NEWTOWN (FITZROY) IN THE 1840s

[Mike Moore and Tim Gatehouse]

Mike Moore and Tim Gatehouse Named Many Well-Known Residents of Melbourne's First Suburb

In 1839 land between Alexandra Parade and the Melbourne city grid was subdivided into allotments and offered for sale thus creating the first suburb outside of Melbourne. It was initially called Newtown but renamed Collingwood in 1842. In 1850 it became the Fitzroy Ward of the Melbourne City Council and later the population in the area increased significantly enough for it to become a municipality in its own right. On the 9 September 1858 the Ward was severed from Melbourne. The new suburb was named Fitzroy after Sir Charles Augustus FitzRoy who had served as Governor of New South Wales from 1846 to 1855.

The boundaries of Newtown were Alexandra Parade (north), Smith Street (east), Nicholson Street (west) and Victoria Parade (south).

The area closest to Victoria Parade was on Eastern Hill. From here there were good views, the air was fresh and the area was deemed to be healthy. It was like a 'gentleman's park' with large trees and no undergrowth.

Only the streets mentioned above (paragraph 2) were designated when the first sales were held. Other roads appeared as the land was further subdivided. For example Benjamin Baxter bought 25 acres and subdivided it into four parts with Brunswick Street dividing it down the middle and Gertrude Street crossing it. These allotments and others changed hands rapidly. Peter Ferrie bought one of Baxter's blocks and Charles Williams bought half an acre nearby which he used as a cattle yard. His property was near to that of Andrew MacKillop whose daughter Mary was born in 1842.

From 1840 to the early 1860s Charles Ebden lived in Little Brunswick Street (now Fitzroy Street). He had settled in Sydney as a merchant and became one of the first squatters to bring cattle overland to the Port Phillip District. He purchased land in Collins Street in 1836 for £136 and sold it two years later for £10,000. "I fear I am becoming disgustingly rich" he declared.

Anthony Beale migrated to Port Phillip with his wife and children bringing with them a prefabricated home which was erected on 4.7 acres of land in Brunswick Street. Their 17th child was born in this home which they called "St. Helena Cottage." Beale had been paymaster for the East India Company on St. Helena when his employment was terminated by the British Government. Beale's diaries with many diagrams and amusing sketches provide a very important record of early Fitzroy.

Thomas Strode was a near neighbour of Anthony Beale. He established the first registered newspaper, the "Port Phillip Gazette" in partnership with George Arden in 1838. Although Strode wanted his paper to have a 'quiet and gentlemanly tone' he managed to offend many influential residents including Judge Willis. He was a member of the first Masonic Lodge formed in Port Phillip in 1840. He died at his residence in Richmond in 1880 and is buried at Boroondara Cemetery.

Belonging to the inner circle of Melbourne society were Robert Saunders Webb and his wife Ann (nee Fisher). Their daughter Ann was the first European child born in Port Phillip. In September 1836 Webb was appointed the first Sub-Collector of Customs and Sub-Treasurer of Port Phillip. He would grant licences to auctioneers and publicans. There was suspicion that he may have used £17,000 of public funds to purchase land around Port Phillip. In 1839 he bought for £560 land originally bought by Thomas Walker. The Webbs later moved to Brighton although Webb died in London in 1855. Ann died at sea in 1862 on a voyage from London to Melbourne.

Another resident of Newtown who later moved to Brighton was James Montgomery the first Crown Solicitor of Port Phillip. His Newtown residence was said to be 'elegant and truly beautiful.' In 1841 he opposed three applications for liquor licences in the area. After his resignation as Crown Solicitor he went into partnership with Andrew Muirson McCrae. This partnership however was dissolved in 1845. Montgomery called both his homes "Erin Cottage."

An early newspaper article mentions a hotel to be opened by Thomas Gibson in 1842 in the property owned by John Hunter Patterson.

Arthur Kemmis migrated to Australia in 1827. His first ventures were not successful and in 1839 with his wife Aphrasia (nee Raymond) he arrived in Port Phillip. His home was built on the corner of Victoria Parade and Fitzroy Street by Henry Bowerman on Bowerman's land and then rented to Kemmis at £130 per year. The impressive brick 2-storied house had reception rooms downstairs and four bedrooms above. Kemmis did well as a merchant and expanded into wool broking and steam shipping. He was director of the Port Phillip Bank, and a magistrate. In the financial collapse of 1841 he was ruined. Despair probably contributed to his death in 1842 aged 36. Aphrasia and children returned to Sydney where she married squatter John Maughan and lived at his property "Dundullimal" in Dubbo. This is now a National Trust property.

The State Library of Victoria has a good collection of paintings of Newtown which can be viewed online. Some were done by surveyor Robert Russell, others by Sarah Bunbury, the wife of naval officer Richard Hanmer Bunbury. Letters she wrote to her family in England from her house "Forest Hill Cottage" Newtown are also in the Library.

Mike Moore and Tim Gatehouse have between them an enormous amount of information. For more detail see "The First Residents of Brunswick Street" which can be found on the Fitzroy History Society website under "Publications."

( The above is a report on the address by Mike Moore and Tim Gatehouse at the General Meeting on 13 May 2017 )

( Contributed by Jan Hanslow. PPPG Member No. 1057 )

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