Tag Archives: Early Settlers

ThrowbackThursday: Birch Cottage, Christmas Hills, 1969

#ThrowbackThursday – Today we time travel back to circa 1969, to Birch Cottage on Watson’s Creek where we hope to join the occupant, Mrs Honor Williams (nee Birch) for a nice hot cuppa.

Birch Cottage (c.1878), Yarra Glen Road, Christmas Hills, Aug. 1969. ( Photo: George W. Bell; from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )
Detail, front wall, Birch Cottage (c.1878), Yarra Glen Road, Christmas Hills, Aug. 1969. ( Photo: George W. Bell; from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )
Detail, shed wall, Birch Cottage (c.1878), Yarra Glen Road, Christmas Hills, Aug. 1969. ( Photo: George W. Bell; from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )
Tea’s on the boil – Detail, kitchen, Birch Cottage (c.1878), Yarra Glen Road, Christmas Hills, Aug. 1969. ( Photo: George W. Bell; from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )

Originally built by John Hill, a shoemaker at Kangaroo Ground around 1878.

In the late 1970s when our Society was the Shire of Eltham Historical Society, an offer was made to the Society regarding use of an old cottage at Christmas Hills. The cottage sat beside Watsons Creek just outside the then Shire of Eltham but following municipal restructuring it now lies within the Shire of Nillumbik. For various reasons the offer ultimately lapsed.

At that time some research on the cottage was carried out for the Society by Keith Chappel as part of a larger research project that he was doing. Keith’s notes were taken from Lands Department records and showed that the property was the subject of a permissive occupancy of Crown land comprising the creek reserve.

In 1903 a Miner’s Right of one acre in area was granted to Edwin Samuel Birch. In 1907 Birch applied to purchase this land but was unable to because it was part of the creek reserve. The documents show that the cottage existed at that time. Upon Birch’s death in 1932, his daughter, Honor Mary Birch was granted a permit to occupy the residence.

Honor Mary Birch, known as Nora, was born 1900, the daughter of Edwin Samuel Birch and Honor (nee Young). In 1939 she married George Henry Williams (aka Henry). Honor died 8 July 1976. Her siblings were Margaret Martin (dec), Bert Birch and Brigidene Brinkotter. In her will she gave and bequeathed “all the improvements on the land held by me at Christmas Hills under Permissive Occupancy from the Department of Land and Survey consisting of the house property thereon and all the contents of the said house to my nephew Brian Joseph Martin of Christmas Hills aforesaid farmer”.

The will described the property as a four room, five square house, about 100 years old with enclosed verandah, including kitchen, combined lounge dining room, bedroom and store room; built of ‘bush slabs’ with a corrugated iron roof. A dairy had been erected in 1935. After her death, the property was acquired by the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works in 1978.

The property is listed on the Victorian Heritage Database HO200-Hill, later Birch farm complex, 945 Eltham-Yarra Glen Road, Watsons Creek and described as:

The house has a steep but simply gabled roof form clad with corrugated iron, vertical adzed hardwood slab front wall construction, split palings to the gable ends; rubble freestone chimney at one end (with added gsi flue), pole-framed Graeme Butler & Associates, 2006: 101 Shire of Nillurnbik Planning Scheme Amendment C13 Heritage Assessments verandah (rebuilt?); six-pane double-hung sash windows; T&G bead-edge boarded ledged & braced door; and paling clad rooms added at verandah ends. A slab-clad large fireplace is at the north corner of the house, with a gsi upper cladding added and an internal lining of rubble stone.

The rear facade is different construction, being drop-slab, and sits beneath a rear skillion addition to the main gabled form: this may be more recent construction. The house appears to have been once set up for public display and may have been recreated in part for that purpose.

Outbuildings are reached by a track along the east side of the house, including what may have been a creamery (typical standard inter-war design clad with corrugated iron and lined with 1938 Lysaght Queens Head Australia galvanised sheet iron) and a paling clad gabled out-house. Timber outbuildings of differing eras are to the north-west of the house, with pole framing and paling infill construction and Redcliffe brand corrugated iron. Post and rail (front) and split paling (rear) fence remnants line the front boundary. Pepper trees part of house yard landscape.

Now, why not sit back and enjoy that hot cuppa Honor has poured for us as we cast our eyes back to the the future.

Birch Cottage (c.1878), Yarra Glen Road, Christmas Hills, 27 September 2018 ( from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )
Birch Cottage (c.1878), Yarra Glen Road, Christmas Hills, 27 September 2018 ( from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )
Birch Cottage (c.1878), Yarra Glen Road, Christmas Hills, 27 September 2018 ( from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )
Birch Cottage (c.1878), Yarra Glen Road, Christmas Hills, 27 September 2018 ( from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )
Birch Cottage (c.1878), Yarra Glen Road, Christmas Hills, 27 September 2018 ( from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )
Birch Cottage (c.1878), Yarra Glen Road, Christmas Hills, 27 September 2018 ( from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )
Birch Cottage (c.1878), Yarra Glen Road, Christmas Hills, 27 September 2018 ( from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )
Birch Cottage (c.1878), Yarra Glen Road, Christmas Hills, 27 September 2018 ( from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )
Birch Cottage (c.1878), Yarra Glen Road, Christmas Hills, 27 September 2018 ( from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )
Birch Cottage (c.1878), Yarra Glen Road, Christmas Hills, 27 September 2018 ( from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )
Birch Cottage (c.1878), Yarra Glen Road, Christmas Hills, 27 September 2018 ( from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )
Birch Cottage (c.1878), Yarra Glen Road, Christmas Hills, 27 September 2018 ( from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )
Birch Cottage (c.1878), Yarra Glen Road, Christmas Hills, 27 September 2018 ( from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )
Birch Cottage (c.1878), Yarra Glen Road, Christmas Hills, 27 September 2018 ( from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )
Birch Cottage (c.1878), Yarra Glen Road, Christmas Hills, 27 September 2018 ( from the collection of Eltham District Historical Society @elthamhistory )

 

The cottage now comes under the auspices of Parks Victoria. A notice out front states:

Historic sites form part of our nation’s cultural heritage.

The surrounding landscape and remaining features and artefacts help us to understand how people once lived and worked here.

Please help protect this heritage for present and future generation by leaving the site as you found it.

It is an offence to:

  • damage or remove artefacts and historic features
  • disturb archehaeological values by digging

References:

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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.