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Joyce, Alfred (1821–1901)

by G. F. James

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

Alfred Joyce (1821-1901), grazier and farmer, was born on 25 March 1821 in Whitechapel, Middlesex, England, the youngest of five sons of Thomas Joyce, ironmonger, and his wife Elizabeth, née Robertson. Apprenticed as a mechanical engineer and millwright, he attended evening classes in mensuration, geometry and mechanical drawing at the London Mechanics' Institute. Thomas Joyce had secured the contracts for supplying and maintaining oil lanterns for the newly-established Metropolitan Police, and extended his business to oil-refining and then to shipping. Two barques, Indemnity and London, were bought in partnership with their captains, and when the London sailed on her first voyage to Port Phillip on 7 June 1840 the passengers included Thomas Joyce's fourth son, George, who opened business as a tailor in Bourke Street, Melbourne. Early in 1841 George Joyce sold his stock, entered into partnership with Thomas, Henry and Robert Clowes, fellow-passengers in the London, and acquired a half share in the Woodside run, near Mount Macedon.

On 7 September 1843 Alfred Joyce sailed in the London and landed in Melbourne on 30 December, only to find that land, stock and commodities had dropped to little more than paper values. George Joyce faced bankruptcy, and Alfred would have returned home had not the London's captain agreed to advance the brothers £150 on Thomas Joyce's account. This enabled them to obtain possession, at a depression price of £50, of 10,000 acres (4047 ha) on the upper Loddon River, together with two primitive huts, a sheep yard, fifty hurdles and a watch-box. The run was stocked with 1200 sheep, George Joyce's share of the Woodside partnership, and renamed Plaistow, after the family's country home in Essex.

In the development of Plaistow Alfred Joyce derived full advantage from his earlier apprenticeship; by harnessing wind and water power, and the construction of bridges and weirs, maximum benefits were ensured from successive good seasons. Soon after George Joyce's marriage to Helen McNicol on 22 April 1846 Alfred explored the upper reaches of the Avon and Avoca Rivers, the first of many searches for land for Plaistow's surplus stock. On 1 January 1852 the brothers took possession of Norwood, 37,000 acres (14,973 ha), about eighteen miles (29 km) west of Plaistow; this was acquired, with 5500 sheep, a 10-roomed brick cottage, farming implements and utensils, for £3400. The partnership was formally dissolved in June 1854. George Joyce retained Plaistow, and Alfred Joyce, who on 29 March 1853 had married Caroline, only daughter of E. G. Bucknall, of Rodborough Vale, adjoining Plaistow, occupied Norwood.

The goldfields at Maryborough and Dunolly provided ready markets for Norwood stock and produce; they also hastened the surveys of the water frontages and outlying portions of the run. In order to buy essential portions of land and develop his farming activities Joyce was compelled by September 1859 to seek assistance from the London Chartered Bank.

Although installation of large-scale milling equipment in 1861 had necessitated a full mortgage of his freehold land, Joyce began the erection of a two-storey stone homestead in 1863, and imported Victoria's earliest steam-plough in 1864. Norwood was at its peak activity, some seventy people being employed, exclusive of seasonal labour. Liens were established on his wool clips from 1863 and by 1869 the proceeds had dropped to a mere third of the 1863 total. Norwood had proved to be particularly vulnerable in poorer seasons. Good seasons brought temporary recoveries in 1872 and 1873, but by then the run had shrunk to little more than half of its original area, and a particularly bad season in 1877, on top of a crushing interest burden, caught Joyce unprepared. The Norwood freehold and buildings passed to the bank in December 1878, Joyce accepting tenancy at £1000 a year.

Milling moved to the towns; wool yields in the early 1880s were low; farming became more widespread and more competitive. In 1887 Joyce relinquished the home and the estate that had been his pride for more than thirty years, and where his only son and one of his eleven daughters were buried.

In retirement at Mervyn, Nightingale Street, Maryborough, he maintained his active interest in local affairs. For more than twenty years from 1865 he was in the Shire Council of Tullaroop, being president in 1865-67 and 1878-79; he had fought hard for free trade and temperance, and in 1868 had unsuccessfully contested the Maryborough seat in the Victorian Legislative Assembly. He was a trustee of the Maryborough Congregational Church from 1859 until his death.

He died on 18 January 1901, his wife having predeceased him in 1898. The writing of his 'Reminiscences' had been the supreme interest of his later years, and a Melbourne publisher had provisionally accepted them. At the last minute they were declined, on the ground that other memoirs had recently appeared (presumably Letters from Victorian Pioneers) and that the market was too small to justify another volume. They were published in 1942 under the title of A Homestead History (Melbourne); a second edition appeared in 1949 and the book was re-issued in 1963.

Joyce was survived by nine daughters. Alfreda married David Coutts, composer and musician, and the youngest, Alexandra, married George Merrick Long (1874-1930), bishop of Bathurst 1911-28 and of Newcastle 1928-30.

Citation details

G. F. James, 'Joyce, Alfred (1821–1901)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/joyce-alfred-2283/text2937, published in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 31 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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