FLOOD, FIRE AND FEVER
A History of Elwood
We were loaded onto two cabs to drive to Elwood, a suburb of Melbourne. After what seemed hours we arrived. My father had taken for our home, a villa. A new building scheme had started. Ugly new houses all the same were being put up; very new, very modern, to be paid for on a new plan called the time-payment plan. This scheme was considered most marvellous.
Annie Stirling arriving in South Elwood in 1887 in ‘Memories of an Australian Childhood 1880-1900’.
Take a walk through Elwood village and turn up Vautier Street towards the beach. The street rises and then dips towards Ormond Esplanade near number 30/30a where Elwood’s oldest home was built by Reverend Joseph Docker in 1855. Opposite is the delightful manse of importer William Higginbotham (1880s). This small rise, once dignified with the name of Elwood Hill, is where Elwood’s development began.
Elwood’s first land sale was held on 18 September 1851. Six blocks between Ormond Road and the Esplanade were auctioned to four brave investors at an upset price of £2/10 per acre. Blocks of eight to fourteen acres were acquired by Joseph Vautier, W Wilmot, J Payne and James Murphy. Three more eight-acre blocks were purchased by Mr Murphy and Samuel Griffiths a month later.
In 1853, an ambitious Joseph Vautier subdivided his land into the Elwood Hill Estate with sixty residential lots. To the east was ‘The Esplanade’ and to the west ‘Government Road’, today Ormond Road. To the north was North Elwood Street, today Vautier Street. To the south was South Elwood Street, today Docker Street.
Elwood’s heritage is closely detailed in the two Elwood Heritage Studies undertaken by local government. 14 The story of Elwood’s early buildings is the story of the dazzling rise and fall of the fortunes of ‘Marvellous Smellbourne’. Gold rush prosperity in the 1850s rose to a frenzy of speculation in the 1880s, encouraged by vested interests in the Parliament. For two or three decades after the gold rush, most Elwood purchases were by a small number of people of means who lived in mansions on large estates. Later these estates were ambitiously subdivided into house and villa lots for sale. These can be seen in the many two to three bedroom homes and gardens lining leafy suburban streets.
However, the land boomers met their nemesis in the great crash of 1892 that triggered Victoria’s worst depression. As a result, many of the attempted subdivisions failed until the early twentieth century when the swamp and noxious activities were finally removed and public transport connected.
Attitudes towards the development of Elwood went from despair to extreme optimism depending on the era. At one time, there were dreams of Elwood canal becoming Melbourne’s Venice, perhaps with gondolas ferrying passengers to nearby coffee palaces overlooking streets named for romantic poets. In reality, Elwood’s greatest building booms would prove to be the building of apartments before and after the Second World War, particularly 1917 to 1940 and the 1950s to the 1970s.
Elwood Hill Estate 1851. Vautier Street is North Elwood Street, Docker Street is South Elwood Street,
Government Road is Ormond Road.
(Map Collection, State Library of Victoria)
Large mansion and villa estate near corner of Tennyson and Byron Street 1883
(J.E.S. Vardy, 1883)
THE GREAT MANSIONS ESTATES
In the 1850s and 1860s, only a few large mansion estates occupied both sides of Brighton Road as well as a number of seaside blocks along the Esplanade. Thomas Monahan’s Erindale, stood on over sixteen acres on the east side of Brighton Road, south of present-day Glen Eira Road. The west side included T J Nankivell’s Chiverton 1855-56, between Burns and Scott Streets (later the home of Premier William Shiels).
Another Premier, Sir Richard Heales, built Tennyson Villa in the 1860s in Tennyson Street. It was later shifted to Moonee Ponds. Hartpury (1865), the fine mansion of Captain H Smith, still stands at 9 Milton Street, despite conversion to a hotel and flats. Nearby at 8 Milton Street is Ravelston (1870), the magnificent mansion of tobacconist Fredrick William Heinecke. Merchant Charles Berghoff’s mansion estate ran between Tennyson Street and Brighton Road, now Wimbledon Avenue. Development slowed in the 1870s but a rare survivor of this period is Cora-lynn of 54 Southey Street.
The land boom of the 1880s spawned prestigious mansions on the Esplanade. They included Tiuna in 1884 (today 8 Tiuna Grove), 15 Thalassa in 1889 (today 17 Byrne Street). Quat Quatta (today 17 Quat Quatta Avenue) was built east of Brighton Road in 1889 on Thomas Monahan’s Erindale estate. The magnificent 45 room Rothermere (today 14 Hennessy Avenue) was built in 1891 for Joseph SYme, a former partner of the Age newspaper.
Surviving mansions from the nineteenth century: Hartpury
Surviving mansions from the nineteenth century: Rothmere
Surviving mansions from the nineteenth century: Thalassa
Surviving mansions from the nineteenth century: Tiuna
DIVIDING UP THE ESTATES
By the late 19th century developers had moved in to feed of the boom, and housing estates were proliferating along Brighton Road, including Rainsford Street (1885), Hotham Grove (1887), Victoria Avenue (1888), Moore Street (1888) and Cyril Street (1889). The vast grounds of Chiverton were carved into 85 allotments in 1885, with the mansion remaining between Kendall and Coleridge streets. W Clarke’s land between Mitford Street and Southey Road was subdivided in 1885, which extended Byron Street. Intact villas from this period included Ravensmead (1885) at 38 Byron Street, 24-30 John Street and 99-101 Tennyson Street.
New estates developed on the Ormond Esplanade, including Hood Street 1888, the Elwood Esplanade Estate 1886 (Glenhuntly Road and Ormond Esplanade). The ambitious Seaside Estate (Spray Street) was laid out in 1885 on the triangular piece of land between Glenhuntly and Ormond Roads.
The disastrous financial crash of 1892 however delayed the building of homes on many of these boom estates by several decades. For example not a single villa on the original Bluff Avenue Estate, including a possible grand coffee palace, was completed at the time.
Despite the crash, the days of the sprawling seaside mansions were numbered. W Blow’s estate between the Esplanade and Ormond Road was carved up to create Pine Avenue plus 37 allotments. Wiltonia on the Esplanade was converted to Wilton Grove in 1909, Erindale to Fuller Road and Erindale Avenue in 1911 and Ormond House to Byrne Avenue in 1914. The grounds of Wimbledon (1920), Quat Quatta (1922), Thalassa (1923) and Tiuna (1925) were sub-divided in the 1920s.
Many of the original mansions were converted into units between the world wars e.g. Thalassa to Greylands Flats in 1925, Wimbledon on Brighton Road to Wimbledon Mansion flats in 1922, Rothermere to a guest house in the 1930s. Ravelston, with its magnificent timber verandah at 8 Milton Street/17a Tennyson Street, is now apartments. Changes to the estates over time is brilliantly illustrated today in Hartpury Court. The manse was converted to a private hotel in the 1920s while the land was converted to early Elizabethan flats (9-11 Milton Street), with grounds including trees, croquet lawn, tennis court, stables, and glasshouse.
One of the last mansions to go under the hammer was on Southey Street, demolished in 1943 to create Southey Court.
Another kind of conversion can be seen at 201 Brighton Road where the remarkably intact fire station stands behind residential flats built in its yard facing Brighton Road.
One of the most remarkable of all Elwood’s buildings is an intact underground air raid shelter in the rear yard of 23 Mitford Street. Built in 1940 on a former tennis court, it is 9.4 metres long, 1.5 metres wide and 2.1 metres high. It is the sole remaining evidence of the widespread preparations for air attacks in Port Phillip during the Second World War.
Flyer for sale of estate near Point Ormond. It was auctioned February 1887 with a 'coffee palace' lot thrown in. The development failed
(Map Collection, State Library of Victory)
14 Elwood Heritage Review Prepared for the City of Port Phillip 30 June 2005 by Heritage Alliance. Volumes 1 and 2.
15 Tiuna was built by barrister Henry Duigan. His widow Marion lived there into the 20th century until it was purchased by Flora Watson, the former mistress of Labassa mansion in Caulfield. Many of the furnishings were returned to Labassa, now owned by the National Trust, after her death.