Angus Morentzie was a cattle breeder of mixed Scots and Polish extraction, who came to Australia in the 1840s. He landed in Sydney on March 28, 1842, with his wife, two children (and a third on the way) and a not inconsiderable sum of money, most of which was quickly spent on pasturage along the Parramatta River, and cattle to populate it. His farm was a modest success, and the Morentzie family propsered.
That all changed on August 3, 1851, when news of the gold finds in Victoria finally reached Morentzie Station. Dismayed by the loss of over half his workers, all of whom hurried south to seek their fortunes, Morentzie spent some time pondering how best to respond to it. He eventually came to the conclusion that while moving south was a good idea, there was more money to be had in serving the needs of gold hunters than in joining their number.
On New Year’s Day, 1852, the Morentzie family landed at Sandridge Pier, and took lodgings nearby. A few weeks of investigating the conditions on the ground in Melbourne persuaded him that the north of the city, near the Plenty River that fed the soon to be contructed Yan Yean Reservoir. So it was that he bought a large allotment on the steep and densely wooded hillside not far north of the Plenty’s confluence with the Yarra.
However, farming in this territory proved much more difficult than Morentzie had anticipated. His temporary dwelling, which was located on a tributary of the Plenty adjacent to the location of modern Montmorency railway station, was intended to last only a year or so. Instead, he and his family (which now included five surviving children, two others having died in infancy) lived in it for more than a decade before Morentzie’s dream palace (actually a fairly modest two story farmhouse) could be completed atop the tallest hill in the run.
Morentzie also found himself with stiff competition from the beef farmers already located in Melbourne, but switching to dairy farming saved the family fortune, and even led to a renewed prosperity for a time. At the peak of mining activity in nearby Warrandyte in the 1860s, Morentzie Farms – now run by Jack and Paul Morentzie – supplied about 80% of the dairy needs of Warrandyte and the surrounding areas. However, growing disputes about the direction of the company led to a split between the brothers.
Jack, who wanted to take advantage of their prime breeding stock and use them primarily as a stud, took most of the best cattle with him and settled further down the Yarra, just opposite Balwyn, at a farm he named Eden. Paul increasingly abandoned farming for dairy manufacturing, adding cheeses and yoghurts to the milk and cream the company had formerly sold. He came close to losing it all a few times, even selling off the family farm for cheaper land at Thomastown and nearby, but eventually became successful when he added ice creams to the list of his (now self-named) company’s offerings.
Angus Morentzie was long in his grave by this time, having suffered a fatal heart in 1861, but his name and that he gave to his dream home lives on as the name of the suburb that now stands there, albeit with an anglicised spelling.
Suburbs near Montmorency: