Historical Timeline of Victoria’s Heritage Hurlstone Homestead Manor and Gardens in Shepparton

Many who visit and stay at Hurlstone Homestead in Shepparton, are unaware of the significance of the Hurlstone Homestead manor and gardens that stretches back more than 100 years in the history books of Victoria, Australia.

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1900 – The “Hurlstone” Architecture of the Original Hurlstone Homestead Is Born

“Hurlstone” was built in 1900 by the Mason family, who had purchased land from the original selectors, the Lightfoots. The house was designed by the architect, J.A.Clarke, whose wife was a member of the Lightfoot family. The Masons were also involved in setting up one of the first extensive private irrigation systems in the area.

Some of the timber used in construction was hewn on the property and the final layout of the house which is built around a central courtyard, occurred by accident. “Hurlstone”, in architectural terms, is best described as a transitional house. It features several architectural periods.

The ornate fretwork displays the Federation movement of the day at its most extravagant. French doors intimate influences from the Colonial era and windows, internal doors and skirtings are Victorian, whilst fireplaces lean towards the Federation era influence. The north wing was originally a cold store relocated from the Shepparton Butter Factory (established 1884); the walls of which are over a foot thick and filled with charcoal. It was transported to the site by bullock dray which bogged and hence the cold store was offloaded into its present position.

As a result of the gap, an additional wing was built to meet the rest of the house, creating a hallway of more than 30 metres in length. Hence the house almost encloses a central courtyard with verandahs and also contains a well and cellar. Later a dovecote for birds was added to the courtyard by the Ford family. The Ford family has handed on the plans and one day this will be reconstructed in the forest.

The Masons eventually moved on and a Mr Gellitt rented the farm, originally 80 acres, for five years. It is said that one of his children got her head stuck in the cellar stair railing!

The house then lay empty for a time, until the widow of the Church of England minister moved in with her 7 children, around the time the irrigation channels were being constructed. This lady, Mrs Davis, remarried the Chief Engineer in charge of channel construction. One can almost imagine them, taking tea and becoming better acquainted in the course of his job!

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1908 – The Farmers Move Into the Dell

In 1908, the property was offered for closer settlement and allotted to William and Susanna Ford.They developed the property from wheat, lucerne and grasses for cattle into an orchard and dairy farm. The details of daily operations are described in a notebook , now in the possession of Arthur Ford, and prepared by William Frederick Ford III (25/5/02-17/7/52) in 1915 for a school project. The project was obviously pursued single-mindedly; there was no mention of the birth of a baby brother Joe on the June 2nd!

At one time the property had a blacksmith’s shop and a Chinaman’s garden near the present chook shed. Pieces of broken crockery and small bottles have been dug up in this area.

William and Susanna had moved to the Grahamvale property from a house at 18 Edward St, Shepparton called “Elthamville”, where 8 of the children had been born. A further 5 children were born at “Hurlstone” and they attended Grahamvale school, a short distance away in Channel Road.

In 1922 tragedy struck when a bull turned on and gored William Ford. For 2 years Susanna nursed him till his death in 1924. Work on the property was then carried out by various family members, and after the death of Susanna in 1958, “Hurlstone” was occupied by Daisy, Myrtle and Lottie. The 3 spinsters later moved into Shepparton, and Stan and Hilda Ford were the last members of the family to live in the house until 1977.

The property was sold in 1977 and has changed hands 3 times. Margaret and Barry Ryan owned it from 1977 until 1983 and from 1983 until 1989 it was owned by Doyle. It is currently owned by Kerry and Margaret Atley.

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About William Frederick Ford (5/5/1862 – 2/10/1924)

William was born at Malmsbury, Victoria on May 5th, 1862, the 2nd son of William Frederick Ford II and Anna Howell Hurlstone.

His father had come to Australia from Thornbury in Gloucestershire on the “Navarino” with his brother John in 1849. They were 19 and 20. They opened the first produce store in Prahran and the first election meeting south of the Yarra was held in William’s house. His attempt to form a road board in Prahran met with no encouragement from the government apparently owing to sparse population!

Throughout William’s childhood his father worked as a road engineer, miller, magistrate and farmer. In 1880 his father leased a flour mill in Mooroopna and 2 years later took over a flour mill in Shepparton. When this was destroyed by fire, William Frederick Ford and William bought from Swallow and Ariel, another Shepparton mill, which they worked for 35 years. They also owned a flour mill in Dookie.

His mother, Anne Howell Hurlstone, was the daughter of a very important early Victorian colonist, Peter Hurlstone. This is the origin of the property’s name.

The Ford family had strong ties with the Wesleyan church and it is possible that through this association, William met his future wife Susanna. They were married at Wesley on April 1st, 1896 by Rev. H.C. Farley. Besides being a local preacher, William’s community work extended to the fire brigade, participation in local government as a councillor with the Shire of Shepparton, trustee of the Water Board and as one of the first elected directors of S.P.C.

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About Suzanna Ford nee Hillier (15/8/1873 – 27/2/1954)

Susanna was born at Camperdown on August 15th, 1873, the eldest of the 7 children of Joseph Frederick and Lucy Sarah Hillier. Her parents were married in Dimboola in 1872 and moved to Kialla East by dray to select land on the Broken River in June, 1873 just before her birth. Conditions would have been primitive and at the time of Susanna’s birth they were probably living in a tent or, at best, a bark hut.

Her father was a wool classer by trade, but initially spent time on the Victorian and New Zealand goldfields. He is reputed to have planted the first orchard in the Goulburn Valley.

Until Susanna’s marriage, her life would have revolved around home, school and church. Extracts from Susanna’s diary from 1893 indicate what an important role the church played in family life. Sometimes they went to church 3 times on a Sunday and social activities revolved around the church. The diary also indicates Susanna was a dressmaker, and regularly took in work from neighbours.

After her marriage Susanna had 13 children in the space of 20 years, so she was obviously kept very busy raising the family and looking after the financial management of the household. Her husband William died an untimely death in 1924, when the youngest of the children, Stan, was only 7. She most adequately fulfilled her role as matriarch of the family until her death in 1954 at the age of 84.

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1987 – Restoration, Revitalization, and Rehabilitation

Fast forward 33 years and the Hurlstone Homestead property had fallen into a state of disrepair and disarray before it was purchased by its current owners, Marg and Kerry Atley. When the purchase papers were signed, the Atleys found themselves the owners of a building with white ant damage, sunken foundations and “bits” missing. The garden consisted of two dry ponds full of cumbungi, overflowing sullage causing a swamp, grass interspersed with discarded furniture, rocks, rotting timber, the odd snake and a few established trees.

But the challenges weren’t bigger than the potential, and even though it’s taken almost a quarter of a century of focus, effort, and TLC, the Hurlstone Homestead manor and gardens are now more beautiful than they have ever been in their 113-year history.

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