ThrowbackThursday: Early Settler’s Cottage, Ely Street, Eltham, 1979

#ThrowbackThursday – Today we time travel back to the late 1970s and early 1980s when efforts were under way to try and save an early settler’s cottage located in Ely Street, Eltham.

Falkiner Cottage, also known as Maynard’s Cottage, Ely Street, Eltham, May 1979 (Photo: Alan Baker; from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society).
Falkiner Cottage, also known as Maynard’s Cottage, Ely Street, Eltham, May 1979 (Photo: Alan Baker; from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society).

In 1978 the society was investigating means of preserving a timber cottage in Ely Street probably dating from the 1850s and believed to have been owned by the pioneer Falkiner family. The land on which the cottage stood was to be sub divided into residential lots. With the consent of the owners the society applied to the Historic Buildings Preservation Council for assessment of the building and inclusion on the Register of Historic Buildings.

Around May 1979, the owner Cronus Pty. Ltd, offered the building and the land on which it stood to the Council free of charge, subject to certain minor modifications to the subdivision. The Council agreed to support the modification.

Considerable research into the history of the building was carried out on behalf of the Historic Buildings Preservation Council. The origins of the building were somewhat obscure. The land on which the house stood was within the Crown Township of Eltham and was known as cultivation allotment 3 with an area of just over 1 ha. It comprised only about one quarter of the land to be subdivided. This land was sold by the Crown in 1852 to Charles Brown, a stock commission agent of Bourke Street, Melbourne, for nine pounds fifteen shillings.

Brown apparently did not live on the land and probably bought it and other nearby land for speculative purposes. The land was soon sold to one Frederick Edward Falkiner who had occupied the area prior to the land sales and had bought one of the cultivation allotments (C.A. 17) without having to compete at public auction. The reason for the purchase of C A 17 in this manner was that improvements on the property were regarded as the property of Falkiner according to Surveyor Hurst (son of Henry of Hurstbridge fame) the improvements comprised “1 ½ acres of cultivation, a very dilapidated; five-roomed hut of sawn slabs, also a rough hut used as a dairy, total value 30 pounds.”

The house was apparently built or shifted to the site by Falkiner, probably in the 1850s. Suggestions that it was previously a school have not been supported by any available evidence. The house was owned by the Falkiner family until the 1920s when it was bought by Mr. R. Maynard, who then sold the land to Cronus Pty. Ltd.

The most significant participant in the history of this house is Frederick Falkiner and it is appropriate to record some further details of his residence in this area.

Falkiner came to Port Phillip in October 1836 and began business as a horse dealer. He purchased his pastoral run on the lower Diamond Creek in 1847 from Joseph Wilson who in turn purchased it from Henry Foley in 1845. Foley was the original occupier of this area in 1840. These purchases were of course before the original freehold land sales and involved only squatting rights or leasehold land together with any improvements. In 1849, Falkiner applied for three 640 acre leases in the Parish of Nillumbik. Also in that year, Mr. John Semar who held a licence to depasture stock on the run known as “Semars” or “Arthur” on the Diamond Creek requested that the licence be transferred to “Alex Falconer of Melbourne”. This person may well have been Frederick Falkiner.

Falkiner’s name appears from time to time in various records of the area. In 1848 a complaint was made by Thomas Sweeney and others that Falkiner was impounding their cattle. In 1854 Falkiner was appointed Eltham’s first postmaster, a position which he held for just over a year. The existing house may well have been the first post office. Also in that year Falkiner complained about the Building Committee of the Little Eltham School, a complaint deemed “frivolous and vexatious” by the Rev. Goodman of Heidelberg. In 1858 he was fined five pounds for carelessly setting fire to his stubble yet in the same year he was auditor of the accounts of the Eltham District Road Board.

The present Falkiner Street adjoins Falkiner’s original crown grant.

Around August 1980, the Historic Buildings Preservation Council advised that the cottage was not to be added to the Register of Historic Buildings. The Council’s classifications sub-committee considered that on a state wide basis there were better examples of vernacular buildings and there was insufficient historical data to establish that the building was of importance, even to the district.

The decision did not mean that the building was not worthy of preservation but it would not have had any legislative protection. The cottage and a small area of surrounding land was transferred to the Shire of Eltham with the intention of to still achieve this aim. However by May 1982 it was in a derelict condition due to its age and action by vandals and the Council had received complaints from nearby residents requesting that some action be taken.

Falkiner Cottage, also known as Maynard’s Cottage, Ely Street, Eltham, with Shire of Eltham Historical Society members from left; Ron Smith, Joh Ebeli and Russell Yeoman, September 1982. (Photo: donated by Gordon Tonkinson; from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society)

Restoration would have required replacement of most components except the external cladding, the cost of which would have been high. Without any identified beneficial use for the building, allocation of funds by any body had to be justified purely on the historic value of the building.

From an appearance point of view the house now appeared to be almost squashed into the back yards of the recently constructed houses and was very much out of character with its surroundings. In its former setting facing a large open paddock it did contribute to the character of the area.

In late 1983 the cottage was demolished. Arrangements were made with Mr David Willis of Kyneton Mill for him to salvage useful material from the building for use in restoring the mill along with an appropriate acknowledgement in the mill of the source of the materials.

References: Shire of Eltham Historical Society Newsletters, numbers 4 (Nov 1978), 6 (May 1979), 14 (Sep 1980), 24 (May 1982), 25 (Jul 1982), 30 (May 1983) and 31 (Jul 1983)

This is our final ThrowbackThursday post for our 50th anniversary year. The Society wishes all of its members and interested supporters and very merry Christmas and a safe and happy New Year holiday season.

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