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.

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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.

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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.

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