George FRANCIS , –
Douglas Vale is the last historic fabric of the wine industry that flourished in Port Macquarie in the 1800s. It was begun by mariner George Francis, who led a remarkable life. A valuable artifact possessed by the Society is a piece of timber from a chest George Francis had with him when his ship was wrecked in the Davis Strait and he survived for six months on the ice. There is even a piece of bone from a crow which he ate during that ordeal. He married a widow, Margaret Dodds, whose maiden name was Douglas, hence the name of the property, Douglas Vale. In 1844 he came to Australia aboard the Templar. He went to Tomago, working there for Richard Windeyer. It was here that he learned wine making from German wine makers. Moving to Port Macquarie, he set out a vineyard for Major Innes.
Next we hear of him, lured by tales of fortunes from gold, off to California. He was not successful there, and decided to return to Australia in 1850. Wrecked again, on Middleton Reef, he managed to steer the ship to Port Macquarie. In 1853 he was again gold mining at Majors Creek, near Braidwood. This time he was successful enough to be able, in 1859, to buy property at Port Macquarie. In 1862 he built the house on the property, so there will be celebrations next year to mark its 150th anniversary. The timber in the house, which had a shingled roof, was all pit-sawn. In 1880 it was extended to the size it is today. A camellia tree in early photos still exists today. There were wine cellars with timber walls and shingle roofs. Bamboos were planted in 1868 and also eight Norfolk pines. These formed a windbreak and made a park-like entrance where Sunday School picnics were held. George sent wine overseas and won prizes at Amsterdam and in other cities. A contemporary account of his vineyard noted how well kept it was and how air passed through the cellars to keep the wine cool. This writer pronounced the wine splendid “with a fine Madeira flavor.” After George’s death, his daughter Margaret made the wine. for 20 years.