Captain Foster Fyans
Slideshow with links to resources
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"He (Foster Fyans) sold his commission in 1837, sailed for the fledgling town of Melbourne in the Port Phillip District (later the colony of Victoria), and took up the post of police magistrate at Geelong after the settlers there had asked the government for protection. He established himself on the Moorabool River at the site of present-day Fyansford, and set about the task of siting the town of Geelong.... The Fyansford Hotel is located nearby to the site of Fyan's first camp..."
"... in 1845 (Fyans) bought 158 acres (64 ha) at Geelong. On them, in 1846, beside the Barwon, he built a stone homestead, Bell-Bird Balyang. In 1849 he was reappointed police magistrate, and nominated mayor for the inauguration of the Geelong Town Council....
"He died at Balyang on 23 May 1870..."
"In 1843 he (Fyans) was married at Geelong and then in 1845 took up 145 acres of land with frontage to the Barwon River. He named the property Bell-Bird Balyang and on it, he built a stone residence which is believed to have stood close to what is now the Princes Bridge at Shannon Avenue in Newtown. A Sundial with a plaque now marks the approximate location of the Fyans' house..."
I recently had the opportunity to purchase:
“Memoirs recorded at Geelong, Victoria,
Australia by Captain Foster Fyans”
Published by The Geelong Advertiser
It was without a doubt a 'fun read'
and Foster Fyans was certainly an interesting character..."
It was impossible not to reflect, as I read the book, of the times before power and lighting came to Geelong; back to the days of Fyans Ford and Balyang.
I found it interesting to read Philip L. Brown’s advisory comments re Fyans in the Preface, “..... his character as an elderly man, with his active past behind him, seen in the erratic perspective constructed by time and his own anecdotage”.
It is explained how “Fyans first reached Geelong on foot, and first established himself above the junction of the Barwon and Moorabool rivers, at what became Fyansford. Here in a slab hut, under a Union Jack ceiling, he accommodated James Riley, a boy of eighteen who arrived from Sydney on horseback in June 1839, with suitable introductions….
Three years after his wedding, Fyans moved his domestic headquarters to Bell-Bird Balyang, a stone house built for him on 158 acres, still largely open land, bounded by the Barwon river and two straight roads intersecting at right angles ….. The undulations of the original site vanished with the construction of the municipal Balyang Waterfowl Sanctuary in 1973, and the neighborhood of the house is now marked only by a modest memorial close to the river, inscribed: “Hereabouts from 1846 stood Bell-Bird Balyang, home of Captain Foster Fyans (1790-1870), Geelong’s first police magistrate and commissioner of crown lands” (p. ix).
The reader is advised: “Is it reasonable to suggest that Fyans, who liked companionship, became a story-teller deceived by his own yarns? That an imaginative memory and anecdotal habit betrayed him into a corruption of detail which distorted facts throughout his autobiography, but did not seriously impair its essential worth?” This, I think, helped make the reading less tedious and more enjoyable. I do concede that Fyans' somewhat excessive detail does occasionally deaden his otherwise lively style. It is observed that “Fyans’s reminiscences had to be checked in order to assess their worth as historical material. And that “This checking disclosed considerable and frequent divergence between actual and remembered events, and made it clear that the text, unless fully annotated, must be more entertaining than instructive” (p. xv). I quickly became used to the multitude of annotations and soon came to enjoy the story for what it is – an insight into the man himself…
Regarding his settlement by the Moorabool Fyans describes how after being told to move on from his original preference "on one of the flats near the Barrowon river, called Balying ...… we struck work immediately, proceeding to the junction of the river(s) Moorabool and Barrawon, a distance of three miles, to one of the most beautiful valleys in the world, ever after known as Fyans Ford. The change put our party to considerable trouble and labor lost; but we are not to grumble, and to work we went, cutting, sawing, and working. So anxious were the men to get housed that in a short time the huts were in progress, when I was again visited by the same gentleman, with an additional request, to remove to a greater distance, which I flatly declined. However, we parted good friends. He was to send his complaint of my intrusion to V.D. Land. “Very well”, I replied, “but pray place a small codicil on it for the information of Mr. Swanston: that I am here, and determined to remain”.
“..... for about two years and a half I resided in this beautiful valley. The hut afforded good accommodation; had two rooms, not very large, only ten feet square each, but sufficiently so for the times. The chimney was prodigious: on the old Sydney plan, made of wood, with a remarkably graceful bend thrown from the building. This was my home, and how happy and comfortable people by prudence can make themselves, by attending timely to wants!”
"I found myself with six cows, some giving milk, possessing more real luxury than any person in the country, though almost isolated from mankind, seldom meeting a person to associate with, and few to speak to. I endeavoured to expend my time to the advantage of my employment. A township was to be formed; water was to be found; and notwithstanding the two fine rivers surrounding me, fresh water was not to be had. …”
"I am no advocate for convicts in a free settlement, but candidly confess that the party entrusted to my charge behaved well, undergoing many serious privations, little comfort; possessing nothing but poor clothing, with a blanket, a ration of flour, and salt beef. Seldom a complaint or a grumble from them; generally cheerful at work, and at night laying round a fire, some singing, others enjoying a repose after the toils of the day….” (p. 208).
He goes on to describe a muster of ‘local natives’ – “275 of all classes” – near the Moorabool River, so that he could distribute among them blankets, clothing, and provisions…. (p. 209).
In the appendix are a mixed selection of articles and ‘reminiscences’ . One describes : " I may here refer to a favorite sentence of Captain Fyans – one he would often give to old hands of either sex whom he considered incorrigible. It was two or four hours in the stocks. Those relics of barbarism occupied a position on a vacant piece of ground adjourning the police court. It was unfenced, and open on three sides to the public streets. A very bleak and exposed spot it was. I have often seen both men and women – not at the same time – with their feet fast in the stocks.” (p.277).
“In his position as police magistrate he showed a certain amount of ability, mixed with a measure of eccentricity. He invariably smoked a short black pipe when sitting on the bench hearing cases, and would often while the evidence was being given, stand with his back to the fire, filling his pipe…” (p. 277)
Fyansford Chronicles blog posting
by Captain Foster Fyans” (1790-1870)
Captain Foster Fyans writes a mix of fact-n-fiction
I guess that's writer's licence
Where did he live?
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But where did Fyans camp
when he first came to Fyansford?
James Riley was a 17 year old English immigrant who travelled to Australia in search of land and opportunity. With letters of introduction to Captain Fyans, he made his way across the Werribee Plains to Fyansford where, for want of an inn, he was invited to stay with Fyans himself. An article written by Roy Holden and contained in his "Fyansford History Notes" (held by the Geelong Historical Records Centre), recounts a letter in which Riley recalls his stay with Fyans and describes the hut as well as its location:
"It is built of slabs well plastered, and the roof, instead of bark (like the Van Dieman's station), is grass covered outside with clay to prevent its blowing off or taking fire.
"Inside for a ceiling a large Union Jack was stretched from corner to corner - thus our own country's banner forming a shelter for our heads.
"There was a turning lathe in one corner, and small pictures of which there were many, hung around the room, the frames of which the old gentleman had amused himself in making, and which were really well done.
"There were spears, swords, armor and curiosities of all kinds exhibited on the walls. The hut is situated close to the River Moorabool, about one mile from its junction with the Barwon,.."
So, according to Riley, Fyans' hut was located on the Moorabool almost a mile from its confluence with the Barwon. At the beginning of the article, Holden indicates that the hut was on the east bank of the river, but oddly, states that it was a short distance downstream of the "current" bridge which is only three quarters of a mile from the confluence and yet, a grainy photograph from the same compilation of notes by Holden perhaps appears to indicate a site closer to the ford, as suggested by Riley.
Looking upstream from the Fyansford Monier bridge towards the ford and possibly the site of Fyans' hut
If Riley's estimate of the distance was the more accurate, then the hut would have been located close to the ford - the original crossing point at the time of Fyans' residence in the district - which would seem a logical location to position his hut and the tents of his men.
Fyans did not spend long at the site which would become the township which bears his name. Riley noted in his letter that once the "barracks" were built (presumably at Geelong), the camp would be disbanded. Whether this also included the removal of Fyan's hut or not, I do not know. On the 1st January, 1840 he was appointed Police Magistrate at Portland Bay, taking him away from the district at that time. His tenure at Fyansford however was only the beginning. Within a few years, the site he had chosen to make his camp had become a thriving village.
It would seem likely to me that Fyans Street would likely be adjacent to the site of Fyans original camp in the area (though it could have been anywhere along the street).
For more background see: