Category Archives: Pleasant Sunday Afternoon Outings

More worthies at the Boroondara Cemetery

It surprised me that the Boroondara Cemetery was established as early as 1858.  I’m well aware that graveyards were established on the outskirts of cities because of fears of contagion, but Kew seems so suburban for 1858.  The surrounding houses seem to be Edwardian in design, and the fence and rotunda that give the cemetery such a  High Victorian/Edwardian appearance date from the 1890s as well.

Because of the strong turn-of-the-century aspect of the cemetery,  I was startled to find the graves of very early Victorian settlers there.  Here’s Edward Henty from Portland, one of the earliest permanent settlers


Georgiana McCrae is buried here as well.


There’s some very large memorials here- none rivalling the Springthorpe Memorial in beauty, but striking nonetheless.

There’s the Syme memorial for David Syme, proprietor of The Age



and the Cussen Memorial was erected by Supreme Court judge Leo Cussen for his son Hubert.


Somehow, compared with these, the Howett memorial looks rather -um- utilitarian.  Still, time may be kind to it.


I quite liked this one.


While speaking of death, I noticed this death notice in The Age yesterday.  I do not know the woman at all, and mean no offence by posting this.  I was very touched by it.

WEST Verna Rae. Passed away peacefully at Munday Court, Skye on December 27 2012 aged 88…. A feisty savvy survivor of the Old Beechworth Asylum who never stopped searching for our mother, with whom she was lovingly reunited in 1991.  Moved to a Singleton Equity house in Skye in 1992 with loving care from DHS.  We were glad to be able to embrace Verna in our family.

Therein lies a tale, I suspect.

Love and death: The Springthorpe Memorial at Boroondara (Kew) Cemetery

On a beautiful 24-degree summer afternoon, where more perversely pleasant to visit than a cemetery?  So off we went to Boroondara Cemetery in High Street Kew, primarily to see the Springthorpe Memorial which I’d seen many times in photographs but never actually visited.

Boroondara Cemetery was established in 1858 as a garden cemetery and, with imagination, you can just sense the Victorian conceptions of death and mourning that underpinned its design.  The original plan, since abandoned, was for curved paths and winding roads, but it nevertheless maintains its rather forbidding red brick perimeter wall, caretaker’s lodge with slate roof and a clocktower, and rotunda.  Its most famous monument is the Springthorpe Memorial, completed in 1907 after ten years’ construction and described in 1933 in The Age as “one of the most beautiful and most costly in the commonwealth”.

It was erected by Dr. John Springthorpe to commemorate his wife Annie, who died in childbirth with her fourth child, Guy, who survived to become a well known Melbourne psychiatrist, following in his father’s footsteps.  Dr. John Springthorpe had arrived in Australia as an infant and had a successful career with positions at the Beechworth Lunatic Asylum, the Alfred and the Melbourne Hospitals. He enlisted during World War I with the Australian Army Medical Corps, and on his return to Australia after the war, worked on post-war repatriation and psychiatric care (hence his commemoration in the name of ‘Springthorpe’ housing estate on the site of the old Mont Park/Bundoora Repatriation hospital). The breadth of his professional involvements is wide: training and registration of dentists, nurses, masseurs, ambulance work, maternal and child welfare. He was very much the clubbable man, and a supporter and collector of the nascent Australian artist scene of the turn of the twentieth century.  It’s ironic, then, that a man who had such a rich life should be best known for a memorial that he created to commemorate death.

As a thirty-one year old, he had married the 20-year- old Annie Inglis on Australia Day 1887 and they moved into a house at 83 Collins Street east- the fashionable, doctors’ end of town.  She was a first cousin to the a Beckett family, and hence the Boyd family who are so interwoven into Melbourne cultural life.  Ten years later she died, giving birth to her fourth child.  Disconsolate with grief, Dr Springthorpe sent his children away to live with relatives, and poured his sorrow into his diaries, transforming his house into a shrine to Annie with photographs and paintings to commemorate their married life, and leaving the house just as it was- even to the blood stain where his wife hemorrhaged to death.  In the days immediately following her death, he turned to the artistic circle of Melbourne and commissioned the sculptor Bertram Mackennel to design

a piece of sculpture, all in white marble, a sarcophagus, richly traced, with certain inscriptions on the sides; on the top, a sculptured figure, as much like Annie as she lay in the drawing room as possible

And here it is


The memorial took nearly ten years to complete.  The roof, made of red glass that bathes the marble in a rosy glow, was designed by Harold Desbrowe Annear.


The memorial was originally surrounded by gardens designed by William Guilfoyle, the designer of the Botanic Gardens.  Later work on the garden saw the installation of two works by Charles Web Gilbert- my husband’s grandfather (and to be honest, our main reason for seeking out the Springthorpe Memorial in the first place).  One of these was of a brolga defending her chicks against a snake rearing up to strike, and the other of a monk.  Neither of these sculptures have survived, and it is unsure whether they were ever positioned where they were intended.  However, this picture from 1929 seems to show some sort of bird with outstretched wings, and interestingly, the marble figures seem to be enclosed in a glass case.  The gardens were subsumed into the rest of the cemetery when, after Springthorpe’s death, it was found that the transactions for the land had not been completed.

The whole memorial is heavily freighted with symbolic references, including quotations and adaptations from the Bible, the Greek classics, Walt Whitman, Wordsworth, Dante, Browning, Riley, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  There’s something just a little bit creepy about the idealization of his wife- especially given that she is not named anywhere on the memorial:

My own true love
Pattern daughter perfect mother and ideal wife
Born on the 26th day of January 1867
Married on the 26th day of January 1887
Buried on the 26th day of January 1897
It is a memorial deeply engraved by text:
I found myself thinking of the pre-Raphaelites and their heavy emphasis on beauty and death.  To our eyes today, there’s something rather unhealthy about it all.  Maybe people even then were discomfited by such fervent obsession as well: apparently Mackennell himself warned Springthorpe that the etching of deeply symbolic and overwrought text on every possible surface might be over the top.  The Bulletin concurred:

Turning for a last look, the tremendous monument loads the emotions, insistent, almost blatant, one thinks dully of the dead woman, ten feet below, on whose brow it must press so heavily. Only its artistic beauty, only Mackennal’s consummate genius, could have saved it from descending to the level of a gorgeous advertisement.

The monument cost a huge amount, although it is uncertain what the final cost amounted to with figures ranging  from £4,500 to £8,000-£10,000 bandied about:  in today’s currency, somewhere between $700,000 and $1.3M.
There’s a fascinating article by Pat Jalland exploring the Springthorpe Memorial as a masculine expression of grief. She wrote Australian Ways of Death. A Social and Cultural History 1840-1918  and you can access her article from The Age here.    And Anne Sanders from the National Portrait Gallery delivered a wonderful presentation on Springthorpe himself and the video and transcript are well worth a look.

A pleasant Sunday drive to….The Portable Iron Houses

Do people do Sunday drives anymore? We did- across the Yarra and down to South Melbourne to look at the Portable Iron Houses in Coventry Street South Melbourne.

Patterson House, Coventry St South Melbourne

There are three galvanized iron houses on the South Melbourne site.  The one facing Coventry Street, shown above, is still in its original position where, in 1855 it was one of nearly one hundred portable buildings in the vicinity that included cottages, two-storey houses, shops, stores and a coach house.  It was valued at 60 pounds when it was erected in 1853/4.   Portable iron houses were packed in wooden cases (which could be used to line the internal walls) and easily transported by ship or cart.  They were quickly erected and could be unbolted and dismantled to be taken elsewhere for re-erection as a practical and enterprising solution to the dire housing shortage in gold-rush Melbourne.  The house above contained four rooms on the ground floor, with two attic bedrooms that are reached by a precipitous stairway.  I found it hard to envisage negotiating these stairs- barely more than a ladder really- with a babe in arms.  The temperature of the attic rooms in summer must have been fearsome too.

The second house on the side, Bellhouse House, was originally built at 42 Moor Street Fitzroy.

Bellhouse House, South Melbourne

It is believed to be the only remaining example of the work of Edward T Bellhouse of Manchester England.  In 1851 he displayed his portable houses at the Great Exhibition, where they exemplified the practical use of new technology, especially for an imperial context.  There had been iron houses available previously- say for example, this house designed for St Lucia in the West Indies, but the cost and the weight were prohibitive

The Courier (Tasmania) May 8, 1845

(by the way, it should be ‘jalousie’ window, which apparently is just a louvre window).

There had been timber pre-fabricated houses as well (La Trobe’s cottage is a good example) but with these iron houses we are talking mass-produced, cheap, urban housing that could be manufactured in Britain and shipped to colonies throughout the world.  The iron on the Bellhouse House runs horizontally, and it would have originally contained three rooms.  I must admit that I found it rather charmless.

The house that I was most intrigued by was Abercrombie House, which faces Patterson Place at the back, where there were originally fourteen houses of a smaller size erected by the entrepreneur who erected the Coventry Street House.

Abercrombie House, Patterson Place South Melbourne

This particular house was moved from its original location at 59 Arden Street, North Melboune in about 1980.  You can see a picture of the house still in North Melbourne here  and it being shifted by semi-trailer after being cut in half here. They must have had their hearts in their mouths while they were moving it, because it is certainly in a very precarious condition.  It was last occupied in 1976, and standing there looking at the single light bulging hessian-covered ceiling and the layers of wall paper, it’s hard to credit that such primitive living conditions still existed in the middle of Melbourne forty-odd years ago.  But conversely, on a wet and cold winter’s day, it’s also important to recognize what a vast improvement this house would have been on the canvas tents that were the alternative.

Abercrombie House from Patterson Place

The Portable Iron Houses are presented by the National Trust, and they are open on the first Sunday of the month 1-4 p.m.

A day trip to Westgarthtown

The sun was a-shining, the magnolias a-blooming, the wattles a-bursting and the magpies a-caroling-  so a good day for The Sunday Drive.  It’s the second Sunday in the month and Ziebell’s Farmhouse is open  at Westgarthtown.  Westgarthtown is not, as one might assume, in Westgarth.  Instead, it’s out at Thomastown and now surrounded by 1970s brick veneer homes.

We decided to head out along Plenty Rd, stop off for lunch at a cafe we both knew of vaguely in Mernda, then go across through Wollert to Epping and back to Thomastown.  After all, Sunday drives are supposed to be a circuit, aren’t they?

My wordy, I haven’t been this far out along Plenty Road for a long time.  I was once told that there wouldn’t ever be any development on the east side of Plenty Road because there was a MMBW covenant on it.  Obviously not.  There was little discernible difference between “Bush Boulevard” (huh! with its takeaway food stores) on the left and “Development Boulevard” on the right.

We often receive glossy pamphlets in our letter box advertising new land developments out at Berry Lane,  Eden Gardens, Eucalypt etc.  They all sound so bucolic until you see them clawing their way into what had been farmland.

We headed back towards the city (which was actually visible on the horizon), passing drystone walls and strange farmhouse gardens composed entirely of prickly-pear.  The paddocks gave away again, this time to the triple-fronted brick veneers so proudly bought by ‘New Australian’ migrants as they moved out into suburbia in Lalor and Thomastown in the 1960s and 70s.  Down a couple of side streets and there we were- Westgarthtown.

Westgarthtown is named after William Westgarth, who arrived in Port Phillip from Scotland in 1840.  He was here during Judge Willis’ time and an active member of civic society with involvement in the Mechanics Institute, the Benevolent Society, and later the Victorian branch of the Australasian League for the Abolition of Transportation and the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce. He helped found the first gas company and was an enthusiastic promoter of the railways.  He was a member of the NSW Legislative Council and a supporter of manhood suffrage, the abolition of property qualifications, state education and the abolition of state aid to religion.

He was instrumental  in the establishment of Westgarthtown.  I’ve read of other men in Upper Canada, too, who involved themselves in emigration schemes targetting particular geographical regions in the ‘old world’. These men personally sponsored from their own pocket, or sought bounties from the government for the transportation and establishment costs of whole villages into new settlements in the colonies.  It is particularly significant that German settlers, like the Italians up near Daylesford, excelled at agricultural farming in its own right as distinct from pastoral farming- something that the Wakefield scheme tried without much success to encourage amongst British immigrants.  Westgarth explains his own involvement:

When I made my first Home trip, in 1847, I resolved to open, if I possibly could, German emigration to Port Phillip. Quite a number had already been settled, some from the earliest years, in South Australia, where their industry, frugality, sobriety, and general good conduct had made them excellent colonists. This favourable testimony was confirmed to me by correspondence on the subject with my late much-lamented friend, Alexander L. Elder, one of South Australia’s earliest, most esteemed, and most successful colonists. My first step on arrival was to write to the “Commissioners of Emigration,” an officiate since dispensed with, pointing out this South Australian success, and suggesting that a certain charge upon the Colonial Land Fund, authorized in special cases of emigrants–an aid of 18 pounds a head, I think–might be made applicable to German vinedressers emigrating to Port Phillip. In due course, I received a most cordial reply from the secretary, Mr. (afterwards Sir) Stephen Walcot, to the effect that Lord Grey, then Colonial Secretary, highly approved of the project, and that the aid asked for would be forthcoming for properly qualified German vinedressers. ..

But the grand prize for these Germans was the acquisition of land. Accordingly Captain Stanley Carr (then on a visit with the German Prince of Schleswig-Holstein) and myself took up, in trust for such Germans as desired it, and had the means of payment, one of the square miles of surveyed land, as yet unapplied for, about twelve miles north of Melbourne, which was divided amongst them in lots as agreed upon. And there they are to this day, a thriving community. When, in company with Neuhauss, my wife and I visited them in 1857, just before finally quitting the colony, we found considerable progress in the form of a scattered village, with a little Lutheran church, and some show of gardening and cultivation. They seemed delighted to stick to their German speaking, and would not even try to speak English. One amusing feature in the scramble as to allotments was that each tried, in most cases, to get trees, stones, and rocks in preference to clear ground, as if so much additional wealth. The trees might have had value for firewood, but in the other items they had probably more than they bargained for. We secured the land for them at a pound an acre, and the fact of their being so largely settled upon it raised its value at once considerably. All the land thereabout has now risen to many times this first cost. Many more Germans have since, as I understand, settled upon other land.   William Westgarth ‘Personal Recollections of Early Melbourne and Victoria’

The houses are still there, even though the Germans are not.  There is a large, open square in the midst of suburbia, with Ziebell’s farmhouse in one corner of it.  It is a low-slung, rough bluestone farmhouse, with a barn, wash-house and smokehouse.  The last surviving member of the Ziebell family moved from it in the 1970s into a new house built beside it (now used as a caretaker’s cottage) and for the first time she had electricity and running water- yes- the 1970s.

The parents slept downstairs, beside the large pantry and kitchen, while their eight children slept in the attic upstairs.

The wash-house was separate from the main house, with a well outside it for drawing water, and a fireplace inside the wash-house for heating the water.

The house itself is only open on the second Sunday of each month between 1.00 and 4.00 pm. (entry $3.00) but you can see the garden at any time and a beautiful garden it is, tended with care and pride.  It’s a credit to its keepers (whomever they may be).

The back of the farm opens onto a large expanse of grass and diagonally across is the Lutheran Church, the oldest operating Lutheran church in Australia, and still in use on alternate Sunday afternoons.  I love seeing a church still fulfilling its original purpose, and the doors and windows were open (they are often shuttered and locked for fear of vandalism), a young man was preaching and a small congregation was inside. A card table was set up for their afternoon tea outside.

We didn’t go in- but if we had, the interior would have looked like this:

There had been a bluestone schoolhouse built nearby, but it was demolished in the 1950s.

Back across the field to the other corner, and here was the cemetery.  You really had a sense of the centrality of church, school, God and death to these settlers’ lives.  The cemetery is marked out by drystone walls and dark, gnarled conifers.

Many of the inscriptions on the gravestones are in German.  The cemetery is still in use- in fact there was a very recent grave over in one corner that was too muddy to reach- but only direct descendants of the German settlers can be buried there.

It’s wonderful that this little section of Westgarthtown has been preserved intact, but there are other, privately owned old settler houses in the surrounding streets as well.

Maltzahn’s Farmhouse

The Westgarthtown website has more information and there’s more here as well.