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Percival Norman Burge
What follows is the the original short auto-biography of Percival Norman Burge,
founder of Wilsford Wines and Grandfather of Grant Burge, including original
spelling & grammatical errors.
The Life Of Percival Norman Burge
Born in the year 1886, on the 25th of a wet July, Son of Meschach William and
Grandson of John Burge, a Taylor, London.
My grandfather had a Tailoring business in Wiltshire, in the village of 'Wilsford'.
In his career of tailoring he did a lot of sewing for Buckingham Palace in the
reign of Queen Victoria, making suits for the valets of the Palace, and also for
Edward 7th, using gold buttons. He saw Queen Victoria dining in her palace by
the guard taking him in.
In his business career he tripped over to the South of France every summer to
enjoy the sun amidst the vineyards and the growing of grapes and in the making
My grandfather had relations in South Australia, and told him what a sunny
country it was to live in. This prompted him to come to Australia. And with his
wife Eliza and two sons Meschach William, 11 years and Henry John, 9 years,
sailed out to Australia in the sailing ship called 'Lavestein' which took 4
months voyage arriving on the 1st March 1855, but couldn't sail into Port
Adelaide on account of the sand bar. Passengers and luggage were brought in on a
Bargee, and after finding lodgings, made preparations to travel to Gawler, these
were bullock days. After getting to Gawler, left their luggage there, and walked
to Sandy creek and stayed at the Springbetts (sic). My energetic Grandfather
then went looking for land.
He bought 40 acres from John Springbett, and then built a wooden hut. Years went
by and my grandfather was able to build a house of stone.
My grandfather was instrumental in forming a Manchester Unity Oddfellows Lodge
in Lyndoch in the early days. We had a Family lodge Doctor, Richter, the Lodge
fee was 3/6 quarter.
In the 1850 John Ernst Seppelt, with his family came out to South Australia, and
settled at Klemzig. A year later he took up land now called Seppeltsfield, with
the intention of growing tobacco, but soon found out that the growing of vines,
and the making of wine was a business proposition. When the cellar was built my
father carted grapes over hills and dale to Seppeltsfield.
A lot of grape juice was lost in transport. John Ernst said they could use a
tarpaulin to hold the grape juice. This went on very well for a time. Till some
grape growers were caught bucketing water into the load over a creek they had to
cross. There - upon Mr Seppelt abandoned the use of the tarpaulin. And the
innocent had to suffer, for others misconduct.
In the 1889 Chateau Tanunda Cellars was built by a number of Shareholders.
My father taking up a 100 shares. After taking in grapes for years, no dividend
was paid out. When I was at the age of sixteen I carted a load of grapes, every
day to the Chateau. Starting very early in the morning, eating my breakfast as
the wheels were going around, morning after morning I would be at the gates at 7
o'clock waiting for the gates to be opened to get my load on the weigh bridge,
and to unload with a fork into the grape crushers.
I had counted at times being 30 loads in front of me, and then to get home
before dark with rough metal roads in those days, one day it got dark I had no
My father came looking for me on horse back, I was miles from home. I watched my
tracks afterwards, and found the wheel marks were only two feet from a deep dry
creek. I used to come home with the empty wagon (sic) on a back dirt road, as it
was a few miles nearer and then to cross the North Para river by the old flax
Chateau Tanunda Company was wound up by Seppelts purchasing the whole plant. My
father only got a dividend then of the money he paid in as shares.
A few years before my grandfather died in the year 1886, my father launched out
and bought a farm of 330 acres with a house. Then my father was able to get
married in the year 1882 to Emma Springbett. There were eight of us children, my
young brother died at the age of 2 years 4 months, when I was 4 years old.
I can still remember quite well, he died of croupe. I grew up being well cared
for of my mother and father. People had to work hard and long hours, in those
days. In the local council the hours were 8 hours @ 4/- a day.
On the farm 2/6 a day with meals. I went to school at the age of 6, 2 ½ miles
walk to school and also to Sunday School in the year 1902. The head teacher Mr
Bronner was my first, then Mr Max Herman Thiele to the rest of my school days.
And at the age of 15 I was presented with a school certificate, passing in all
my subjects with full marks. When I left Public School, I stayed home to work
for my father, in all farming pursuits which kept us busy all the year round. I
also took part in outside interest, such as dramatic evening, Literacy Society,
Lodge Meetings, running quadril evenings, a Life member of the Agricultural
Bureau, and made a lot of visiting trips of great interest to local bodies, as
well as the city.
I was always an energetic worker, at the age of 14 I could build a haystack on
my own initiative and when 15 I started shearing my father sheep, and at 16 my
father put me in a shearing shed with other shears, which I found hard work, as
the fastest shearer could pick out the easiest shearing sheep.
Later on I went to Pewsey Vale sheep station shearing time to get an insight in
wool classing. Another time I went to Roseworthy Chaff Mills, Kleining bros, as
they were looking for men hay pitching harvest time. Pitching hay onto a 300 ton
stack, I learnt, it wasn't the strength, but the nack (sic) in pitching the
sheaf to a high position. And my bed was a sack bag on a board floor, I had my
own blanket. I was there two weeks, it was an experience for me, I had my own
bicycle to ride.
Another experience I had coming home from Pewsey Vale shearing time riding my
bicycle coming down Trial Hill which is very steep I got part way down and the
brakes gave way. In quick presence of mind I slanted into the bank on my left
side, which pulled me up, I was bruised but it saved my life.
There was always plenty of work on my fathers mixed farm, a vineyard, sheep,
cows, horses, pigs, fowls to be well looked after. In vintage time, the making
of wine was made in a primative (sic) way. Turning the grape - crusher by hand,
which was a slow process. But we did what we made up our mind to do. My father
always had a ready sale for his wine, at the Aldana Wine Cellars, Adelaide.
After several years, my father realised, if he was to carry on wine making, he
would launch out extensively, and build into a hill nearby. But as it would
happened the price of grapes rose in price, and that induced my father not to go
ahead, and build at the time being. Being a ready sale for grapes for some time,
Springbett Bros Winery bought the empty cask.
When I was about 20 years of age, my father bought a house, with 20 acres of
vines, alongside the Gawler Road, and 2 miles from the old homestead. My brother
Will who was 3 years younger, we did all the work on the farm. When I was 29
years, I got married and lived at the homestead, and Will lived with my father
for a few years and then launched out and bought a farm of his own at Roseworthy.
He then got married, and did very well on the farm. My brother also lived on a
farm at Farrel Flat and reared a family of 5, two daughters and three sons.
When getting up in years, he retired and lived in Clare, for a number of years
when his health was failing, and he lived to the age of 88 years.
All this time I lived on the Homestead, improving the property as I went along,
my ambition was to plant more and more vines. Until solely I was a grape -
grower, and a member of the Grape - growers Association of which I was a
Secretary for just on twenty years. I was an active Secretary, keeping the
growers in touch with activities by calling branch meeting at the Lyndoch area.
At one time at a Committee meeting when they did not fall in with my idea of
pushing ahead, I took the bull by the horns, and made all the necessary
preparations in printing matter, and distributed them all around the whole
district, which resulted in a very large meeting, and a very successful one, in
which30 new members joined up that evening.
The meeting was so successful that I was asked to take on being Secretary of the
whole Barossa area, but I had to decline on account of the pressure of business
of my own undertaking. I was growing a hundred tons of grapes, and selling them
to the big wine makers, and I was getting 30/ a ton which I thought they were
making profit out of my hard work. So I thought out the problem to make my own
grapes into wine, and put on the market, and go on my own.
This was my procedure, I started crushing a small quantity, and experimented for
several years by practice and theory from books of winemaking in France. And
when I produced a wine ready for consumption I started selling my product of
matured wine. I was very fortunate in having a good cellar taste, which means a
(sic) lot in wine sales. I have had occasion to sample different wines, and
could tell you where the wine was made. I went to the bank to get accommodation
to extend my cellar. I was refused; saying the big winemakers would push me out
of business. I battled but of no avail. I was determined to go ahead, a year
later, I applied again for accommodation. I was asked; Where is your budget?
Right here with me, I was asked to call later on. Which I did, the bank said to
me, we went through your budget, she said, If you can do that, without our help,
what will you be able to do with out help; how much do you need? They were
surprised I didn't ask for a bigger amount. I went on enlarging, crushing and
crushing more grapes each year , until I was crushing all the grapes I was
producing. I then went on buying grapes in opposition to the big wine makers. A
few years later, I was short one variety of grapes, so I offered 2 a ton to the
growers for this variety. Then one of the wine makers approached me, at my
cellar, saying the growers tell me you are paying 2 a tone more for muscatels. I
replied, Yes I am, I need the grapes. He walked away then, knowing I was
genuine. That meant the winemakers had to pay the same. My sales were still
improving and I was getting low in matured stock, to keep my sales going I
approached one of the big wine makers for matured wine to help me. He helped me
in filling my casks. In 3 months I paid 1000, so I could keep my orders going, I
was thankful for their help. All my grape skins went through the press after the
wine was drawn off. Then the skins went to Tarac Company of Nurioopta, where
they were treated in their factory in getting by - products such as cream of
tartar, tanin, and oil from seeds. And also more grape - spirit was obtained
through their process. Later on I was notified that they could not store any
more spirit for me. So I made a sale to a big winemaker of the over - proof
spirit I had in store at the Tarac Company for 3000.
My grape skins were then still being delivered to the Tarac Co. All these
proceeding happened, after one time the Bank said the big makers would push me
out of business. I had a good run in business til I was 70 years of age, when I
was forced to have a rest, realising it was time to hand over the business to my
sons Noel & Colin.
I arranged to have a break and went to Brighton near the sea coast. Quite a
different atmosphere, and thought this was a good locality to retire, in the two
weeks while there I looked around to buy a suitable house to retire. I was
successful in buying a house to retire, I returned home to make suitable
arrangements to run the business.
After returning home from Brighton and living in the big house I had built at
the winery I decided for Colin to live in winery house, as soon as I moved to
Brighton. I had bought another property a few years earlier of 80 acres, with a
house and 2000 fruit trees, and then for Noel to live in this house being ½ mile
from the winery. I thought it best that way for pacific reasons, Noel was living
at Berri, being Wine Chemist at the big distillery, I asked Noel to come home
and be my wine chemist, and work for the firm of Wilsford Wines. It took quite
some time before Noel decided, as he was the only wine chemist at Berri
Distillery with a good salary. After the house was ready Noel and his family
arrived. I did not want the house to be empty. After living at Brighton I used
to come to the winery for 3 years and go home at weekends, which was hard for me
travelling to and fro, it was trying for me as I was suffering from low blood
pressure. So I had to retire and leave it all to Noel & Colin. After a while at
Brighton I felt uneasy, I wanted to do something, I had a nice backyard, but it
wasn't enough for me to do, so I went out pruning other peoples garden also
fruit trees etc. I joined Brighton bowling club, but that was not enough for me.
I put in for the position as a green - keeper at Brighton Bowling Club, and was
accepted at £4 10/- a week. The hours were 8- 6 and Saturday a.m. to get the
greens ready to play pennants, I was there playing every Saturday afternoon.
Before I had retired looking after the greens I was appointed Greens Manager.
All told I was in charge for 8 years, being then 78 years old. I was still
active playing pennants and social bowls through the weeks, and now at coming 93
I still play now and then. After being at Brighton some time, business at the
winery got a bit quiter. I trusted to Providence to let my sons work out the
business of themselves. But things did improve and alterations were made larger.
And now the place is much much larger than when I left it. Now being at
Brighton, it was hard for me to settle down, I was still energetic and had to do
some manual work. I looked after the church grounds at St Judes for about 20
years, a work of love. I went around for years pruning Resident's fruit gardens.
I put in for the position taking charge of the Brighton Bowling greens. And I
was accepted, my pay was £9 a fortnight. The hours were 8 to 6 and to 12 on
Saturdays, having the greens ready for Sat pennants. I was always ready to play
pennants at home and away. The fee then was £5 per season. The surroundings of
the area to me seemed very untidy. So conscientiously I set to work every
opportunity I had to tidy up the surroundings and incentive to make further
improvements which were carried out while I looked after the greens. In those
days we worked under rude conditions, as compared to now. I calculated the
distance of walking 30 miles a week attending to the greens. I was energetic and
kept looking after the greens till I reached the age of 78 years. And now at
this time of writing I am close on 93 years and have ben (sic) playing bowls up
to now. I thank God for my health and strength through the years, and now I find
old age is creeping on. I have written this on request of my grand - daughter,
as I am the only one left to recall any early history of the family. I am
thankful I can remember what I have written, as you will read after I am gone. I
am thankful of all the blessings in my life. My motto 'Moderation in all things,
and follow the Ten Commandments'.
My experience through all my life,
written by Percival N Burge.
Percival Norman Burge died on 28th May 1982 (aged 95yrs 10mths). He is buried in
the family plot at the Holy Trinity Anglican Church Cemetery at Altona. Also in
the same plot are his Grandparents, his Parents, his young brother who died of "croupe",
a young grandchild (son of Noel) and Noel's wife, Margaret. In a plot directly
opposite are his brother & sister-in-law. Behind that again is his son Colin.
These graves are in the rear section of the tiny cemetery, over the bridge
across the creek which divides it. To gain access to this section, you pass the
graves of many of the Springbett family who are mentioned in the text.