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Building a Shire Hall at South Brighton

Along with the creation of local authorities in the Port Phillip District in the 1860s came the need to find or erect offices and meeting rooms where records could be kept and business conducted. Associated with this need was the identification of the place where the building was to be sited. The people concerned did not always make this decision with unanimity. In the case of the Moorabbin Road District, the members of the Board living to the south argued strongly that the Board Room should be erected at or near to Cheltenham, a town more advanced in its development than others in the district at that time, and one more centrally located, but they lost the argument. The debate on location of the local government office has persisted right down to the twenty first century.

The creation of the Moorabbin Road District was formally promulgated in the Government Gazette on May 16, 1862 and 15 days later a meeting was held at the Plough and Harrow Hotel to receive nominations, from ratepayers, of individuals interested in becoming members of the District Board. The meeting was chaired by Colonel William Mair who was obliged to stand on a barrel to make himself both heard and seen by a crowd of people who overflowed into the courtyard of the hotel. [1] It was at the same venue, Jesse Morley’s hotel, on June 16, 1862 that the first general meeting of the Moorabbin Road District was held to elect its foundation members and set the rate of assessment for the year. [2]

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Colonel William Mair. Courtesy of State Library of Victoria.

A letter was received from Jesse Morley at the fourth meeting of the Board, offering to provide two rooms, free of charge, at the Plough and Harrow Hotel for the use of the Board. The Board readily agreed to accept Mr Morley’s offer but with the condition that he accepted five pounds yearly for the service. [3]

This arrangement was not seen as a long term solution to the needs of the Board as its members set aside two hundred pounds sterling, in May 1864, for the purpose of erecting a District Board Room. [4] Following this decision, the Board at its next meeting directed its chairman, Colonel Mair, to obtain an opinion from the Attorney General regarding its powers to obtain a portion of land, known as Mrs Bryant’s paddock, where its Board Room could be erected. It was some months later, January 26, 1865, that a move was made to authorise the Chairman to purchase the land on the corner opposite the Plough and Harrow belonging to Mrs Bryant at a cost not exceeding one hundred pounds sterling. This proposal did not have the support of Jamison and Ruse, members of the Board drawn from the southern part of the district, who proposed that tenders be called for a suitable piece of land between the Plough and Harrow Hotel and Cheltenham. This proposal received support from the majority of the Board and was implemented. [5]

Eight property owners in the district offered land to site the Board’s office with some offering more than one property for consideration. [6] With the receipt of these tenders the debate began. At the first meeting of the Board in February 1865, Ward and West moved that the one-acre of land fronting Point Nepean Road be accepted. Other board members immediately proposed the acceptance of other tenders but finally it was the tender of Charles Burgess that received the necessary level of support of the board. [7] However, at the following meeting of the Board the motion was put that this offer of land not be accepted and this was carried. In addition it was proposed that none of the tenders be accepted. Instead, the chairman was authorised to purchase the corner acre of Mrs Bryant’s paddock opposite the Plough and Harrow Hotel for one hundred pounds sterling. This proposal was agreed to by the majority of the Board but Attenborough, Comport, Jamison and Ruse tabled a signed statement protesting against the decision for they were looking for a site closer to Cheltenham, a major growth centre in the District and closer to their constituents. [8] It was Mair, Bent, Exley, Rattle and Ward who were in favour of the South Brighton site.

Almost three months later the Chairman of the Board, Colonel Mair, was able to report that the purchase of Mrs Bryant’s land had been completed and plans for the Board Room prepared.[9] Despite what some Board members probably thought was great progress towards achieving appropriate accommodation, the building of the Board Room was still some time away. Twelve months after the Board authorized the purchase of the land a majority of members agreed to vote an additional two hundred pounds towards the cost of the building, making four hundred pounds available in total. They also asked that tenders from interested people be tabled at the next meeting of the Board. Attenborough of Dingley and Comport of Cheltenham attempted to postpone the erection of the building and were supported by Jamison and Ruse, but the attempt failed.

At the March 17, 1866 meeting three tenders were received; Thomas Dakin for £471, Thomas Lay for £465 and John Browning £405. After much discussion, moving and seconding of motions, and presenting amendments to motions, it was accepted by the majority of Board members that John Browning’s tender be accepted. The cost was not to exceed £325 but the planned office accommodation was to be excluded. Once again Jamison, Comport, and Ruse formed the minority which voted against the proposal. [10]

At a subsequent meeting in April 5, 1866, the Board decided that fresh tenders were required, clearly giving the relative prices when Brighton, Prahran or Brunswick bricks were used in the construction. On this occasion William Ellingworth and Thomas Lay submitted tenders. Lay’s quote for a building of Brunswick bricks was £400 and Brighton bricks were cheapest at £361. The Board decided to accept Lay’s tender using Brunswick bricks but fixed the fee at £325. [11]

From July 28, 1866 all Board meetings were held in the new Board Room on the corner of Arthurs Seat and South roads (Nepean Highway and South Road) graced with furnishings of “eighteen hair seated chairs, one armchair one large and two small tables” which cost “no more than fifty pounds” together with twelve forms with backs. [12] The building itself had been completed except for the plastering of the external walls.

The room became the venue for not only Board meetings but also other local groups. The Brighton Artillery Company used the room for instruction in theoretical gun drill with the officer in charge being responsible for the safety of the room and furniture. The Moorabbin Choral Society was also required to look after the furniture but were given access to the room at a charge of four pounds per annum [13]

Seventeen years later Mrs Woolhouse, the secretary of the Brighton Ladies’ Benevolent Society drew the attention of the shire councillors to the fact that two old men were occupying the stables connected with the Shire Hall and asked whether this was with the council’s consent. The society wanted to get the men into some charitable home but with the current situation it was difficult to convince them, Council solution was to order the men occupying the stables out. [14].

Early in 1884 tenders were called for additions to the hall, painting the woodwork and improving the furniture. By September of that year the refurbishment and additions had been completed. The new hall was about the same size as the old hall and the old hall had been renovated so that it had ‘a refreshing appearance’. The outside of the building had been cemented and tuck-pointed. [15]

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Shire Hall at Brighton South.

To celebrate the opening of the new additions to the Shire Hall, the president, Thomas Bent, invited colleagues from both the Moorabbin Shire and the Brighton municipality to a dinner catered for by B Gregg of the Plough and Harrow hotel. It was at this meeting that Hon J Woods told the amusing story of his fellow parliamentarian Thomas Bent, to demonstrate he was “a man of great self-reliance.” When visiting India they were having difficulty in gaining admission to the higher levels of society. As Indians were very fond of titles Bent’s solution was to have visiting cards printed with the title MMS added to their name. The initials intrigued the Indian aristocracy and as a result “invitations poured in from royalty and free passes for at least 10,000 miles were received by them.” These initials were a mystery to the party of politicians as well as to the aristocracy of India but it came as a great surprise when it was discovered they meant, Member of the Moorabbin Shire. [16]

When it came time for Cr Ward to speak at the celebration he pointed out that prior to the current building program their buildings looked very shabby, in fact so bad, he said, “that strangers asked which was the hall and which were the stables.” [17] He told of the return of £600 by a former district secretary who had absconded with council money fifteen years previously, implying that this money assisted in financing the current building program.

Despite the improvements of 1884, four years later a reporter wrote in the Leader newspaper that the Shire Hall had little to commend it, referring to it as an ancient looking building. The two rooms facing the street were used for small public gatherings and tea meetings while the council chamber was at the rear, “of which the least said the better.” [17]

Author

Graham J Whitehead

Footnotes

  1. Brighton Southern Cross, January 23, 1904.
  2. Moorabbin Road District Minute Book, June 16, 1862. 
  3. Moorabbin Road District Minute Book, July 14, 1862.
  4. Moorabbin Road District Minute Book, May 5, 1864.
  5. Moorabbin Road District Minute Book, January 26, 1865.
  6. Hugh Hunt, Charles Burgess, James Bent, Thomas Lay, James Keir, William Keiller and Thomas Dwight. Moorabbin Road District Minute Book, February 9, 1865.
  7. Moorabbin Road District Minute Book, February 9, 1865.
  8. Moorabbin Road District Minute Book, February 23, 1865.
  9. Moorabbin Road District Minute Book, May 4, 1865.
  10. Moorabbin Road District Minute Book, March 17, 1866.
  11. Moorabbin Road District Minute Book, May 3, 1866.
  12. Moorabbin Road District Minute Book, June 28, 1866.
  13. Moorabbin Road District Minute Book, August 25, 1866.
  14. Brighton Southern Cross, May 26, 1883.
  15. Brighton Southern Cross, September 27, 1884.
  16. Brighton Southern Cross, October 4, 1884.
  17. Brighton Southern Cross, October 4, 1884.
  18. Leader, October 13, 1888.
  19. Article Cat. Historical Features
    Article Ref. 203

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