The place no-one ever saw

This week we return to Sunbury. In the 19th Century mental illness was treated with fear and in many cases terrible measures were applied to relatively helpless patients. To be committed to an Asylum required the signatures and agreements of two Doctors ratified by a Magistrate. The person was then deemed to be a ‘Lunatic’ and was generally admitted to an Asylum, and in most cases – never released. Caloola was one of these places and considered by the medical profession of the times to be a fine example of such a facility and representing the very best in care. Or did it?

Commencing as an ‘Industrial School’ in 1864, the property was re-commissioned as an Asylum in 1879. To use the proper term, a Lunatic Asylum. It was substantially developed between 1891 and 1914. The original Industrial School consisted of ten basalt buildings of which 9 remain. Between 1865-66, the public Works Department of Victoria under the direction of General William Wardell, designed these buildings and added four workrooms, a kitchen, hospital, basalt farm buildings, stone walls and roads. The facilities were used to train neglected children in the 1860s. Boys worked on the farms and in the workshops, in tailoring and shoemaking whilst girls were trained as domestics. Basalt is what we now call Bluestone. It is a cold hard stone, an igneous rock formed by volcanic activity.

Of the 12 Industrial schools constructed during this period, only one other survives at the Northwest Hospital, Parkville (only one building) it being constructed in 1875-76.

The major development of the facility that came to be known as the Sunbury Lunatic Asylum occurred between 1892 and 1912. It was supervised by the then Chief Architect of the Public Works Department, George Watson. A site plan had been prepared by the gifted Architect Henry Bastow in 1888.

The buildings conformed to international Asylum standards, brick with terracotta tiled roofing. It was a major departure from the large monolithic buildings constructed as Asylums in Kew and Beechworth, where lock-up was considered more desirable than care.

The wards featured electric lighting from 1905-6. Food was delivered from the kitchen to the wards via an internal tramway constructed in 1908. Telephone and fire alarms were fitted to all wards by 1911.

The gardens and grounds were designed by Hugh Linaker and were planted out between the two 20th century wars. Mature trees now, they include Oaks, Elms and Pines as well as Cypress, all surrounded by a drystone perimeter wall and later, a brick ha-ha wall.

The entire facility is of great architectural significance to the State of Victoria. The original school provided harsh, unforgiving conditions for those unfortunate enough to merit such training as children.

It was typical of such facilities to present with large ‘airing’ courtyards and as was the practice, it was constructed far from the normal population centres of the times.


Essentially, it was a throwback to feudal villages, but constructed on a grand scale. Once you found yourself an inmate you rarely if ever were allowed to leave. The inmates became free indentured labour, working on farms, in laundries and kitchens – until they died.

The place had many delights – padded cells, ripple iron cells and simple dormitory accommodation – zero privacy. Male and female wards. The Female ward was the former male ward dedicated to the criminally insane.

It is typical of Pubic Works construction of the 1860s to the 1880s with classically inspired detailing. Initially austere in bluestone, solid and singularly detached, the newer developments up until 1912 saw warmer brick and tile with links to all buildings. Patients went from being ‘hidden’ to being managed. The place remained a psychiatric facility until 1968 after which it became a training centre for the intellectually disabled (1962-1992). The site was partially occupied by Victoria University until 2011 with the remainder being used by the Department of Education up until the present.

It is a fine example of cohesive planning with a unity of materials and very distinctive and unusual detailing such as the Buttressing and pitch of the roofing. It demonstrates the attitude of the times to Mental Health and stands as a memorial to the never ending cavalcade of sad, unfortunate and desperate souls who passed through its gates over many years.

Oberwyl – The Mansion on the Hill

In 1856, Portugese merchant John Gomez De Silva borrowed 4000 pounds from Henry Miller (MLC), financier and property mogul, to build his house to be known then as Etloe Hall. This was a massive sum for those days and the property also unkindly wore the moniker of De Silva’s folly.


De Silva lived and conducted business in Melbourne primarily between 1851–1859, the early and prosperous first years of Victoria’s Gold Rush. De Silva is said to have struggled and could not complete the interior decoration and furnishing of his grand home.

De Silva had purchased 5 allotments of what had been known as Dalgety’s paddock to build his rather grand home. His Architect is suspected to have been John Felix Mathews, active around Melbourne from 1852–1873, and a prolific fellow who designed many domestic and commercial buildings.

Considered to be a rare example in Melbourne of what was termed ‘Greco-Regency’ style, the building was said to draw upon the seaside locations for its ‘Regency gaiety’.

Originally in 1856 Etloe Hall was two storeys with four principal rooms on each level. The layout was symmetrical and divided by a broad hall with a recessed entrance bay located centrally. The front of the building is supported by large Pilaster columns (double), guilloche at ground floor openings, cornice bound and mould. The five bays formed each have French Doors. It is a most detailed and fascinating architectural design.

In 1859, De Silva had failed financially, left the colony and the State Bank assumed ownership of the property. For twenty years it was leased to John McKenzie. McKenzie added a ballroom on the north-west corner, abutting what is now Barkly St. During that period, the main building became a highly regarded Boarding School – called Oberwyl – the school was active until 1931.

3_gn04vfThe school was a finishing school for young women in the grand European style and was recognised for its elegance and French culture. Its original patron was Madame Pfund, née Elise Tshaggeny, who renamed the building after her home town of Oberwyl in Switzerland. Madame Pfund was the wife of the then Surveyor General of the colony, James Pfund, himself an architect. Madame Pfund was a major patron of the Arts and herself the subject of a very famous Tom Roberts portrait now hanging in the National Gallery of Victoria.

A colonnaded verandah and two storied south-east wing were added in 1878.

For some time the St Kilda Conservatorium of Music also occupied Oberwyl, with the schools owners being major patrons of the arts from its beginnings in 1867 through to it’s closing in 1930.

The last owners of the school were a M/s Garton and M/s Henderson. M/s Henderson left the partnership and established her own school, the eminent Girls School, Clyde.

5 Garton sisters lived at the home with their great-nephew John Arrowsmith Bromley, who survived them all. Having owned the property for over 100 years, Oberwyl was sold by Bromley in 1996 and the Garton’s family home passed into private hands again.


It’s once magnificent views across Port Phillip and Albert Park were crowded onto a corner block in the inner city chaos that has become St Kilda.

‘A fabulous family home spaciously restored’. It was rumoured to have sold for around $4.5 million last year.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

Mornington’s Beautiful and Historic Beleura Mansion

Beleura is a beautiful mansion situated on Snapper Point at Mornington – on the Mornington Peninsula. Construction of what was to become ‘the finest mansion in the Colonies’ (Haven’t we heard that before?) was commenced in 1863 for Mr James Butchart, a wealthy pastoralist. He was another who had made his fortune from sheep and the ‘Golden Fleece’.

Mornington in those days was know as Schnapper Point. Mr Butchart died in 1869. At that time the mansion was purchased by Charles Edward Bright and his wife Georgiana Manners-Sutton, daughter of the Colony of Victoria’s Governor, Sir John Manners-Sutton. Beleura became the unofficial summer retreat for the Governor and his family.

The property passed through the hands of several other wealthy and powerful families until 1916 when it was purchased by Sir George Tallis (but held in his wife’s name, Amelia Tallis). It was again used as a summer retreat by the Tallis family, but Sir George Tallis also proceeded to purchase land to create a working estate capable of supporting such a grand house. In his retirement he farmed Beleura and another property in Wagga Wagga – where he subsequently died in 1948.

Sir George Tallis was a significant businessman and investor in early Melbourne, being the major investor in the JC Williamson  Entertainment Company. The Theatre company was internationally successful with stars like Dame Nellie Melba and others performing Gilbert and Sullivan operas through the late 19th Century at theatres such as Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne. The earliest architect to work on the project was Harold Desbrowe Annear.


The gardens were based on designs by the famous Edna Walling in concert with Harold Desbrowe Annear. Desbrowe Annear added Italian style reflective pools to the extensive gardens. Monterey Cypress, Monterey Pine and Lemon scented gums were planted providing shelter for the lower stories of the gardens. These are now all mature trees.

It featured a typical Victorian and Edwardian Rose Garden based on Vita Sackville-West’s famous garden at Sissinghurst in Kent.

The building features a dramatic sweeping Italianate styled villa facade. The Loggia (or front verandah) pays homage to a feature replicated through most significant Australian buildings of the period, and is supported by a complete pageant of Corinthian Columns. Great Urns and an Italianate style balustrade parapet of a most elaborate design complete the vista. The house features a tower to take in the view of the entire estate. The interior houses an amazing collection of decorative arts, with a mixture of Victorian Antiques, Italian Chandeliers (Murano) and sumptuous, traditional period furniture. Mural Artist, Wesley Penberthy was commissioned to paint mythical gods and goddesses on the walls and ceilings but forbidden to paint nudes. All gods and goddesses were to be clothed.

Jack Mortin Tallis (John), by family agreement, occupied Beleura and took ownership in 1950. He was not entirely happy with the arrangement, seeing it as a significant risk.


However he did then devote his life to the preservation of Beleura and upon his death in 1996 he bequeathed his now beloved property to the people of Victoria in perpetuity. To some extent he overlaid the original 19th Century garden with further Italianate features and layout. There are though still remaining significant 19th Century garden features that survive to this day and provide great insight into those times.

This is a property you must see for yourself. For scheduled guided tours of both the house and the gardens please call 03 5975 2027 between 9.30 and and 4pm, Tuesdays to Fridays (with relevant concessions and disabled access). Or drop an email to

As Melbournians and Victorians we have a rich heritage of Architecture and traditional buildings, all with individual flair and difference. We all have the good fortune thanks to the forethought of our predecessors like Jack Mortin Tallis to enjoy these vistas of living history.

So until next time, I bid you adieu.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

The Grand Estate – Rupertswood

In 1874 the grand estate of Rupertswood was commenced in that the building of the primary mansion was started and completed between 1874 until 1876. It was built for Sir William Clarke in the borough of Sunbury. When the foundation stone was laid on the 29th of August 1874 over a thousand people were in attendance. Built to the design of Architect George Brown, its construction was completed by George Sumner and Company. Interior decorations were to the specifications of Shemmel and Shilton. The substantial entrance featuring a superb gatehouse and massive gates were also constructed at the time to the specifications of George Brown.

It was designed as a two storey mansion featuring a 100ft high tower, mansard roof and ‘widow walk’. Surrounded by extensive gardens and parklands with a large artificial lake, the property was serviced by a huge central water tank of brick and cement holding over 9000 gallons of water. The leading landscape architect of the time William Sangster was engaged to complete these works and provide a unique and delightful vista for the Clarke family and their many guests.

Rupertswood was one of the Victorian Colony’s largest houses and it was built and supported on the considerable affluence of the Clarke dynasty. Sir William Clarke was described as a landowner, stud breeder and a philanthropist.

His wealth was founded on family inheritance. He was essentially a grazier, but through careful stewardship he became a banker, a member of the Legislative Council and even maintained a Light Horse Battalion and Artillery Battery on his property for the fledgeling Colony. He was an active Freemason and in 1889 became the first Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of Victoria. He personally largely funded the building of the first Freemasons hall in Collins Street, Melbourne.

Financially he survived the crash of the 1890s but it is believed the strain of the overall financial crisis on his many holdings contributed to his death in 1897 from a heart attack. Rupert, one of the couple’s ten children inherited Rupertswood (rather fitting!) and Sir William’s wife and all their siblings were generously cared for in his will where over 1,000,000 pounds was distributed. The family holdings extended to Tasmania, South Australia and New Zealand and included a substantial shareholding in the Mt Lyell Copper Mine on the West coast of Tasmania. The shares were jointly owned with Sir William’s brother Joseph Clarke who built a substantial home in Toorak known as Mandeville Hall – a story for another day.

Rupertswood is of historical significance as it is the birthplace of the Ashes Cricket Series, being the place where Lady Clarke presented the Captain of the visiting English XI an urn; containing the burnt bails from the historic match played at Rupertswood during the tour of 1882; to the victorious Captain of the touring English side – Ivo Bligh.

The Clarke family held many events – hunts, balls and house parties with the many guests arriving by Train at the Estate’s own private Railway Station. The station remained in use (for students of the Salesian College now located there) until December 2004.

The property was purchased from Rupert Clarke in 1922 by H V McKay, the famous industrialist (and inventor of the H V McKay Sunshine Harvester). McKay had long coveted the property but managed to only live there for four years before dying in 1926.

Pastoralist William Naughton purchased the property in 1926 and largely subdivided its holdings. In 1927 the remaining property and mansion were purchased by Archbishop Daniel Mannix’s proxy for the Salesian order who have held ownership ever since. Major ‘Eucharistic’ Festivals were held there every year from 1931 until 1981, with thousands travelling by train to the event every year. A proxy was required as the Freemasonry connection still held and both they and the Catholics detested each other at the time.

The original mansion was completely restored with the help of Interior Designer and Victorian Architecture specialist Jacqui Robertson, then converted into a hotel and used for formal events, weddings and receptions until 2014. The full contents of the mansion were auctioned off in 2014 (including many original fittings and furnitures) and the building is now used as an administration office for the Salesian College. In closing the Salesian College occupancy has not been without serious controversy with the school and its clergy featuring rather too prominently in the recent Sexual Abuse Royal Commission just completed.

Far better to remember the halcyon days and perhaps picture a grand picnic adjacent to the beautiful ornamental lake, attended by Victoria folk in all their finery enjoying high tea. Then travelling home in the comfort of their own First Class coach drawn by steam locomotives to Spencer Street Station.


Sometimes it’s the buildings that hold our attention and sometimes it’s the people who created these beautiful places. In this instance Sir William Clarke was a visionary and larger that life.

Til next week – adieu.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.