps (1812-1878), vigneron, was born in 1812 at Cressier, Neuchâtel, Switzerland, son of Antoine Marie Deschamps, a vigneron who had migrated from Saint Pierre-Le-Vieux in southern Burgundy, France, and his wife Marie Anne, née Corbet. Joseph managed a large vineyard estate at Peseux and had a small, 3-acre (1.2 ha) vineyard outside the town. In 1835 he married Susanne Catherine Duvoisin (1813-1897), by whom he had three sons.

According to family sources, Lieutenant-Governor La Trobe, who had known Joseph at school in Switzerland, encouraged him to come to Victoria. After he arrived in January 1854 in the Kerin Hasselaar with his sons Louis Auguste (1838-1900), known as Auguste, and Jean Louis (1842-1884), known as Louis, they stayed with La Trobe at his home, Jolimont, in Melbourne. Catherine and the youngest boy Joseph Clement (1844-1887), known as Clement, came two years later. Intent on vine growing, Joseph toured the Geelong and upper Yarra valley districts, rejecting the soils of the latter as too fertile. He then secured 100 acres (40.5 ha) at Kyneton in 1854, 15 acres (6.1 ha) of which he planted with vines. This experience was a disaster. Frost destroyed his infant plants and bushfires the property. Their meagre savings gone, the family settled at Lilydale where they contracted to work for Paul de Castella, another Swiss immigrant who had been known to Joseph at Neuchâtel. Deschamps senior was naturalized in 1857, Louis in 1862.

At the first Lilydale land sales in 1860, Joseph purchased 90 acres (36.5 ha) on both sides of the village, which his sons cleared and transformed into three vineyard holdings. Auguste had Lilydale and Pine Grove vineyards, 35 acres (14.2 ha), now known as Deschamps Hill, Louis the Olinda vineyard of 18 acres (7.3 ha) and Clement the Market Street vineyard of 30 acres (12.1 ha). Having settled his sons, Joseph then purchased a smaller allotment on Mont Albert Road, Boroondara, on the outskirts of Melbourne, planted a small vineyard and eventually retired.

The Deschamps made excellent wine, winning prizes both at home and abroad. A base wine grown and made by the family into Champagne-method sparkling wine for the entrepreneur L. L. Smith was a success at the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880-81. Melbourne and Geelong cafés took the bulk of the six to eight thousand gallons produced annually by the brothers. Brandy was also made at Clement's vineyard (1500 gallons [6800 litres] in 1877) and the family ran a cellar for sales in Melbourne. They established a business for splitting vine stakes and fencing posts for vignerons and a cooperage. In 1872 Louis was a member of the first Lilydale Shire Council.

For touring parties Lilydale became a picturesque stopping point and a gateway to the vineyards and hills beyond. A wine hall built by Louis in 1878 included a skittle alley and was itself a local attraction. For one excursionist, J. S. James in 1885, the vineyards 'planted right down the slopes into the town', the sloping hills, valley vistas, cool atmosphere and clear sky reminded him of Bavaria. Joseph died on 2 March 1878 at Boroondara and was buried in Lilydale cemetery.

Additional migrants from Switzerland followed the Deschamps example, working for vignerons and then branching out. De Castella's brother Hubert reflected that it was the immigrant workingmen and their families, not the aspirant Swiss grandees, who succeeded as viticulturists and winemakers in the new land. To him, the Deschamps were exemplars of the Australian story. Hard work and expertise saw them prosper. The Yarra Valley never experienced the devastation caused by Grape Phylloxera but the collapse of the industry in the 1890s depression saw the Deschamps family wine enterprises wither as did larger concerns. The last surviving was the Olinda Vineyard, which closed in 1913. The three brothers all left descendants.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Parkinson, Warburton Ways (Melb, 1984)
  • H. de Castella, John Bull’s Vineyard (Melb, 1886)
  • D. Dunstan, Better than Pommard! (Melb, 1994)
  • private information.

Citation details

David Dunstan, 'Deschamps, Victor Joseph (1812–1878)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/deschamps-victor-joseph-12884/text23273, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 9 December 2016.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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