Wyndham History

George Chaffey (1848-1932)


“George Chaffey (1848-1932),” Wyndham History, accessed August 7, 2020, http://www.wyndhamhistory.net.au/items/show/1054.
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George Chaffey (1848-1932)


Chaffey, George, Chaffey, William Benjamin, Werribee Irrigation Trust and Investment Colony, Werribee Irrigation Colony, Quantin Binnah, Werribee (Vic.),







Biographical Text

This is a shared entry with William Chaffey.

The name of Chaffey in the development of rural Australia is more commonly linked with the North-western Victorian centre of Mildura, and the South-Australian irrigation district of Renmark rather than Werribee.  However, the Canadian-born Chaffey brothers had also conceived a similar irrigation scheme centred on the Werribee River at, what would become, a new township to be named Chirnside.

George Chaffey [1848–1932] George Chaffey first migrated to California where he became involved in irrigation schemes, which turned the deserts of Santa Anna into agricultural gold.  Following a decade-long drought in the 1880s the Victoria parliamentarian and Minister for Water Supply, Alfred Deakin visited the American irrigation colonies and was convinced that the Chaffeys could transfer their success in turning the Californian desert into richly, productive farmland to Victoria. 

The government bent over backwards to make land in the southern colony available to them.  Chaffey was an engineer, inventor, boat-builder, and entrepreneur.  He was also an excellent salesman, able to convince bankers to invest, governments to agree and farmers to take up land in his schemes. Not all were successful.

William Chaffey [1856–1926] William Chaffey was not the entrepreneur his elder brother was, but still played an influential role in the development of irrigation schemes in both California and southern Australia.  Schemes were set up in South Australia at Renmark, Mildura, Red Hills and in Werribee to note but a few.  Even after the failure of some of their schemes, mainly due to lack of available funds to allow them to continue, William Chaffey remained in Mildura, even after his brother George had gone back to California.  William lived long enough to see many of their dreams realised as new settlers, and new irrigators, moved into the Mildura Irrigation District.  The scheme planned for Werribee had also failed but the idea persisted.

The Proposed Town of Chirnside. The Werribee Irrigation Colony The Chaffey Brothers, on behalf of the Werribee Irrigation and Investment Company, planned for a rural subdivision, which stretched between the river, at what is now known as Riverbend Historical Park and Tarneit Road.  What the Chaffeys were planning were new settlements of small farms, all irrigated from existing river systems.  The Chaffeys would buy up seemingly non-arable land at a cheap price, lay in the irrigation, sub-divide and on-sell at an enhanced price.  As a carrot they would promise to build an agricultural college ‘at their own cost, and to be endowed by the setting apart [of] one-fifteenth of all the irrigated land granted to them’. In December 1888 it was announced that the Chaffeys had secured 1500 acres of land on the Werribee River.  Marketed as a ‘Mildura in the metropolitan area’, the land was to be cut up into small blocks and offered to market gardeners and others.  Around 100 x 10 acre lots and more than 150 house blocks close to the river bend were mapped out.  The scheme promised to build a weir across the river and pumping stations to supply irrigated water to the farmers. 

While soils around Werribee were known to be fertile, the region suffered from long, dry summers and it was reported that ‘once the Calfornian expert gets this water on to the land the little irrigation colony at Werribee will burst forth into Eden-like verdure and Paradisial bloom’.  George was so convinced on the success of the project that he decided to build a grand home in Werribee which he named Quantin Binnah.  Large numbers of city visitors inspected the colony, however take up of land was slow.  One visitor in September 1890 noted that whilst there were several interesting features observable there seemed to be a lack of irrigationists on the estate.

The half-yearly report of the Company stated that there are 53 acres sown for hay, 58 under fruit and vegetables, and 27 acres in preparation for vegetables.  So much was offered but so little achieved.  Although more than £30,000 was raised for the scheme the weir was not built, yet George’s American style villa painted a showy strawberry colour was completed for an estimated £4500.  It was their obvious enjoyment of the profits taken from investors that caused local farmers to grumble.  In the summer of 1890-91 the supply of water from the river was diminished.  Farmers who had been in the district long before the arrival of the Chaffeys complained that there was not enough for their needs let alone the newcomers.  At no stage did any more than 10 per cent of the 1,468 acres under irrigation get the water they had been promised.

Their dream began to unravel, but it was a financial crisis in the early 1890s that brought them undone.  The banks faced collapse and loans were impossible to secure.  Where the Chaffeys needed entrepreneurs they found closed doors.  By the beginning of 1896 the company, Chaffey Brothers Limited was wound up. George went back to California and William to Mildura. Little remains today of their plans for the Town of Chirnside.  Only one street, De Garis Place near Riverbend Historical Park, named after E. Clement De Garis a Commissioner of the Investment Company, remains, all else is gone.

Irrigation in Werribee South Where the Chaffeys had planned for their Chirnside irrigation colony is now built over, subsumed under housing estates and shopping precincts north of the railway line, but in Werribee South where new settlers who came to Wyndham in the wave of southern European migration after the Second World War, took up the farmlands along the course of the Werribee River, they have turned the area between the town and the river mouth into a ‘kitchen garden’ to rival anything California could produce.  The new migrant-farmers of Werribee South have made the most of the fertile soils and the available water from the Werribee River without need for any grandiose scheme.


The Bacchus Marsh Express (Vic. : 1866 - 1918), 12 November, 1887, p. 2 Edition: Evening, viewed 14 April, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article89683525

Portland Guardian (Vic. : 1876 - 1953), 30 November, 1888 p. 3 Edition: EVENING, Supplement: SUPPLEMENT TO THE PORTLAND GUARDIAN, viewed 14 April, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63591097

The Bacchus Marsh Express (Vic. : 1866 - 1918), 9 March, 1889 p. 3, viewed 14 April, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article89684998

Peter Westcott, 'Chaffey, William Benjamin (1856–1926)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 7., Melbourne University Press, 1979. http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/chaffey-william-benjamin-5619/text9449



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