[Ken Smith]

Ken Smith Illustrates Blocks of Land in Early Melbourne

Whilst Ken Smith was doing research on Unwin's Special Survey he searched old newspapers to see how Melbourne's citizens reacted to land being sold for a pound an acre. He noticed in the classified sections that property sale notices provided detailed descriptions of homes, including out buildings, fences, and sometimes stated names of neighbours. These enabled him to pinpoint where early properties were. Advertisements from traders described their goods and often gave their address.

William Frederick Augustus Rucker sold at his Queen Street, Melbourne store in 1838 "flour, boots, gunpowder, etc." and Thomas Weatherly, also in Queen Street, sold "wheaten bread" on credit if need be. George Lilley, the first person in Melbourne to become insolvent, was a storekeeper and auctioneer. John Moss ran the "Ship Inn" in Flinders Lane. Henry Ward Mason was a storekeeper in Collins Street, whilst William Meek was a solicitor in Meek Street (now Bank Place). The town herdsman, Christopher Ponting lived in Collins Street with Gilbert Marshall and carpenter Thomas Watt built and operated a punt on the Yarra River.

The first land sale was held in Melbourne on 1 June 1837 with 100 allotments of land in Melbourne and 7 allotments in Williamstown being offered. With surveyor Robert Hoddle acting as auctioneer, land sold for prices between 18 and 95 pounds. Charles Ebden, sheep station owner, bought 3 adjacent crown allotments for 150 pounds. His property, with its Collins Street frontage, sold 2 years later at auction for over 10,000 pounds.

The early auctions were great events. Auctioneer Charles Williams had a huge marquee that he dragged around town. His auctions were popular not only for the land sales but for the beautiful lunches he provided. Alongside buyers, the 'great unwashed' were happy to eat tongue, ham, pigeon pie, and drink champagne, all courtesy of Mr. Williams.

Good reports of Port Phillip encouraged the arrival of new settlers. Jonathan Binns Were in 1839 complained that he couldn't afford land near the water and leased a property in the 'bush' at the corner of Collins Street and Spring Street. Other immigrants chose to live in new suburbs like Richmond and Fitzroy.

When Portion 49 in the Parish of Jika Jika was subdivided in 1840 it was very desirable land. Bisected by Brunswick & Gertrude Streets, this area of southern Fitzroy was called in the "Port Phillip Gazette" 'Pet Suburban', 'Forest Hill' and 'Melbourne Retreat'. Herbert Power, auctioneer, described the land as being opposite the 'chaste & beautiful' home of Charles Hotson Ebden and surrounded by the homes of Messrs. Aitken, Purves and Patterson. He described land along Brunswick Street as being as valuable as land in town and indeed was the 'New Town'.

As the Newtown properties were subdivided and further subdivided without any Town Council controls, there were many dead-end streets and eventually the Government had to purchase properties to create throughfares.

Other than the Crown land sales were the curious Special Surveys. Unbeknownst to Superintendent Charles La Trobe, advertisements had appeared in the English newspapers, offering buyers the chance to purchase 8 square miles of land for 5,120 pounds (1 pound per acre). Henry Dendy arrived in 1841 with a piece of paper supporting his claim. La Trobe agreed on the condition the survey be at least 5 miles from the nearest town. Dendy's Survey which he called Brighton, was south of Melbourne, bounded by North Road; South Road; on the west by the sea; and on the east by Boundary Road. Although there were 8 or 9 surveys selected in Victoria, Dendy was the only person to migrate with a land order. Henry Elgar, merchant, chose land in Boroondara and Nunawading whilst Unwin's Special Survey, mentioned above, was in Bulleen.

Auctioneer Charles Williams might have said 'buy now - land will never be cheaper', but the recession was around the corner. Henry Dendy never recovered emotionally or financially from his ruin. William Rucker left massive debts whilst Anthony Beale became insolvent more than once. Development still continues in Melbourne and just like John Pascoe Fawkner wrote in 1838, 'persons absent for a few days notice a change on their return'.

(The Above is a Report on the Address by Ken Smith at the General Meeting on 11 November 2006)

Contributed by Jan Hanslow ( PPPG Member No. 1057 )

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