The Manor House and Banyule – Our Heritage – Some of our earliest buildings.

For many of us the 1840s seems like a very long time ago, but in Architectural terms it is yesterday, so to speak. For Victorians however this is actually the period when many of our earliest buildings were designed and constructed, and for most people these buildings are obscure – being now surrounded by modern suburbia or townships. This week we review The Manor House in Bacchus Marsh, the nearby Former Leahy’s Residence and lastly the jewel in the crown – Banyule in Heidelberg, currently the subject of a protracted VCAT dispute between current owners and Banyule Council.

Manor House


Manor House is one of Victoria’s oldest homes. In the time of John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner, pastoralists from Launceston in Tasmania’s north were exploring the Southern Coastal regions of Victoria. One such gentleman was Mr Kenneth Clarke who had emigrated to Van Diemen’s Land in 1818. Clarke brought over a flock of sheep from George Town in Tasmania on behalf of the Great Lakes Pastoral Company.

In 1838 Mr Clarke chose to shift his initial operation, situated near the junction of the Werribee and Lederberg Rivers further west to the Pentland Hills. His original holding passed to Captain William Bacchus and his son, also pastoralists.


Bacchus extended his holding on the river junction to a radius of 3 miles. The property consisted of the Head Station and four outstations (huts). In the survey of 1839-40, a structure is shown on the present day site of Manor House, possibly a brick building pre-dating the existing house.

Bacchus was a foundation member of the influential Melbourne Club, a member of the Melbourne Cricket Club and the ‘Pastoral and Agricultural Society of Australian Felix’. He became a successful land developer in Melbourne, avoiding the ‘1842 depression’. In 1846-47, Bacchus erected a substantial and imposing house of a scale which reflected an image for a suitable dwelling for a country gentleman. As is oft the case, Captain Bacchus only lived in the house for two years before he died. The house was occupied after he died by a Robert Neldur Clarke for two years until Bacchus’s son, William Henry Bacchus, leased the property to the Victorian Colonial Government for use as a Court House (Petty Sessions).


Amusingly enough it was then sold to James Elijah Crook in 1856, and the Crook family occupied the home for over 90 years. It received National Trust accreditation in 1959 – one of the first to have such protection bestowed upon it.

The house was eventually restored by Dr Pulteney Malcolm and his wife who did so with the assistance of National Trust honorary Architects John and Phyllis Murphy. So by now you’ve realised – Bacchus Marsh was in fact Bacchus’s Marsh.

The house is architecturally significant as one of Victoria’s earliest surviving substantial homes. It is built in the Victorian Regency style – with a high level of craftsmanship in its joinery and stonemasonry.

For your enjoyment here is an article from the ‘Bacchus Marsh Express’ Sat 23rd February, 1907.

The Manor House, Bacchus Marsh.


Between tenancies we had a glance round the building and grounds last week, as many others did, and found the site and building both admirable and of considerable historical interest, as Victorian annals go.

The building is of two storeys, with freestone facade, substantial and ornamental. There is a side wing curved brick wall, and a “horse block” of stone in front of the door. There are five top-storey windows, and two on each side of the doorway. Some fluted columns still show good “arrises,” and the building is in good repair, on the whole, but needing renovations. There is a battered sundial in the garden-a relic with a history, no doubt. In fact the place is full of history, as it was the Courthouse, the lock-up, and various other things in the early days.

There has been a fine orchard, before the days of Codlin. The trees are mostly pears, and are still bearing well. There are a couple of fine mulberry trees.

A resident owner, spending £500 on the property, could restore its former glories.

Mr. Cornelius Mahoney, J.P., a resident here for 63 years, and a mason by trade, gives us the following particulars respecting Manor House:-John Dorricut was the carpenter, with two others whose names I did not know. The mason who did the ornamental work in freestone, &c., round the windows and doorway, was Robert Rhodes. The owner when it was built was Mr. W. H. Bacchus, son of Captain H. Bacchus—both long dead. It was built in 1850 or ’51. When Bacchus sold out, Aitkin- & Clark became the purchasers, who subdivided the land, and sold it in lots at auction. The Manor House, and 12 acres of ground attached, was reserved at the price of £1,000. The Government rented it then as a Police station for a time. Subsequently Mr. J. E. Crook became the purchaser at £1,100, and he occupied it, with his family, during life. It was subsequently let to Mr. Jeremiah Ryan, at £100 a year, for a term of 10 years, with the option of purchase at the expiration of his lease, but he only survived six years of his leasehold. The freestone used in the house came from Matson’s quarry, which is a continuation of the present Bald hill. The stone was largely used in building the Treasury, Melbourne, but was condemned because some did not stand the weather-an unjust decision, because the defects were due to careless quarrying of surface stone. Had the men gone deeper the stone was of most excellent quality; and if ever the quarry is re-opened will, I am sure, prove a most reliable asset. An evidence of this fact may be obtained by any person examining the doorway, &c., af the Manor House, as hewn by the late R. Rhodes, who was an excellent mason.


Bacchus Marsh became a significant gateway to the Goldfields of Ballarat, Castlemaine, Clunes, Daylesford and Bendigo.

The Former Leahy’s Residence (quaint!) was originally a domestic residence, originally constructed in the 1840s, then converted to a hotel to take advantage of the passing trade heading to the Goldfields. It represented a strong connection with the local Irish enclave and with local sawmilling, flour milling and cheese making industries.



We move on to Banyule. Banyule is one of Melbourne’s largest municipal councils, and the Banyule Homestead, located at 60 Buckingham Drive Heidelberg, was the very first substantial home in this part of what is now greater Melbourne. The Council takes its name from this hilltop property.


Banyule was built in 1846 for a Mr John Hawdon, to the design of Colonial architect John Gill. Hawdon was an Englishman who with John Gardiner and John Hepburn drove cattle overland from New South Wales to the Port Phillip District in 1836. The property he selected had splendid views of the Yarra River. At the time Heidelberg in the 1840s was a popular rural retreat for the landed gentry. Architect John Gill determined this property was to be constructed in an Elizabethan style with french gables, crenellated oriel, pepper pot pinnacles and chimney groups. The building of two storeys provided a most pleasing visual vista and its original part-shingled roof was replaced with slate entirely by 1867.


The 1846 house had three main rooms asymmetrically arranged on the ground floor and a fine staircase leading to the six rooms on the first floor. Gothic forms were used for interior details such as mantelpieces, cornices, doors and architraves. The detached two-roomed kitchen block to the north-east might have been built in c1843, before the main house. In 1908 there were major additions, designed by the architects Klingender & Alsop: a two storey wing, in a style sympathetic to the original, was added to the south-east, and on the north side the kitchen block was linked to the house. In 1922 repair work was done under the supervision of A & K Henderson. In 1975-7 the house was altered by Yuncken Freeman Architects for use by the National Gallery of Victoria. This involved the removal of internal walls and doors, filling in of fireplaces, and the removal of a chimney. It is now again a private residence.


The grounds have been reduced in size, and later development, including the building of a tennis court and swimming pool, has altered the landscape. Remnants of the early garden planting, including cypress trees, paths and walls remain. The main feature of the garden is a very large and prominent Blue Cedar, (Cedrus atlantica f glauca) in the front garden.



Banyule is architecturally significant, again as one of Victoria’s earliest grand residences, but also importantly for its sophistication and style.

It is a rare remnant of Pre Gold Rush Victorian Architecture that has remained remarkably intact. And it is the only known rendition of Elizabethan style executed by John Gill still remaining.

Currently, the Banyule Council has taken the present owners of Banyule to VCAT. The owners desire to use Banyule as a Wedding Reception venue. This has met with strong objections from the now very gentrified surrounding suburb, which represents some of the most expensive real estate in Melbourne.


An update from Banyule Council will be available soon.


From our perspective, properties like Banyule should not be left to chance. We have a very new history, and buildings such as Banyule play in integral role in mapping our ‘DNA’ as a city – so to speak. It would be sensible for the National Trust or similar to eventually purchase places such as Banyule, as it has done with other very important heritage listed properties. The National Gallery of Victoria appears to have ‘modernised’ the building in 1975-77. Perhaps now is a great time for them to ‘make an offer’ and restore to its original glory one of Melbourne’s grandest homes, yet best kept secrets. It would be a remarkable location to profile the Heidelberg School of artists. Food for thought.


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

3 thoughts on “The Manor House and Banyule – Our Heritage – Some of our earliest buildings.

  1. Pingback: Banyule – No-one’s getting married there any time soon – an update, and Federation Square gets a very big shed! | Balance Architecture

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