Brighton in the 1840's

[Prof. Weston Bate]

Weston Bate brings the History of Brighton to Life

"A History of Brighton" was the first book that Professor Weston Bate wrote after graduating with honours in history. He used council minutes, rate books and took 10 year slices from local newspapers to see how things were changing.

He considers Victoria to have two foundations. A rich pastoral phase where merchants controlled the money that pastoralists needed to run their sheep properties and the gold rush phase which produced enormous social change, enabling lower classes to use their entrepreneurial skills to improve themselves.

Brighton's beginnings were in the pastoral phase. In 1841 the British Government offered the opportunity to purchase 8 square miles of land (5,120 acres) in Port Phillip for one pound an acre. The only person in Britain to take up the offer was farmer and former brewer Henry Dendy. He wanted to build himself a manor house in the British style. He had no idea that the locals put their money into sheep, and grazed as much land as possible for a licence fee of ten pounds a year.

In Melbourne the locals were aghast that land might be purchased for only one pound an acre. Dendy had met on his voyage to Australia the brother-in-law of the merchant Jonathan Binns Were and the latter negotiated for Dendy with Superintendent Charles Joseph La Trobe. Dendy was allowed land outside the 5 mile limit of Melbourne, and what came to be known as the Brighton Estate was perfect. A beautiful area with a 2 mile beach frontage, land rights to the high water margin, a frontage, part sandy and low and the rest a dune near Green Point.

Henry Boorn Foote surveyed the estate which lay between the coast, East Boundary Road, North Road and South Road. He created something so much more interesting than Melbourne with its grid pattern. At the head of a 120 acre town reserve he created fashionable crescents in the style of Regent Street in London. These along with the beach front properties encouraged the 'carriage' people to come to Brighton. Away from the coast, at a junction of the Elster Creek, the Union Village was formed. This was to house labourers to work on the created farms of 78 acres.

Dendy did build his manor house but he had no agricultural estate for the immigrant families he was entitled to bring out to work his land. They lived in wretched conditions until they found work. Some moved away whilst others lived in Foote's town area where the blocks were small and they are remembered by the streets named after them.

J. B. Were had his beach front home. Captain George Ward Cole built a prefabricated Singapore teak home with a 100 foot frontage to the sea. A beautiful porch was added with moveable shutters for light control. Arthur's Seat Road (Point Nepean Road) cut across Brighton on an angle with the wealthy people on the west and the workers on the east. Despite the appalling sandy tracks from Melbourne which wound around waist-high tree stumps, Brighton became popular for day trippers. Capt. Cole had garden parties for 150 guests whilst Dendy and Were had champagne breakfasts for prospective property buyers. There was every sort of entertainment including cricket, fishing and horse racing which was organised by the local hotels. People liked the beach for its 'fine sea breeze.' They didn't swim. Residents used the beach for washing themselves and Hotels offered 'bathing machines' for those wanting privacy.

It was a time of innocence. Land sales were going well in 1842 when Were asked Dendy to be guarantor for a 1,500 pound loan. In 1843, when the loan was called in, Were could not pay and Dendy went under and never recovered. Fortune shone on Were when his brother Nicholas Were in England bought the estate and kept J. B. Were on as manager.

Time passed and in 1873, Thomas Bent bought the Brighton Estate and commenced his subdivision career. Today Brighton covers a smaller area than Dendy's survey but its attraction to being on the sea remains a big selling point.

(The above is a report on Professor Weston Bate's address at the General Meeting on 8 March 2008)

Contributed by Jan Hanslow (PPPG Member No. 1057)

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