Thursday 25 January 2024

Europeans in Eckersley

Please refer to our earlier post about the Lost Suburb of Eckersley, for some background information.

The history of “Grodno”, Isaac Himmelhoch’s vineyard at Eckersley is peopled with some fascinating characters. The first of these was Charles Adam Marion de Wroblewski. 

From Le Courrier Australien 1972

Wroblewski was born in Grodno, Lithuania, Russia and educated in Russian Poland, reportedly studying Chemistry in Vienna. He came to Australia in 1885 and was employed as an analytical chemist with the Royal Commission for the Conservation of Water in New South Wales. Travelling widely in the colony, he worked at such locations as Rooty Hill, Warren and Mungindi. After returning to Sydney he analysed water samples and completed maps. In 1888 he was employed by Monte Cristo Pyes Creek Silver Mining Ltd. During the shearers' strike in 1890 Wroblewski was a special constable and earned thanks by Sir Henry Parkes's government for his services. 

The second of these interesting characters was Baron Piero Cavalchini, who arrived in Sydney in 1887. It is believed that Wroblewski and Cavalchini met at the French Club in Sydney and hatched an idea of making wine in Australia. Wroblewski had already taken up 320 acres at Eckersley in 1886, and named it after his birthplace, Grodno. He began to develop it. 

Cavalchini took up a selection of 960 acres at Eckersley in 1889. In 1896 Wroblewksi took up 960 acres, although I could not determine if he was taking ownership of Cavalchini’s conditional grant.  These grants were in wild country, with poor sandy soil. This was perfect for Cavalchini’s theory of poor soil growing the best wine. Grodno was "improved" with about 22 acres of vineyards, 350 fruit trees, 20 cleared acres, and a further 30-40 partially cleared. The two gentlemen were viewed as a source of wonder to the few farmers in the district. Parties from Sydney of many European nationalities would come for a visit, and the French cook at Grodno was kept busy. 

Sale of Grodno in 1892, Daily Telegraph

Joachim Tester, a Swiss national and practical vigneron, was brought in to develop the vineyard. He also took up land at Eckersley – 80 acres in 1889. Grodno was terribly expensive to develop, and for several years no return was made. Despite the fact that the first wine produced proved to be of excellent quality, Wroblewski and Cavalchini were forced to mortgage the property and it was put up for sale in 1892.  It was at this point that Isaac Himmelhoch, a Polish financier would become the owner of Grodno. 

Vineyards at Grodno, Sydney Mail 1901

Wroblewski had married Daisy Serisier in 1891, the daughter of a French storekeeper and vigneron. They would go on to have three children, two boys and a girl. After losing Grodno, Wroblewski busied himself by launching the French-language weekly Le Courrier Australien. He transferred Le Courrier Australien to Léon Magrin in November 1896 and took his family to Victoria, where he established an importing firm. In 1903 he moved his business to Perth and founded the City & Suburban Advertising Co., later run by his son Charles. During World War I Wroblewski returned to Sydney and is said to have become an interpreter for the military, using his knowledge of seven languages. His elder son Leo Emile served in the Australian Imperial Force and was killed in France in 1918. Wroblewski retired to Melbourne and died in 1936. His wife, daughter and one son survived him. 

Cavalchini returned to Naples in 1892. Not much is known of his life after returning to Europe although he still continued to maintain an interest in wine making. In 1905 he took out a patent in France for a composition to combat insect parasites of plants, in particular Phylloxera, an insect that causes serious damage to vineyards.

Their legacy at Grodno was expanded and improved by Isaac Himmelhoch who made a huge success at Grodno, building wine cellars, planting more vines, and modernising. Grodno Vineyard became known as the best vineyard in the state, producing a record vintage of 6000 gallons of wine in 1906. Himmelhoch died in 1911, and sadly, Grodno was resumed in late 1913 by the Commonwealth Military authorities. Thus ended the dream started by Wroblewski and Cavalchini and continued by Himmelhoch. 

Written by Claire Lynch
Sources - 

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