A day trip to….Brighton

Saturday a few weeks back was a beautiful autumn day and the feeling of sheer panic over the thesis had abated (just for the moment) enough that I felt I could indulge myself with a day off. So onto the train we hopped for a day trip down south to ….Brighton.  Why Brighton? Well, Brighton was established very early as a suburb of Melbourne-( as Heidelberg was)- and there are some interesting houses down there.  Henry Dendy, an English speculator based in England,had purchased the land in August 1840 as part of the short-lived special survey scheme and arrived in February 1841 to take it up just before Gipps introduced regulations to prevent prime land being sold off at bargain basement price in March 1841.  The land was laid out in a very Georgian style with crescent avenues and large blocks, but sales faltered and Dendy was forced to relinquish it.  It was purchased by J. B. Were, Dendy’s agent and a well-known speculator who fell under Judge Willis’ eagle eye.


So we downloaded a historic walk (St Cuthbert’s trail)  onto our phones from the very helpful Bayside City Council site and off we went.  I had a yen for a cemetery (as one does), so we got off the train earlier and walked down to Brighton cemetery first.


Brighton cemetery (which is actually in Caulfield South) is an old one, with land put aside in 1853 and possibly the first burial in 1855.  According to a talk given by Jan Rigby from the Brighton Cemetorians to the Port Phillip Pioneers Group the very earliest graves were laid out at odd angles to the path, and I must confess that we found it hard to orient our way around the cemetery. Unfortunately the box containing pamphlets showing graves of interest was empty, and although I’d downloaded a map of the cemetery on my phone, it was difficult to read in the bright sunlight. Nonetheless, we found some interesting graves:

We were mystified by this tall memorial, with a beautifully rendered copper sculpture on the top.


James Coppell Lee? Who was he?  I looked him up when I returned home and found that he was the 19 year old son of the owners of the James Coppell Lee copper foundry, which is still operating- amazing! His workmates crafted the copper statue based, apparently, on his cousin because they had no photographs of him.

From the Argus, 29 December 1919



Forced by a blinding rainstorm to abandon a proposed fishing expedition off Mornington early on Saturday morning a party of youths attempted to turn their boat shorewards when the light craft was over whelmed by a big sea, and one of its occupants was drowned. Two other members of the party were rescued in an exhausted condition after a stem struggle in the surf

Thc victim of the accident was a youth, James Coppell Lee l8 years of age, whose parents reside at Pyrmont, Barkly street, St Kilda. He had been spending the holidays at Mornington, and with two companions, J Cook, l8 years of age, who lives in Fitzroy street, St Kilda, and P Ratchford, 20 years of age residing m High street. St Kilda, he decided upon a fishing cruise in the Bay. With this object the three youths hired a 15ft. rowing boat at 5 o clock on Tuesday evening.  Setting out before dark, they cruised along the shore as far as Grice’s beach, four miles from Mornington, and pitched a camp there so as to permit of an early departure on Saturday morning for the schnapper grounds. Though a rather choppy sea was runnig the party pulled out to the reef and remained fishing there for considerably over an hour.

Under the influence of a fresh northerly at about 8 o’ clock on Saturday morning the sea rose, and as the driving rain began to sweep over this part of the Bay, the youths decided to run tor the shore to avoid the squall that appeared imminent. Their light boat tossed about to such an extent in the confused sea that a great strain was imposed on the rowers on the return journey.  Nevertheless good progress was being made until the boat was opposite Mills’s beach Here an attempt was made to run the boat as closely as possible to the boat sheds but the prolonged rowing under such arduous conditions had weakened the rowers. Near the mouth of Tanti Creek, where large rollers were sweeping inshore, the boat was seen by people on the beach to be m a perilous position. Despite the efforts of the crew to keep its bow to the shore the incoming sea buffeted it broad side on, and a second later tho little craft was engulfed in an unusually large roller. Striking tlie boat abeam the wave spun it over and drove it swiftly into the shallows about 25 yards out from the beach

All three occupants were thrown into the water and the boat sank. Cook and Ratchford found bottom in about 5ft of water, but it is evident that Lee in some manner became entangled in the boat or some of the tackle, and went under with i.t A powerful undertow was running at this point but Cook made a plucky effort to drag Lee from under the boat. With water neck high, however, and the under current threatening to sweep him off his feet, the task of extrication was too much for Cook, who by this time saw that his other companion Ratchford, was in distress. A man whose name was ascertained to he Martin ran into the water and brought Cook and Ratchford to the shore. Several young men swam out in an endeavour to find Lee but their efforts did not meet with success It is understood that a second man helped in the rescue of Cook and Ratchford, but his name could not be obtained.Lee was said to have been the strongest swimmer in the party

Telegraphing on Saturday night our Mornington correspondent said that up to then Lee’s body had not been recovered. He was the son of Mr T Conpell Lee brass founder of La Trobe Street

Enough sadness.  We caught a tram down to the Nepean Highway and had a very nice lunch at a deli place, then headed off for Middle Brighton. It was further than we thought, so we caught the bus.  Dammit, it was an all-day ticket- we were determined to make the most of it.

From there we followed the St Cuthbert’s walk, which you can is online here anyway, so I won’t repeat it.  It meandered around the curved avenues in Middle Brighton, around Firbank Grammar.  One of the sites described on the walk was a house at 12 Middle Crescent, described as a single-storey Victorian villa built for a dairyman in 1877, when more conventional villas replaced the early 1840-50s cottages.


The house itself was unremarkable but  I was struck by the house next to it, which was very similar and obviously being allowed to fall into disrepair sufficient to undermine any value of the house (as distinct from the land, that is, which was in a very prestigious spot).


The heritage-listed Brighton Civic Centre was a curious-looking building, erected in 1959 and probably more valued now than it might have been in the mid 1980s, I’d say.



The Brighton Town Hall was featuring a free exhibition of works of Graeme Base, the writer and illustrator of the Animalia book which I remember reading to my children.  The exhibition has several of the original paintings from that, as well as the many other books he has illustrated.  The video of him from the 1980s talking about Animalia is worth it just for the mullet hairstyle! The exhibition is on until 26th April, but closed over Easter until Wednesday 8th April


Back onto the train, then “Home James and don’t spare the horses”. We’d had value from our day ticket- four trains (two each way), a tram and a bus, and a pleasant day was had by all.

8 responses to “A day trip to….Brighton

  1. All so interesting. Brighton is my family ancestral grounds before it became so posh and relatives including my great grandparents are buried at Brighton Cemetery and streets and roads named after them. I wasn’t aware Bayside had walks. While I know the area well enough, it always remains confusing to drive around because of the curving streets. Maybe North Balwyn is as mono cultural and comfortably off as Brighton but Brighton could give North Balwyn strong competition. To note, we have these preserved areas for white Australians, but of course all types are welcome, as long as you can afford to live in these areas.

  2. artandarchitecturemainly

    Dendy St is famous of course, but I had never heard of the Englishman Henry Dendy before. It goes to show how fast he had to be. In August 1840 he bought the land in Brighton, jumped on a ship and arrived in February 1841 to take it up JUST IN TIME!! I don’t blame Gipps for trying to prevent prime land being sold off at cheap prices in March 1841, but what would have happened had Dendy been delayed for two months? Would he have had his land contracts dis-honoured? Would we not have Dendy St in Brighton today?

    • residentjudge

      When you read the correspondence between Governor Gipps in Sydne and Superintendent La Trobe here in Melbourne, you realize how unprepared they were for someone arriving on a boat waving his bit of paper. Apparently he was the only one to do so- the other Special Survey holders ( including Unwin andElgar in Melbourne) arranged it here. La Trobe played for time, saying that he had to consult with Gipps. I guess they didn’t know that there weren’t going to be hundreds of people arriving with special survey claims. They (Gipps and La Trobe) didn’t get any information from London about the scheme until 11 March and the regulation was rescinded by August 1841.

  3. What gems in this post, Janine! I love your adventures in Melbourne:)
    The Offspring has an ancestor in Brighton, Thomas Brewer, a pal of Henry Dendy and likewise a chancy speculator, but in Clifton Hill. At one stage he was splendidly rich, with a timber yard and enough dosh to build three sweet cottages for his daughters which still bear their names on the lintel. But the uninsured timber-yard burned down and things went awry, and old Thomas who outlived two wives, is buried in an unmarked grave in Brighton, a sad adjunct to his pioneer brother John who has the biggest and most impressive monument in the Booroondara Cemetery.
    I didn’t know about the Graeme Base exhibition. I’ll go and see it when it re-opens after Easter, thank you!

  4. Good post. The copper statue would have caught my eye too. There’s a poignancy to the fact that despite having a statue made of “him”, there are no photos of Lee.
    My subject, Katharine Susannah Prichard, lived briefly in Brighton as a child in the late 1880s, and then mostly in Caulfield. Her father, who killed himself in 1907, is buried in Brighton Cemetery. Will be taking a look myself on my research trip in a couple of weeks.

  5. Would you believe it, we used to live in Brighton, just a block away from the civic centre you have photographed. We were looking for somewhere to live and saw cheap places to rent in Brighton. For a giggle we decided to have a look at some and that is how we discovered that there is a good number of cheap places to rent in Brighton. We did feel like misfits being on a low income in such a rich suburb.

    I used to take my three under 5s to the library for their wonderful children’s story-telling sessions in the 1990s. That library reinvoked a love of libraries in me and helped establish my children as great readers.

    • I wonder if there are still cheap rents there? It certainly didn’t seem very cheap in the streets we were walking around.

      • According to my daughter there are still some cheap rents in Brighton but I agree that there would be few in the Middle Brighton area (though I can think of one street where there may be some)

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