Kirkton estate was visited by missionary James Backhouse on 23 June 1836. He described the surrounding countryside:
23rd. We proceeded to Kirkton, the residence of a settler, who has a considerable vineyard. In the course of the day, we saw a Kangaroo, an animal that has become scarce in the settled parts of N. S. Wales; where flocks of sheep, and herds of cattle, now consume the thin grass of the continuous forests. Kennedia acuta, a blue, peaflowered climber; a species of Tecoma, or Trumpet-flower, with small, pale blossoms and bright leaves; Sicyos australis, a little plant of the Cucumber tribe; Nicotiana undulata, a species of Tobacco, with flowers, that are fragrant in an evening; a species of Hemp, possibly Cannabis indica, and several other striking plants, were growing on the banks of the Hunter.
24th. Continuing our walk, we passed the dwellings of several considerable settlers, and crossed Patricks Plains, an extensive flat, partially cleared, with some small scattered houses upon it. At the further end of the plain, the Hunter is fordable, close to a little rising town, called Darlington, where we were kindly received by a family of the name of Glennie. From Darlington, we proceeded over low, gravelly hills, thinly covered with grass, to Dulwich, where, as well as on other parts of our journey, we were received with hospitality. 
In 1838 Rev. Threlkeld made note of his visit to Kirkton in his journal: Saturday 7th July 1838 -
Rode to Mr. Kelman's. LeftMr. Cobbs'at about 10 o'clock and arrived at Mr. K's at a little after 1 o'clock - saw old Mr. and Mrs. Busby, John Busby who all reside there - remained with them until Monday morning. Their vineyard is very pretty. Their own made wines are very ? inebriating drinks - Mr. K has made several pipes this year - ButMr. Windhamin that neighbourhood has made from 6 acres of vines only 6 years old this year 30 pipes of wine, each pipe 100 gallons imperial measure - last year he made 14 pipes of wine.
Lords Day - 8th July 1838 - Preached at Mr. Kelman' s in the morning from Luke 2 and 10-11 verses to his household in the evening from Revelations 21st Chap verse 6-7-8. All very attentive.....Rev. Threlkeld's Journal p.270
In 1844 Governor Gipps on his long awaited trip to the Hunter, breakfasted at Mr. Dawson's residence at Black Creek and then proceeded to Kirkton to inspect the vineyards before passing through Glendon, Neotsfield and Rosemount and reaching the township of Singleton. He was later to tell the assembled dignitaries of the town - no doubt William Kelman amongst them - that he 'would never wish to pass over more pleasant roads than those he had been on that day'. Funding to repair the road used by the public therefore would not be forthcoming. This may not have pleased many in the region as the roads he had used were inaccessible for public conveyance and were vastly different to the public roads used by most.
The vineyards inspected by James Backhouse and Governor Gipps were those established on Kirkton by amateur vigneron James Busby, son of John Busby, who had originally been granted the land. The Busby family arrived on the Triton in 1824 as did William Kelman. While John Busby took up his land grant in the Hunter Valley, William Kelman's grant was at Macquarie River, Van Diemen's Land.
William Kelman married Catherine Busby at St James's Church, Sydney on Friday 16 February 1827. Rev. Richard Hill performed the service. The couple returned to William 's grant at Macquarie River however did not remain there very long. William Kelman offered his farm for sale in January 1828....For sale by Private contract - A most desirable Farm of 900 acres pleasantly situated on the Macquarie river near Salt pan plains affording a most excellent sheep run and good pasturage for cattle. There is a very neat stone dwelling house on the farm, an excellent garden stocked with fruit trees and bushes, a field of 8 acres enclosed, excellent sheep yards and some out buildings. Fine woolled young ewes for the greater part of the purchase price will be taken in payment. (2) They set sail for Sydney in May 1828 on the barque Eliza.
Later, James Busby sailed to Europe and returned with vine cuttings which were planted at the Botanical Gardens, Sydney and at Kirkton. The vineyards at Kirkton were managed by William Kelman.
Although an advertisement appeared in the Mercury in 1848 stating that all household furniture, 200 sheep, horse stock etc on 2000 acres of land granted to John Busby would be auctioned unless quit rent paid, the land remained in the family as William Kelman inherited Kirkton on the death of John Busby in 1857.
Assigned Convict Servants
Among the convicts assigned to William Kelman at Kirkton were:
John Reardon, and
Ticket of Leave holder Joseph Thompson was employed as a cooper.
Vine Growers Association
In 1847 a meeting was held in the Northumberland Hotel, Maitland to take measures to form an association of vine growers, for the purpose of communication and mutual advantage. The Association was established and a code of laws framed by the ten gentlemen attending the meeting who thought that vine growers of the district would benefit from being able to meet to test each others produce and acquire or communicate desirable information regarding the culture of the vine and manufacture of the wine. William Kelman played an active role in the meeting proposing several resolutions. Others present at the meeting included James King, A. Windeyer, Andrew Lang, Edwin Hickey, William Dun, James Phillips, Mr. Henry Carmichael, and Mr. Burnett.
Resolutions passed included:
1. That the Association would by known as 'The Hunter River Vineyard Association'
2. Meetings would be at least half yearly and half at Maitland. 5 members to constitute a quorum
3. At the first half yearly general meeting the committee would be elected
4. Must be a cultivator of the vine to be a member
5. Candidates for admission were to be proposed by another member
6. That each member would pay 10/- to defray expenses
7. That members were to communicate in writing with information or suggestions
8. That each member would furnish annually at least 8 bottles of wine from his vineyard, the wine to by sealed, labelled and packed and locked in a box and accompanied with a statement specifying soil, aspect, mode of culture, age of vines type of grape, age etc
9. President to be elected at the general election and every half yearly general elected one half on the wine contributed would be examined
10. That at every half yearly general meeting the members would lunch together and assess the remaining wine
11. That each member could introduce a friend to the lunch.
William Kelman died 12 May 1863 at Kirkton aged 63. Their fifth daughter Agnes Sophia Kelman died at Kirkton on 15 May 1863 aged 23. William's wife Catherine Kelman nee Busby died at Kirkton on 30th May 1872 aged 68 years. (Sydney Morning Herald 4 June 1872)
The following article was published in the Singleton Argus in 1952.....
Kirkton - A Settlement With A Very Juicy Past (From the Newcastle 'Herald')
Two miles beyond Branxton a road turns sharply right from the New England Highway and, passing a corner house that was once a way-side wine saloon, goes on four miles through grazing land to Kirkton.
Kirkton is a place of dairy farms, a lush green settlement by the Hunter River, calm and contented as its cows, and as quiet as the Tangorin hills beyond. No one seeing it now would guess that it ever produced anything stronger in the 'liquid line than milk, yet here, 122 years ago, the first commercial vineyards in New South Wales were established, and Kirkton for at least a century produced light wines that were acclaimed as among the world's best. From the original vines cuttings were taken to start other vineyards in the Hunter Valley and throughout the state. To-day the vines have gone, the long rows of trellises on which they grew have been uprooted, the cellars have fallen into ruin, and the former distillery, one of the few remaining relics, looks nothing more than an old, deserted barn.
For the story of Kirkton and its wines has been told by Mr. Alfred L. Kelman, of Lee Street, Charlestown. The vineyards were handed down through his family, and he once managed them. The story he told began in 1824 with the arrival of John Busby to the colony of New South Wales. Busby came from England to 'give the Government the benefit of his services for 200 days a year at 1pound per day.' He was the mineral surveyor and civil engineer who, in 1827, was commissioned to provide Sydney township with a water supply from the Lachlan swamps, now part of Centennial Park.
In the 600-ton ship Triton, in which he and most of his family made the journey, there also arrived Mr. Kelman's grandfather, William Dalrymple Kelman. Then a young man, he had been employed as factor of Lord Saltoun's estate at Kirktown, near Fraserburgh, Scotland, but had decided to seek his fortune as a free settler in the colony. On the voyage out he fell in love with John Busby's daughter Katherine. It was the practice for settlers who arrived with 500 pounds or more to be given a .grant of land, and John Busby's second son, James, got a grant of 2000 acres on the Hunter River near Branxton. Convict labourers, probably ticket-of-leave men, were assigned to him and set to work clearing part of the land on which he planned to establish vineyards. It was long and arduous work. Most of the land was thickly timbered. Some of the cedars that were hewn were used to build furniture and fittings for a homestead, which also was erected by convicts.
James Busby's house was built of split slabs and its thick walls were plastered on both sides. The roof was shingled, and cedar-framed French windows opened on to flagged verandahs at the front and back. The property was given the name of Kirkton, after the place whence William Kelman had come, and it was there, in 1826, that Kelman and Katherine Busby were married. Rev. Richard Hill, the first incumbent of St. James' Church, Sydney, made the hazardous journey north to perform the ceremony.
After their wedding the couple sailed to Tasmania, where Kelman had been given a grant on the Macquarie River, near what is now the beautiful old village of Ross. He named the grant Glen Kelman, and set out to raise sheep. Whether the venture was unsuccessful is purely surmise, but at any rate he and his wife left Glen Kelman within three years, loaded their sheep into a ship, and headed back to New South Wales. They, arrived safely, but only a few of the sheep survived the voyage. Most were washed overboard in heavy seas.
With their return well timed William and Katherine Kelman went to Kirkton to look after the property while James Busby paid a visit to England. His mission - to buy grape vine cuttings. He had brought cuttings to the colony in the first place, and planted them in the Botanic Gardens. There they died of neglect while he was away. He collected more than 20,000 cuttings in France and Spain, sending them to the colony, at Government expense, in 1830. There were more than 350 varieties and they were planted that year at Kirkton. Three vineyards, covering a total of 40 acres were established on the Kirkton up lands, and to provide wind-breaks around them and the homestead prickly pear hedges and tree cuttings Busby brought back from England were planted. Prickly pears were not then a noxious weed. They made a most effective hedge with a row of Cape mulberry trees down the centre. Busby imported the mulberries, with the idea of raising silk worms to start the silk industry here, and had, among the other trees, numerous olives from which it was in tended to extract oil for medical and culinary purposes. Though he remained more intent on viticulture Busby allowed himself to be side-tracked to Government posts when he was appointed in 1832 as the first Government Resident in New Zealand - he negotiated the famous Treaty of Waitangi with the Maoris -
William and Katherine Kelman took over the vineyards. Kelman had no experience of vine growing, but he set to work with a will, and when the vine's were planted put his assigned convicts to digging cellars. The cellars were ten feet underground, with 8ft. slab walls above ground, and a shingled roof. The convicts dug red clay from in front of the homestead to make bricks for the cellar floor, some of the bricks, marked with a 'K' - for Kelman, Kirkton, or both may still be seen.
In later years the cellars proved large enough to hold 100,000 gallons of maturing wine.
German Labour -
Because there were no vineyard labourers in the colony, Kelman brought three families of vineyard workers from Germany. They proved good settlers, and eventually successful farmers in their own right. The descendant, of at least one of the families, the Bendeichs, are today scattered through Australia. Most of the oaken cask and vats used on the property also were imported from Germany, which was then the main source of supply.
William Kelman remained at the property till his death in 1863. Then Kirkton passed to his children, Catherine, Jessie and James Busby Kelman. When they assumed control the property included an orchard on the river flats which was later destroyed by floods. They leased other portions for agricultural purposes, 'but about 1000 acres remained undeveloped.
The vineyards were James Kelman's main concern. Under his guidance they flourished more than ever. He expanded them to 65 acres and, doing his own blending saw his hocks and clarets become world famous, winning many awards in Europe, America and within Australia. He was a most punctilious retiring man, and although he never drank a glass of wine in his life was recognised as a good judge of its qualities. Each season, when the vintage was finished, when the grapes had been picked and passed through crushing, separating and pressing machines - all wooden and hand operated - he played host to all who had taken part in the harvesting. 'Harvest homes,' as they were called, became a great Kirkton tradition. Bush timber huts, covered with tarpaulins, were set up near the vineyards, and 'almost the whole district' attended, sitting down to a banquet in the huts and later enjoying a picnic programme. Most of the grapes were gathered by farmers' children, who were paid so much a bucket for what they picked, and for them there were special athletic events and prizes.
Families United -
When James Kelman married Matilda Lindeman two famous Hunter Valley viti cultural families were linked for Miss Lindeman's father, Dr. H. J. Lindeman, owned the Cawarra vineyards at Gresford. As keen as James Busby had been, he produced wines that were equally in demand, though his vine yards were smaller.
James Kelman retired from active management of Kirkton because of ill health in 1904 and for the next 10 years his eldest son, Mr. Alfred Kelman (the man we interviewed) carried on his vineyards on the family's behalf. He had no desire for a career as a vigneron and in 1914 it was decided to sell the property to wind up the long-existing brother-and sister partnership. About 460 acres, including the vineyards, were sold to Lindeman's Ltd., a company formed by Dr. Lindeman's sons, about 540 acres went as dairy farms and the remaining 1000 acres as grazing paddocks. At the time of the sale third generation of the German families were working in the vineyards, the original, vines were bearing as well as ever, and Mr. Alfred Kelman had discovered that there were as many varieties growing there as there as were days of the year. Lindemans considerably extended the area under vines and still had the vine yards when Kirkton celebrated its centenary as a wine producing centre in 1930. At a celebration dinner in Sydney the company served claret and burgundy made in 1924 - from original Busby vines. Not long after the celebrations the company decided to discontinue working the vineyards. They were sold, and have since been sold once or twice again, but none of the buyers continued the grape growing. In the process of changing hands the property has reverted to farm land. The property is now in 1952, owned by George Langdon and Sons. Only on close inspection can one now find, evidence of Kirkton's Juicy Past. The cool old white-walled homestead that looked down on the river from a Knoll was demolished after the 1914 sale, but its verandah flag stones still lie in the ground. The prickly pears, mulberry and other trees have gone, but many of the large fruited olives remain. So do a New Zealand kauri pine that James Busby planted and a tall Norfolk pine planted about 1840 by the gardener who is said to have planted The Wishing Tree in the Sydney Botanic Gardens. The most durable evidence is a family graveyard, a single, well-tended plot where the Busbys and Kelmans who died at Kirkton were buried. Their names, dating back to 1837, are inscribed in a stone slab which lies on four short sandstone pillars behind the iron railings. When Kirkton was first sold the graveyard and the right of-way to it were retained in perpetuity. - Singleton Argus 7 November 1952
Notes and Links
1). William and Catherine Kelman had children Sarah Jane b. 1827, William b. 1829, Catherine b 1831, Jessie b. 1833, Harriett b. 1835; John Busby b. 1838; Agnes Sophia b. 1840; Lewis b. 1842; James Busby b. 1844; Catherine b. 1848..........
- Two daughters Jessie aged 4 and Catherine aged 6 died on the 11th and 23rd September 1837 at Kirkton.
- Harriet, fourth daughter of William and Catherine married at Kirkton on 14 December 1859 to John Busby, eldest son of George Busby of Bathurst.
- Agnes Sophia Kelman, fifth daughter of William and Catherine died at Kirkton on 15 May 1863 aged 23 three days after her father.
- William Kelman of Gingindah, Leichardt district, eldest son of W.D. Kelman married at Bathurst on 13th October 1859, Sarah, second daughter of George Busby of Bathurst.