Milton pioneer William Henry Wilford

Milton’s 19th century prosperity was partly built on the expanding dairy industry, established by pioneers like William Wilford on the rich volcanic monzonite soil that surrounds the town.


My great grandfather, William Henry Wilford, who came to Australia in 1856


Descended from a successful linen manufacturing family in Brompton, North Yorkshire, William Henry Wilford, along with his brother Charles, arrived in Melbourne on the sailing ship ‘Tiptrees’, then travelled on to Sydney on the paddle steamer ‘Governor General’, in 1857. The two brothers began working a cattle property near the present Bombo railway station, calling it ‘Brompton Grange’. William went on to marry Catherine Newell Hindmarsh in 1859, and lived near Kiama and at Comberton Grange until purchasing ‘Loch Leven’, Milton, from David Warden about 1870. (Loch Leven is on current-day Wilford’s Lane, Milton.) They settled here and had seven children.


Descendants of Willian Henry Wilford – John Arthur Wilford (my grandfather and William’s 5th son) with his wife Isabella Constance Wilford (my grandmother) with John William ‘Jack’ Wilford (my father), and my aunt Catherine Mary ‘Kitty’ Wilford.


William became an enthusiastic, skilful dairy farmer and a keen breeder of milking shorthorn (Australian Illawarra Shorthorn) cattle. He and his four sons exhibited cattle at Milton and Sydney Shows for many years and won dozens of prizes. Coastal shipping records show their numerous arrivals in Sydney in time for the Show; they sold stud bulls to buyers all over Australia.

On their property, they drained the low-lying swampland, putting in a floodgate to keep out the salt water. This is a heavy one-way valve which opened by the weight of the water behind at low tide, draining off the land. At high tide the valve stays closed, keeping the salt water out. The floodgate has been replaced, probably many times, but the system still operates. William and his sons grew lucerne on the low, flat ground.


Loch Leven, home of William Wilford. Illustration by John Sharman in 1980 for the MUHS publication ‘East of Pigeon House’


The milk produced was set in flat dishes for the cream to rise, after which it was skimmed off and churned into butter. Power for the churn was by a special one-horse treadle machine, as William considered it was better than the turntable type of horse-works, because the horse could not stop as its weight was turning the track. If you wanted to increase the speed or power, all you had to do was raise the front end. Skim milk was used for pig-raising.

The butter produced was sent by coastal steamship to Sydney every week as road transport was inadequate at the time. Dray-loads of pigs were also loaded onto the ships at Ulladulla Harbour. After purchasing an additional farm of 65 acres from Thomas Owen, William had the present stone and brick home built on the enlarged ‘Loch Leven’ property. In 1891 he won first prize for the best-managed farm over 100 acres in the South Coast District. William and his son Benjamin died in a fire at the Prince of Wales Hotel, Nowra, while staying overnight during their return from the Sydney Show in April 1901.


Fatal Fire at Prince of Wales Hotel, Nowra on 11 April 1901 from Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal via Trove


by Barrie Wilford

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