Rupert Murdoch is the owner of Cavan Station.

Not too sheepish: Rupert Murdoch and ‘Cavan Station’

Jonathan Smyth's Times Past column this week looks at a wool farm called 'Cavan Station' (in Australia) now owned by Rupert Murdoch. The farm was originally owned by Rileys...

There are two things that the media mogul Rupert Murdoch did in the 1960s, that placed him on a path to untold wealth, launching a newspaper, The Australian in 1964, and buying a 20,000 hectare Australian wool station near Yass, known as ‘Cavan Station’, which is amply described in Nicola Crichton-Brown’s book Cavan Station: Its early history, the Riley legacy and the Murdoch vision, as ‘one of the most important grazing properties in the history of the Australian wool industry’.

Cavan Station was established by the Riley family who had connections to County Cavan, nostalgically naming their Australian land grant in remembrance of the old homeland their parents missed and loved so dearly. The Riley influence is still in evidence on the wool farm owned by Murdoch with locations possessing names such as Riley’s Run and there is the recently published book, which celebrates the farm’s history.

Cavan Station

In 1833, the Rileys obtained Cavan Station and, soon after, William Riley and his father Alexander and a friend William Dutton, who as it happened was also Australia’s first professional vet, got together and began to breed the continent’s first modern-day Saxon merino sheep. Apparently, the top-quality wool was lovely and fluffy to handle. The Cavan Station book attributes the wool’s classy quality to the careful breeding techniques applied by the Rileys on the advice of their partner and vet Dutton, rightfully calling the approach, an extraordinary legacy.

Unfortunately, William Riley suffered severely with his mental health and in a time when such matters were less understood he took his own life at age of 39 years in 1836. William’s grandfather George came from County Cavan, Ireland, possibly from the parish of Drung.

Progressive farming at Cavan Station is a legacy that is carried on by Rupert Murdoch and his family who are still applying new techniques to different aspects of the farm especially in their care for the environment and, in April 2021, they signed a $500,000 three-year deal with Microsoft to sell carbon credits with the improvement of operations through better grazing management, achieving ‘increased carbon sequestration levels’ and in turn, ‘that’s the bit that’s been turned into a carbon credit and sold to Microsoft’, stated

The sheep under Murdoch’s tenure are ‘three times more productive than they were in the Riley family’s time.

The Rileys

According to Jill Conway in her article for the Australian Dictionary of Biography, George Riley and his wife Margaret Raby left Cavan to live in England and settled in London where her husband became a bookseller. Their son Alexander was born in 1778, and Edward in 1784, along with two daughters for whom we do not have a birth date, named Elizabeth and Ann. In adulthood, when Alexander’s sisters married soldiers in the New South Wales Corp and moved to live in Australia, he became interested in emigrating too. Being a man of business, Alexander went out to Australia as an early free settler, buying a farm at Hawkesbury. He was made storekeeper and magistrate at Port Dalrymple where his sisters and their families were living.

In 1809, he travelled to Sydney where he obtained a large land grant at ‘Liverpool’ (Australia) which he named ‘Raby’ after his mother’s family name. He then entered into partnership with Richard Jones and they started trading with Alexander’s younger brother Edward Riley in Calcutta, India. Alexander and others became founding members of the Bank of New South Wales in 1816, and was appointed director briefly in 1817. Eventually, Alexander returned to England from where he managed the business ‘down under’ from afar. He had been promised a further Australian land grant, which he eventually was given just beyond the Yass River around 1833, which he named Cavan Station.

Another version of the story speaks of Alexander, who having returned to London, had to rely on his brother Edward (who by then was living in Woolloomooloo, Australia), to run his farm at Raby and that it was Edward who identified the lands at Yass and informed Alexander of them. Sadly, Edward suffered from mental health issues and tragically took his life on February 21, 1825.

Edward was an intelligent man whose personally perceived failings were said to be imaginary and not in line with what people actually thought of him and it was Edward whom they credited with introducing the Saxon Merino sheep breed to the colony.

Jill Conway stated, that ‘confusion about the validity of two conflicting wills which he left involved an immense litigation about the settlement of his estate, which proved to be of substantial value’. When legal matters were eventually settled, his son Edward junior took up the running of Raby farm and later the wool farm at Cavan Station. However, there are conflicting accounts of the Riley family’s ventures for which a closer look at the Alexander Riley papers 1804 to 1838, held in the State Library of New South Wales, might help yield a clearer picture.

For more about the Rileys, Murdoch’s and others involved in the wool farm at Cavan Station, get yourself a copy of Cavan Station: Its early history, the Riley legacy and the Murdoch vision. Cavan family links to Australia and other parts of the world can be researched through Cavan Genealogy Centre and


The Capuchin Annual got off to a buzzing start in 1973, recalling for readers a bumble bee not thought to have existed in Ireland until an erstwhile Cavan solicitor named R.C. Faris encountered him in his back garden in 1949.

The experts later confirmed it to be a ‘Bombus Pratorum’ and the article noted that Faris was now living in Dublin where another observer A.W. Stalfox had spotted the same species of bee (perhaps it had taken the journey to Dublin with Mr Faris) and a further report was sighted by the author of the article in Cobh who by then had begun to amass a list of localities where the busy bee was appearing with the intention of publishing it in a future edition of the Capuchin Annual.


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