Tony Menhennitt of Rupertswood Mansions Pty. Ltd. gave us an insight into the history of the Sunbury property named "Rupertswood". The mansion has been owned and lived in by several generations of the Clarke family, Hugh Victor McKay (of Sunshine Harvester fame) and the Catholic Church.
William John Turner Clarke known as "Big Clarke" was born in 1805 in Somerset, England. His parents died when he was young and although well to do, he took up work as a stockman. He married Eliza Dowling, and in 1829 they emigrated to Van Diemen's Land. For the duration of the voyage, William travelled in the hold of the ship, caring for the stock he had purchased with Eliza's dowry.
On arrival in VDL, he opened a butcher's shop, but soon found that he could do better by lending money to the local gentry who needed funds to support their lavish lifestyles. It has been said that he owned or controlled every property between Hobart and Launceston! In 1836, he transported some stock to Port Phillip.
Initially he selected land near Ballarat that he called "Dowling Forest" and "Woodlands" run in the Wimmera. But in the 1850's he wished to live closer to Melbourne, and chose Sunbury, as the land was not freehold property. The Jackson brothers who came across to the Port Phillip District in 1835 were originally squatters on this land. Unfortunately, they neglected to register their claim. After having the land surveyed, Clarke approached the Government with gold and purchased 31,000 acres. He bought another 36,000 acres throwing 9 squatters off their holdings. In fact he bought every available piece of land between Mount Macedon and Williamstown and owned basically everything from Whittlesea to the Calder Highway.
When "Big Clarke" had purchased his land in Sunbury, he lived in the Jackson's 2-roomed cottage and called it "Home Park". Later the cottage was increased to a 12-room homestead. "Big Clarke" was responsible for the introduction of Border Leicester sheep and trout into the Port Phillip District. He also started the Colonial Bank. Said to be an absolute miser, he would have been appalled by the size of the memorial erected over his grave at the Melbourne General Cemetery. He died in 1874. "Home Park" was eventually split into 3 houses and moved into Sunbury. Two of these remain.
William and Eliza Clarke had 3 sons. The eldest was William John Clarke (later Sir William Clarke) who inherited all the Victorian properties plus £ 4 million, Joseph Clarke who built "Mandeville Hall" and Thomas Clarke who inherited all the Tasmanian and New Zealand properties.
Thus, the Sunbury property came under the ownership of William John Clarke and in 1874, the foundation stone was laid for a 'family home' of 50 rooms. It was named "Rupertswood" after Sir William's eldest son, Rupert. The Clarkes entertained there on a lavish scale and everyone who was important in Melbourne society was invited. The property was even serviced by a railway station still called Rupertswood. Rupert eventually inherited the property but in 1910 sold it to his brother William Lionel Russell Clarke. Russell Clarke's son Michael is the last of the Clarkes to have been born at "Rupertswood".
Having much admired the beautiful avenue of elms leading to the house, Hugh Victor McKay purchased the property in 1922 (now only 8,000 acres).
Following his death in 1926, William Naughton, Queensland pastoralist and Catholic, became the owner. Naughton really only wanted the land for agistment and eventually the Roman Catholic Salesian Order bought the house and 700 acres to establish a school for the poor.
"Rupertswood" is now managed by Rupertswood Mansions Pty. Ltd. and the house is being restored and used as a convention centre. It was open to the public on January 27th, 2002.
P.S. The old Sunbury Asylum is another notable property in Sunbury that is well worth a visit. It is used as a University campus.
Contributed by Jan Hanslow (PPPG Member No. 1057)
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