Early settler, grazier, Member of Parliament
In 1840s Melbourne the stretch of the Yarra in what is now Abbotsford attracted people to build houses on large landholdings in an almost rural environment. A neighbour of John Orr’s Abbotsford House, Edward Curr was another early settler on the section of the Yarra just south of Johnston Street His property, purchased in 1842 from John Hodgson, was called St Helier’s. In comparison to other riverside locales of Abbotsford, the present land use pattern in this area largely perpetuates the expansive garden settings and peaceful qualities of the early nineteenth century. This is because both properties were later acquired by the Convent of the Good Shepherd rather than being extensively subdivided into small building blocks or factory sites.
Curr and his wife arrived in Tasmania in 1820 and he was appointed manager of the Van Dieman’s Land Company (a sheep-grazing concern) a position which he retained until 1841, taking several business trips to England with his growing family. He then took up pastoral leases in Victoria, but left his older sons to manage the runs while the rest of the family settled in Melbourne in 1842. Here he was very active in public life. He was elected an Alderman in the first Melbourne Council elections in 1842 and remained a councillor until 1846. He was a member of the NSW Legislative Council as a representative of the Port Phillip District from September 1845 to 1846 and again from 1848 to 1849. He had earlier been elected to the Legislative Council of Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania). He wrote frequent outspoken letters to the press, mainly on political matters.
Although initially dubious about the feasibility of the separation of the Port Phillip District from New South Wales, Curr threw his energies into the cause from 1844 with such zeal that, although the movement had begun in 1840, he was later called 'the Father of Separation'. He was elected chairman of the organizing committee of the Separation League, chaired many public meetings and prepared many petitions. Although he died before the enabling N.S.W. legislation was passed in July 1851, Queen Victoria had signed the British Act of Parliament in August 1850.
Thanks to the diaries of Georgiana McCrae in the 1840s and Emily Childers in the 1850s, we know a little about life at St Helier’s. Georgiana lived around the next bend of the Yarra and became very friendly with Mrs Curr, who had children of similar ages to the McCrae boys. The older Curr children had been sent from Tasmania to England and France for their schooling, but at Abbotsford the younger children were kept at home. Mrs Curr and the children regularly visited back and forth. Before the completion of their mansion, the Currs must have lived in a four-roomed ottage erected by John Hodgson. From December 1842 and throughout 1843 the families visited each other regularly. Then on 1 November 1843 the McCraes called at St Helier’s ‘to see Mr Curr’s new house’ although the housewarming was not held for another 14 months. Childers in the 1850s wrote ‘it is said Mr Curr originally lived in a tent on the land’, so perhaps additional accommodation was needed for the large family.
Mrs Childers in her diary describes their life at St Helier’s in 1855 and 1856, ‘the flowers and fruit most luxuriant and delicious’. The Childers returned to England in 1857 and in May Mrs Curr advertised the house for sale. Like most of the riverside mansions, it did not sell easily. In December of that year, planning a trip to England, she tried again. The agent produced a fulsome description of the family mansion, with two spacious drawing rooms, 5 bedrooms, servants’ quarters, etc. The veranda, with a picturesque view of the Yarra, led on to lawns while the shrubberies and garden were in excellent order. A six-stall stable and dairy were located within the 14 acre grounds, where produce from orchards, vineyards, and grass paddocks thrived in ‘the richest alluvial soil in the Colony’ which produced renowned fruit. The produce was not the fruit of the Currs’ labours. During the 1850s Robert Cole, a nurseryman, seedsman and market gardener, rented a large stretch of Mrs Curr ‘s land. Cole was on the committee of the Victorian Horticultural Society, and was known for the extraordinary variety and standard of his fruit and nuts which he regularly exhibited. He also raised fruit trees, vines, and strawberry plants for sale.
Despite these lavish enticements, the house still did not sell and in 1858 Mrs Curr advertised it to let. Finally, Mrs Curr’s daughter Agnes and son-in-law Hastings Cunningham moved in. During this time another gardener, Michael Power, took over the market garden. In 1863 the nuns of the Good Shepherd order bought Abbotsford House, and Mrs Curr as a staunch Catholic supported their enterprise. When they wanted to expand in 1865, she sold St Helier’s to them on reasonable terms. The house was demolished in 1877 to make way for the nuns’ expanding building program.
Eldest son E M Curr became a knowledgeable writer on cattle and sheep management as well as indigenous culture. Giving a nice sense of closure, his daughter Ela Mary later lived on her grandparents’ land when she became a nun at the convent of the Good Shepherd.
|Birth Date||Birth Place|
|1 July 1798||Sheffield, Yorkshire|
|Spouse Name||Date of Marriage||Children|
|Elizabeth Micklethwaite (1798-1866)||30 June 1819 (Catholic) and 1 July 1819||Edward Micklethwaite 1820-1889, etc (15 born, 11 survived him)|
|Home Street||Home City||Status of Building|
|St Helier's Street||Abbotsford||Demolished|
|Death Date||Death Place||Cemetery|
|16 November 1850||Melbourne||Fawkner (removed from Old Melbourne Cemetery)|