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Ranken, George (1793–1860)

by Gavin Long

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

George Ranken (1793-1860), farmer and pastoralist, was born on 10 April 1793 in Ayrshire, Scotland, the third son of George Ranken of Whitehill, Ayrshire, and Janet, née Logan, of Knockshinnock. The Ranken family was of Flemish origin, the founder of the Scottish branch having arrived in Scotland in the thirteenth century. Four brothers of George Ranken the younger were doctors, one a solicitor, one an army officer.

In May 1821 George Ranken married his first cousin, Janet Ranken Hutchison; they sailed in the Lusitania, and in October reached Hobart Town where Ranken took a house, and his wife wrote: 'A great many settlers have come out this season; all of them the grandest people I ever saw. They are surely come to spend not to make money'. Leaving his wife in Hobart Ranken went on to Sydney where he met Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane and other grand people. In February he took his wife to Sydney where her first child was born, and where Ranken leased from Captain John Piper about 2000 acres (809 ha) at Petersham for £200 a year. The Rankens, with the help of a man from Cheshire, were soon successful cheesemakers, and when the Agricultural Society of New South Wales was formed in 1822 Ranken was elected to the district committee.

In 1822 the government made the first of a number of 2000-acre (809 ha) grants in the Bathurst district, where Ranken selected one for himself and named it Kelloshiel, one for Thomas Icely (Saltram) and one for Piper (Alloway Bank). Having found Petersham too close to Sydney—'a stage for travellers and a drive for town people', Mrs Ranken complained—the Rankens moved out to Kelloshiel in 1823. The journey took a fortnight, Ranken and his wife riding, their child and his nurse travelling in a tilted cart and their possessions in two bullock drays. Mrs Ranken found only two other gentlewomen west of the mountains: the wife of the superintendent of convicts, Thomas Hawkins, and the wife of the manager of the government farm. The settlers on these fertile plains were soon being harried by Aboriginals, and in August 1824 Brisbane declared martial law in the district and reinforced the garrison. After four months the Aboriginals' 'great and most warlike Chieftain' with most of his tribe sought pardon.

George Ranken's brother Arthur (1805-1892) arrived from Scotland in 1826, worked with George at Kelloshiel for some years and later settled at Glen Logan on the Lachlan River, where George also acquired a run of 4000 acres (1619 ha). He also discovered some fossil bones in the limestone caves of the Wellington valley and gave them to Rev. John Dunmore Lang, when he went to England in 1830, to hand to the University of Edinburgh. Ranken was a leader in the establishment of a Presbyterian congregation at Bathurst in 1832 and in July 1836 added his name to a resolution opposing National schools.

In the 1830s Ranken enlarged his estate by buying Saltram from Icely and obtaining additional grants until in 1836 he held 5424 acres (2195 ha) at Bathurst as well as his Lachlan run. In 1837 he chartered the Minerva to import agricultural labourers and mechanics with the help of the government bounty; in the same year he leased his Bathurst properties for four years, put a manager on the Lachlan run and in January 1838 sailed with his wife and nine children for Scotland where he rented an estate and whence he sent his four sons to Stettin, Germany, to be educated under a Lutheran pastor. However, a disastrous drought which began in New South Wales in 1838 cut short Ranken's stay and in 1841 he returned to Australia, bringing seven servants and three young would-be settlers. In the drought Ranken took the lead among Bathurst settlers in boiling down stock for tallow, and also exported salt beef to the islands. He had brought out five German vine-dressers and good vine cuttings, and they planted twenty acres (8 ha) at Kelloshiel where wine was produced until disease ruined the vines. He also grew hops, established a brewery and for a time was producing flour, cheese, wine and beer as well as running cattle and sheep. In 1855 he laid out the lower parts of Saltram in farm and village allotments which he sold for up to £30 an acre, and he built a bridge across the Macquarie River as part of this development plan. He named the village Eglinton after the earl of Eglinton. In 1859 Ranken went to England to patent improvements of the screw propeller and the paddle wheel for steamers, and these were made and tested at Portsmouth dockyard. By this time, however, he was suffering from serious affections of the liver, and he died at Woolwich, London, on 17 October 1860.

The next generation of Rankens produced writings of lasting interest. Mrs. W. B. Ranken, wife of George Ranken's second son, published The Rankens of Bathurst (Sydney, 1916), an intimate record of life on the western frontier; George Ranken (1827-1895), son of Thomas, the second son of George Ranken senior, who settled in Queensland, wrote a novel Wyndabyne (London, 1895) and books on land, stock and colonization; William Hugh Logan Ranken (1839-1902), son of one of George's doctor brothers, wrote The Dominion of Australia (London, 1874).

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 11, 15
  • B. Greaves (ed), The Story of Bathurst (Syd, 1961).

Citation details

Gavin Long, 'Ranken, George (1793–1860)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ranken-george-2572/text3515, published in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 17 April 2014.

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

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