Tubbo Station still stands as one of the richest and largest grazing and sheep properties in the Riverina.
It was first established during the mid-1800’s by a Scottish squatter John Peter, who managed successfully almost 20 runs, or over 740,000 acres, throughout this region by 1866.
John Peter (1812-1878), pastoralist, was born near Glasgow, Scotland, son of a prosperous farmer. His father offered a farm and flourmill to dissuade him from migrating, but Peter was determined.
At 20, with 50 pounds for the return fare in his pocket, he sailed from Liverpool in the Mail, arriving at Sydney on December 3 1832. Introduced to Alexander Macleay, Peter accepted his offer as manager of his station at 40 pounds a year with one per cent on the value of the wool clip in the first year and an additional one per cent thereafter.
Ten days later he found the station littered with the bones of sheep dead from scab and starvation. In 1836 a severe catarrh epidemic reduced the flocks of most local settlers but Peter lost only a fifth of his sheep by providing plentiful supplies of rock salt. He decided to move to the Murrumbidgee District where he knew salt bush was prolific.
At Camden on February 10 1837 Peter contracted an auspicious marriage with a widow Mary Bourke, a native of Campbelltown. J Gormly described Mrs Bourke as ‘a capable station manager and one of the most active women among stock I have known’. Her first husband had left her the run, Gumly Gumly, for which Peter took out a licence in 1837 in addition to a ten-mile (16 km) frontage on the Murrumbidgee for himself.
For twelve years he managed the Macleays’ properties as well as his own. He increased the quantity and quality of their stock, sometimes surviving only on savings, through droughts, the depreciation of colonial produce in the early 1840s, labour shortages and a severe epidemic of Cumberland disease. When he left the Macleays’, they gave him a thousand select ewes.
In 1854 after the gold discoveries the value of fat sheep rose from five shillings to 30 shillings and cattle from 15 shillings to eight to ten pounds. With his wife’s help Peter accumulated vast pastoral holdings in the Murrumbidgee and Lachlan Districts.
In 1848 he was licensee of Cuba, Gumly Gumly, Ugoble and Sandy Creek; by 1859 he had 15 runs in three districts and by 1866 had 17 runs totalling over 740,000 acres (299,700 ha) including Bungerra, Banandra, Gumly Gumly and nine runs comprising Tubbo estate.
In the 1860s in Queensland J Peter & Co held Thalberg and Winterbourne in the Port Curtis District and with George Macleay, Arthur Onslow, Andrew Bonar and William Onslow held Carnarvon and Consuelo in the Leichhardt District. He also owned properties on the Culgoa River near Bourke and at Broadmeadows near Melbourne. Although he did little rough work he closely supervised the detailed running of his enormous transactions, keeping a light carriage and good horses to travel quickly around the stations.
Known as ‘Big Peter’, he was reputed to be one of the most progressive pastoralists in the Murrumbidgee area. Peter was active in local affairs and the growth of Wagga Wagga. He was influential in agitating for the establishment of a Court of Petty Sessions there in 1847 and became one of the most regular of the local magistrates. He was also treasurer of the board appointed to build the National school and contributed handsomely in funds and pupils from his outlying stations.
As president of the 1856 committee which later provided a hospital, he also gave liberally to the Mechanics’ Institute and the Presbyterian Church. In 1845 Peter bought three five pounds shares in the South Australian Burra copper mine which yielded 15 dividends of 200 per cent each for the next five years.
By the late 1850s he had become the wealthiest resident squatter in NSW. Retaining his colonial interests, he retired to Britain in the early 1860s. He took a house in Piccadilly and another in Suffolk, dividing his time between them and Glasgow with visits to Europe interspersed with splendid shooting parties in the Highlands for his friends. One of these, Roger Therry, found him markedly generous with ‘shrewdness of judgement and a persevering spirit’.
Childless, Peter provided liberally for his friends, family and the education of his nieces and nephews; his reputed income by 1866 was 40,000 pounds a year. He died on January 28, 1878 at Torquay, leaving substantial legacies to his family and the charities with which he had been associated in Wagga Wagga. His wife died on September 23 1884, aged 73.
John Peter’s Tubbo rose from meagre beginnings to become almost a village within itself, comprising of seven smaller stations, a school, blacksmith and general store for its employees and their families. An investment company later purchased the Tubbo run from John Peter’s Estate in 1887 at a cost of over 361,000 pounds.
The Tubbo Estate Company, which consisted of directors Archibald Fisken, John Archibald Campbell, William Peter McGregor and Andrew McGregor, bought the 200,000 acre run and continued to manage it as predominantly a sheep station.
In its first year of operation as a company, Tubbo prided itself on its shearing output, clipping as many as 121,847 sheep, which was the third largest amount shorn in NSW. Much of the initial shearing was, however, carried out by non-union shearers. Inevitably, Tubbo became the centre of unionist activity by the end of 1888, forcing the first manager Neil McCallum to hire the services of the police for protection.
McCallum was not afraid to use the law to discipline workers. In one case of industrial sabotage, an engineer who had worked on a steam engine was dismissed because there was no employment for him. The engineer had tampered with the machinery with the intention of injuring the next operator. McCallum assembled a party of policemen and pursued the fleeing worker, catching him later at Narrandera. The engineer was charged and eventually released on bail at 400 pounds and summoned to appear at Wagga Wagga Court House.
The historical significance of Tubbo Station cannot be underestimated, since it is one of the few remaining stations that managed to avoid losing much of its holdings to government subdivision and soldier settlement.