Murndal Homestead home to Samuel Pratt Winter

Samuel Pratt Winter was born on 17 July 1816 at Agher, County Meath, Ireland, son of Samuel Pratt Winter and his wife Frances Rose, née Bomford. He was educated at a school at Dewsbury Moor, Yorkshire, and on his parents’ death in 1831 his uncle Rev. Francis Pratt Winter became his guardian. In 1833 worsening conditions in Ireland caused Samuel to be sent to a friend William Bryan in Van Diemen’s Land; arriving in the Cleopatra on 14 June 1834 Samuel joined him at Glenore near Carrick, south of Launceston; when Bryan left the colony Samuel remained in the Carrick area and acted as his attorney. Samuel’s brother Trevor (b.1822) joined him about three years later and George (b.1815) arrived in April 1839, together with his sister Arabella.

Francis Winter had raised £1300 for the brothers and in 1837 Samuel crossed to the mainland and took up Tahara and Spring Valley (Murndal) on the Wannon River in the Western District of Port Phillip. In March 1838 Samuel and Trevor moved stock to the Wannon. Trevor settled in the area but Samuel divided his time between the Wannon runs and Carrick. In 1841-43 he visited Ireland. In January 1845 he made Murndal his home at a site chosen by his manager Thomas Murphy, but still spent much time in Van Diemen’s Land. George took over Tahara. In 1851 Samuel travelled through South America and Panama, where he caught yellow fever, and visited the United States of America and Canada. In England he began his collection of paintings, many of them copies of famous works, and seventeenth and eighteenth-century books which in later years added much distinction to the Murndal homestead—he eventually built up a library of over one thousand volumes. Arbella, who watched over his affairs at Murndal, advised him to sell it and told him of the troubled times facing squatters, but Winter intended to return. He warned Trevor that the squatters must be ready with ‘the necessary funds for the contest’. But he did not reach Murndal until late in 1854.

For the next ten years Winter remained on the Wannon, generally prospering although burnt out in 1860. An astute businessman, he had a gift for getting people to work for him and his fortune built up even in his long absences. He acquired freehold of his run, owning 19,000 acres (7,689 ha) by 1861 and was licensee of another 12,480 acres (5,051 ha); he was still consolidating in the early 1870s. In the 1860s he added to the original stone house until Murndal became a huge rambling building; he planted acres of trees, mainly English, though he had brought seeds from Michelangelo’s cypresses from Italy. Cuthbert Feterstonhaugh described Murndal as one of the most beautiful places in the Western District.

To Margaret Kiddle, Winter was ‘something of an enigma, this man of personal beauty and charm who never married and in his solitary wanderings left no story of a lost love behind him’. It was his custom to have a black boy in livery mounted on his horse’s croup on his visits to the Melbourne Club. He introduced Pyrenean sheep dogs to guard his flocks and wrote a poem in 1874 commemorating his invention of a swing gate for drafting sheep. His undoubted intellectual loneliness at Murndal was tempered by his friendship with Dr Francis Russell, the local Anglican clergyman. Although an agnostic who very early adopted Darwinian teaching, Winter gave the money for the parsonage at Coleraine and supported the church and school. His literary appreciation was wide and his notebooks were filled with quotations from de Quincey, Arnold, Palmerston, King James I, W. E. Gladstone and James Mill.

In 1865-70 Winter again visited England. After his return his health deteriorated and he lived in various parts of Victoria and New South Wales. In 1878 he bought Fern Lodge, Mount Macedon, and died there of fibroid phthisis on 25 December. He had instructed his brother to bury him at Murndal where the Aboriginals lay, with nothing but a large stone cairn over the grave. The shocked reaction of the community caused Trevor Winter to modify this last request. He left an estate sworn for probate at £68,000; Samuel Winter Cooke, Arbella’s eldest surviving son, inherited Murndal.