Ritchie's sell bluestone Blackwood in Western Victoria to Chinese interests

The historic 2,420 hectare farm, Blackwood near Dunkeld has been sold by the Ritchie family, bringing its association to an end for a second time.

There are unconfirmed suggestions the sale reputedly at around $14 million was to one of China's biggest textile manufacturing companies.

Blackwood was marketed as a western districts icon, with a history dating back to 1842, and outright ownership by the Ritchie family dating back to 1845. It is actually the second time the property has been sold by the Ritchie family as it was bought back in 1927 after an 11 year gap following the great war.

The Elders website says it is under offer with Shane McIntyre unable to confirm any details.

The Blackwood homestead, with private cemetery, is located on the Dunkeld - Blackwood Road, eight kilometres north east of the township of Penshurst.

penshurst_feb_17_one

It comes with the original two roomed bluestone homestead, constructed after 1842; a second bluestone homestead built in 1864; a bluestone and timber woolshed, and the current Blackwood homestead, stables and coach house which were constructed in 1891 amid four acres of garden.

The land was first taken up as pre-emptive right by James Sceales in 1842, some 10 000 acres, and by October 1845, James Ritchie had full control of Blackwood having bought out his partner Sceales. James Ritchie had arrived from Scotland in April 1841.

Blackwood has most recently been farmed by Jason Ritchie, the son of the late Robin Ritchie, onetime chair of Energy Victoria and his wife, Eda Ritchie, the commissioner of the Shire of Moyne, a former president of the Victorian Liberal Party and the sister of Tammy Fraser and Hugh Beggs, the former head of the Wool Corporation.

The cemetery, surrounded by a bluestone fence, located some distance from the current homestead contains several unmarked graves of the Ritchie family, as well as and an obelisk dedicated to James Ritchie, who died in 1857, aged 45 when his horse bolted and threw him against a tree.

News Ltd papers suggest the buyer was Zhejiang RIFA holding group which credits itself as worth more than 10 billion yuan ($1.9 billion) having been established in 1993.

While carrying cattle and cropping, Blackwood could be used by RIFA to breed and showcase the thousands of fine-woolled merino sheep.

RIFA executives had previously been undertaking study trips to Western Australia with InvestWest foreign investment agribusiness head Verghese Jacob advising representatives on opportunities in the sheep supply chain.

The main bluestone homestead and separate stable block was constructed in 1891 by the architectural firm, Butler and Ussher for Robert Blackwood Ritchie on a hill top overlooking the surrounding plains with view of the Grampian Ranges.

The homestead was constructed of local bluestone in the Picturesque Aesthetic style.

Bluestone has been combined with sandstone for window details, along with half timbering and plaster to the gable ends, all under Major's patent terracotta tiles from Bridgewater in the UK.

The interior is in the Jacobean manner and has dado paneling. 

Notes from the National Trust state that the tender accepted for the construction of the house was for 4790 pounds, 1000 pounds being allowed the contractor for 'old building'. The tender for the stables was for 1202 pounds.

The house and stables took 18 months to construct.

George Tibbits, in an article titled 'The So-Called Melbourne Domestic Queen Anne' describes Blackwood Homestead as one of the finest 19th century examples. 

Heritage Victoria records show in 1893, Robert Blackwood Ritchie (known as R.B Ritchie) married Lillian Mary Ross, the daughter of pastoralist, William Ross of the neighboring run The Gums.

R. B and Lillian had two children, Robert Blackwood Ritchie II (known as Robin) born in 1894, and Alan Blackwood Ritchie, born in 1895.

In 1897, Lillian died at Blackwood, and R.B took his two young sons to Scotland to be raised by his mother Janet, while he returned to Australia and was elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly as the Western Province representative between 1903-07.

In 1916, R.B sold the homestead and 3,800 acres to James Robertson of Skene, after his eldest son, known as Robin was killed on the Somme in France in World War I in 1916.

R.B bought his younger son, Alan, to visit Blackwood after the war in 1919, and took joint ownership of the remaining Blackwood land. But after his wife Naomi drowned while swimming the property was sold in 1924.

Alan Ritchie returned to Australia after graduating in 1924, and in 1927 purchased back the homestead and 3,800 acres which had been sold in 1916. 

Alan Ritchie married a Canadian woman, Margaret Witcomb, having met her in London on a three year absence from Blackwood.

They had four children, Robin, Judith, Blyth and Linton between 1937 and 1946. When their eldest son, Robin, married in 1965, Alan and Margaret left Blackwood. 

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Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor is one of Australia's most respected property journalists, having been at the top of the game since the early 1980s. Jonathan co-founded the property industry website Property Observer and has written for national and international publications.

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