Whilst Charles Hotson Ebden was living at the eastern end of Collins Street, Melbourne in a two-storied mansion he decided to build a nice big holiday home he would call Ebden Castle. He had, in 1854, purchased 122 acres on the coast near Melbourne and established his own quarry nearby to obtain the black sandstone he wanted for the construction of his new abode.
Work commenced in 1856 but there were not enough stone masons in Melbourne to erect such a building, as most had gone to the goldfields. Ebden altered his plans and settled for a small brick and timber dwelling he called 'Black Rock House.' It was 'T-shaped with a cellar, joined by a covered walkway to a castellated stone courtyard and stables.'
Completed in 1858, the house remained in the Ebden family until 1911. By that date it was in need of repairs and steadily became dilapidated until in 1929 and 1971 it was threatened with demolition. Fortunately the City of Sandringham bought the house in 1974 and since 1979 it has been looked after by the 'The Friends of Black Rock House.'
Carolyn Brown, the group's President, showed photos of the conservation and preservation works carried out to restore the house to how it was in the 1860s. The front external timbers of the house had been smeared with animal fat and sand to look like cement rendering. In the black rock 'castle' wall, a section near its large gate needed extensive repair.
Inside the house there were layers of wall paper, so advice was needed to ascertain the original papers. Made in England the new wall paper for the drawing room cost $40,000. In one room a small section of remaining paper depicted scenes from 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' published in 1852. It has been possible to replicate this paper making Black Rock House the only place in the world where it hangs.
The Friend's group continues to raise money for the property's upkeep and a recent $50,000 capital works grant will be used for work on the stables. In the front and side gardens are two enormous Moreton Bay Figs which would have been planted in the 1850s.
As for Charles Hotson Ebden himself; he was born in 1811 in Cape Town, South Africa to John Bardwell Ebden, merchant, banker and politician, and Antoinetta Adriana Kirchmann. Charles was educated in England, and Carlsruhe in Germany. In 1832, aged 21, he established himself as a merchant in Sydney.
He dressed as a dandy in Sydney but he was seen in March 1837 near Goulburn wearing a fur skin jacket and cap and sporting a long beard. He was walking in front of 9,000 sheep, 30 horses and 9 drays. Ebden's stock were the first to cross the Murray River and he established 'Mungabareena Run' on the north side of the Murray and 'Bonegilla Run' on the south.
When Ebden established Carlsruhe near the Campaspe River west of Mount Macedon he became the first pastoralist to settle on the north of the Dividing Range.
Ebden was in Melbourne for the first land sales. He purchased for £136, three half acre lots on the north side of Collins Street between Queen Street and William Street and in 1839 sold them for £10,244. At the Melbourne Club, where he was a foundation member, he stated "I fear I am becoming disgustingly rich."
He had sold 'Mungabareena" and Carlsruhe but between 1854 and 1861, with the backing of the Ebden family wealth, he had control over 500,000 acres in the Kerang region.
In 1843, Ebden entered politics. He was elected three times to the Legislative Council but resigned each time. In March 1848 he declared that "he could no longer lend himself to the perpetration of what was only a farce." In June 1850 he was returned and served as a member until separation from New South Wales. He was appointed Auditor-General of the new independent government of Victoria; a difficult job due to the enormous changes brought on by the discovery of gold. He was well respected but did not work well with Lieutenant-Governor La Trobe and resigned in 1852 declaring he was "tired of having responsibility without power." Despite his oddities Ebden was extremely popular and was recognised as an excellent financier.
He was associated with many commercial ventures; promoter of the Port Phillip Bank; Chairman of Directors of the Melbourne, Mount Alexander & Murray River Railway Company; Chairman of Directors of the St. Kilda and Brighton Railway Company; promoter of the Victoria Fire and Marine Insurance Company and local Director of the Bank of New South Wales.
In 1857 he was elected in the district of Brighton and was Treasurer under the second Haines government.
After his marriage to Tamar Harding in 1850 (Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages) they had two daughters and a son: Marian born 1850; Antoinette Martha born 1851 and Charles John born 1853. The children were educated in London and for some years lived there with their mother whilst Ebden lived in Melbourne.
From 1861 to 1866 he lived in London but his health deteriorated and he returned to Melbourne where he seemed to improve. Unfortunately in October 1867 he became unwell and died at the Melbourne Club of peritonitis. He was 57. His estate left to his family was worth £100,000.
Tamar and the children remained living in London. In what was called the 'incident' Tamar was attracted to Ebden's former business partner Theophilus Joseph Keene but her daughter asked her not to marry him until she had turned 21. On turning 21 a couple of years later, Antoinette herself married Keene, who was 35 years her senior.
Several streets are named after Charles Ebden including Ebden Avenue where Black Rock House stands. The suburb Elsternwick is named after another of his properties, 'Elster,' (German for magpie) and Black Rock is named after his house, which is open on the first Sunday of the month or mid-week for groups.
"BIRTH EXTRAORDINARY - On Thursday, the 11th instant at the residence of Charles Hotson Ebden, Esq., Member of the Legislative Council for the District of Port Phillip, Mrs. Harding, Spinster, of a daughter. (The little stranger we are told, is disgustingly like its papa. - Ed.)" ("The Melbourne Weekly Courier" 20 January 1844)
Birth: 1844, Harding, Catherine
Mother: Tarar (Harding)
Father: Ebden, Charles Hotson
Place of Birth: Melbourne
Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages.
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