MICHAEL DAWSON: A MAN OF PROPERTY

[Phoenix Park]

Phoenix Park, Home of Michael Dawson, Esq.
(In 1849 Michael Dawson, one of the original land purchasers in Brunswick, completed work on an ivy-covered mansion on his property called Phoenix Park. The property was named after Phoenix Park near Dublin, Ireland. Dawson cited his address not as Brunswick, but Philiptown, after a town in Ireland which has since reverted to its original name Daingean. Philiptown eventually grew into a village along the track which led from Phoenix Park to Sydney Road. This track was later named Union Street. Source: "Wikipedia")

During a recent ramble through the Melbourne General Cemetery (M.G.C.), predominantly a vast expanse of forgotten or neglected graves of people long dead, I received a sobering reminder of the fate ordained of all mankind. The only redeeming feature of this depressing scene is the flowers, real or otherwise, adorning the more recent graves of Italian immigrants now bordering the avenues throughout the cemetery.

The first burial in the M.G.C. took place in the year 1853, and therefore I was not surprised to discover the final resting places of several formerly well-known early settlers of Melbourne, the most notable being that of Sir John Shanassy (1818-83), sometime Premier of the Colony of Victoria[1]. The names of the others were:

Charles Brentani, watchmaker, died 21 October 1853, aged 36, Ann his wife, died 12 August 1882, aged 59.

Joseph L'Estrange, accountant, died 6 March 1883, aged 72.

Michael Lynch, publican, died 26 October 1871, aged 65, Julie his wife, died 28 May 1881.

Jeremiah Barry Kelleher, ironmonger, died 16 November 1905, aged 90, and Mary his wife, died 6 January 1857, aged 37.

Michael Dawson, grocer, died 1 June 1875, aged 63, Emma his wife, died 24 May 1891, aged 66.

[Angel Monument over Michael Dawson's Grave]

The impressive granite monument to Michael Dawson is surmounted by an angel, the work of the renowned Victorian sculptor Charles Summers [2], in Rome in 1879.

Michael Dawson was born in 1811, a native of County Kildare, Ireland and was by trade a miller[3]. Arriving at Port Phillip in December 1840 on board the "Orient" [4], he opened a shop in Swanston Street with a partner named Thomas Grant Campion. Initially he was described as a bookseller, but by 1843, with two stores in Swanston Street, he became a grocer. On 16th January 1844 the co-partnership with Campion was dissolved, and Dawson continued the business in a shop on the eastern side of Swanston Street, about 120 feet beyond Bourke Street. Michael evidently prospered and began to invest his surplus profits in nearby property, in particular a piece of land measuring 84 feet 9 inches by 78 feet at the corner of Bourke and Swanston Streets which he bought on 26 April 1847 for £490. By the time of the outbreak of gold fever, Michael had laid the foundation of a small fortune. Before long he was taking in over the counter as much as £1,000 per day. During 1854 he retired from trade and thereafter devoted his attention to making investments in city real estate, especially hotels.

In 1856 he purchasd a property at Brunswick for £10,000. Originally containing 211 acres, portions 97 and 98 of the Parish of Jika Jika fronted on to the Sydney Road and extended westward over a mile and a quarter to the Moonee Ponds Creek. On taking possession, Michael commenced the building of a two-storeyed mansion, and the family was able to take up residence at the beginning of 1858 [5]. He named the property 'Phoenix Park.'

Michael Dawson died at 'Phoenix Park' in 1875 intestate. He was often advised of the necessity of making a will, but Michael procrastinated because of the magnitude of his investments. He left a widow and six children, two of whom were married and two still in their minority, to mourn his passing. His estate, which was conservatively valued at £337,500 [6], included over fifty freehold properties in or near the City of Melbourne. The jewel in the crown was undoubtedly the 'North British Hotel' and four other buildings at the north-east corner of Bourke and Swanston Streets, then valued at £42,500. Other prized assets were the 'Earl of Zetland Hotel' and two shops situated on the west side of Swanston Street about midway between Little Collins and Bourke Streets and the 'Australian Felix Hotel' and six shops at the north-east corner of Bourke and Russell Streets, valued at £18,000 and £25,000 respectively [7]. Altogether Michael Dawson owned 19 hotels in or near Melbourne at the time of his death, and probably had every intention of adding to that number.

Michael married Emma Dawson at St. Francis' Roman Catholic Church, Melbourne, in 1842. She arrived at Port Phillip as an assisted immigrant per the "Strathfieldsaye," on 1 August 1841. After her husband's death, Emma proved to be an able steward of the fortune that Michael had amassed. She died at 'Dawsonhurst,' Williams Road, Hawksburn, in 1891. They now lie together under the protecting wings of Summer's angel in North Avenue of the M.G.C.

Michael Dawson, who came to the colony when Melbourne was in its infancy, with the intention of bettering himself, not only achieved his ambition, but became truly a 'Man of Property' [8].

Sources:
[1] Men of the Time in Australia; Victorian Series. 1878.
[2] The Australian Encyclopaedia, 1926. Vol. 2, p.514.
[3] Victoria and its Metropolis: Past and Present, 1888. Vol. 2, p.472.
[4] Victorian Pioneers who signed the Loyal Address to the Duke of Edinburgh in 1867, edited and arranged by D. J. Mickle.
[5] PROV VPRS 460, item 8596.
[6] My calculation based upon Richard Dawson (eldest son) taking his 1/9th share in cash, for which a loan from the Bank of Victoria was obtained.
[7] Table Talk, 29 May 1891.
[8] The Man of Property, by John Galsworthy.

Image Sources:
- 'Phoenix Park' - Brunswick Public Buildings, Streets and Residences, c1866-67, State Library of Victoria
- Dawson Angel - Photo by Viva Gibb, State Library of Victoria

( Ken would like to thank Jan Brooks, Michael and Connie Dieni for assistance in researching this article.)

( Contributed by Ken Smith. PPPG Member No. 895 )


List of Newsletter Articles  |  Back to Home Page