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Old photo leads to research of Swanpool history

Benalla resident Vince Branigan uncovered more of Swanpool's history after discovering an old photograph.

July 31, 2014 3:17am

Vince Brannigan found this photo of a picnic about 1905. Pictured are (back) Harry Hall, Bill Essinigh, Jack Essinigh, Pa Heaney, Mick Farrell, Matt Branigan, Luke Evans, Andy Gandini, Mr Bischoff, (front) Mark Evans, Frank Burns, Mr. Kissock, Peter Mathieson, Jim Murray, Mr. Weakes and Peter Murray.


About 20 years ago, while researching the history of the Swanpool, Lima and Lima East districts, I visited Laurie and Jenny Murray’s farm at Lima.

Both Laurie and Jenny are an incredible source of information of this beautiful part of the world and the Murray family has been associated with Lima for the best part of the past 150 years.

Their farm is part of the original Murray selection.

While speaking to them, they showed me a photo of 16 male pioneers of the district.

The picture is simply titled ‘Swanpool picnic’ and was taken at the ‘old’ Swanpool Hall, which was located at the intersection of Swanpool-Lima Rd and Branigans Lane — Lima East Rd. The ‘new’ Swanpool Hall was opened in 1957.

Unfortunately there is no date on the photograph.

However, the ‘old’ Swanpool hall was built in 1895 and the first of the pioneers in the photograph to pass away, Peter Mathieson, died in January 1906.

All 16 pioneers were born overseas between the 1820s and 1850s.

There is the Italian Andy Gandini (Gandinis Lane, running from Midland Hwy to Lima East is named after him); he is the only pioneer without a beard.

There are others pictured whose families still have ties with the district.

Two of the pioneers are of particular interest to me: my great-grandfather, Matt Branigan, and the German Mr Bischoff.

Matt Branigan migrated to Australia from Mullingar, Ireland with his young bride, Bridget, in 1885. He was 33 years old and she was just 19. They arrived in Swanpool in 1886 and leased 402 acres for the next 18 years from the colonial government.

The 1890s were tough economically and there were also a series of droughts culminating in the devastating Federation Drought at the turn of the century.

In February 1904 he purchased the farm for one pound an acre.

Mr Bischoff is either Nicholas Gustav Bischoff or Julius Herman Bischoff, twin brothers who migrated to Australia from Hamburg, Germany in the late 1870s. They were in their early 20s when they first began farming over 600 acres of land in the Swanpool and Lima district, where they stayed for the next 30 years.

Nicholas Gustav Bischoff lived on the banks of the Lima East Creek on a 100acre block which is now part of the Branigan farm. His hut was about 400m from the ‘old’ Swanpool hall.

When World War I broke out 100 years ago in 1914, the Bischoff brothers were subjected to much hostility from their community.

A check of the Swanpool World War I Honour Roll reveals the names of the pioneers’ sons who fought, died or were wounded in this dreadful conflict. One of them was my great-uncle, Christopher, who was left a paraplegic while fighting the Germans in the trenches of Northern France in May 1917.

At the conclusion of the war the Bischoff brothers retired to a house in Margaret St, Benalla.

They died within three months of each other in 1932 and are buried together in the Benalla cemetery.

A copy of ‘Swanpool picnic’ will be displayed in the supper room of the Swanpool Hall.

— Vince Branigan, Benalla

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