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Killara: a Tower House at Mentone

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Killara c1954.

Oral tradition suggests that Killara of 6 Harkin Avenue Mentone was one of five tower houses built in the land boom period of the early 1880ís.[1] Today only two still remain. One is Killara, a private residence, and the other is now owned by the Mentone RSL.

The house was originally on seven acres but has suffered various subdivisions. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that the interior has had multiple alterations over the years. However, it still retains some of its original character and charm due to the fact that the front facade has remained unaltered.

Various unsubstantiated colourful myths are connected to Killara.[2] For instance, it has been locally known as the ĎGhost Houseí since the turn of the century, and many of the long-term locals can related stories about strange and unexplained happenings, especially the story about the hanging in the tower. Other associations such as the infamous Squizzy Taylor also rate a mention. Folklore suggests that he occupied one of the flats when the residence was divided into apartments during the Depression and his henchmen frequently used the tower as a look-out.

The site of the building was part of a subdivision of grazing land purchased by Percy Dobson through a company he was a partner in called the Southern Investment & Agency Company in September 1882. Dobson was the manager of the company which had Matthew Henry Davies as Chairman. He seems to have been well connected socially, for he not only had Matthew Davies as his solicitor and business partner in land speculation, but was also involved in various land dealings beginning in the 1870ís with his brother-in-law, Charles Henry James.[3] In addition, Dobson was related to Lloyd Tayler, the well known 19th century architect, who designed many famous buildings including the Australian Club in William Street, Melbourne, and was eventually elected President of the Victorian Institute of Architects in 1886.[4] Dobson married Lloyd Taylerís daughter, Emily Elizabeth Tayler, in July 1885.

From the evidence gathered to date, it appears that the men involved with the Southern Investment & Agency Company Ltd were attempting to turn Mentone into an upmarket seaside resort. The buildings they had designed for themselves, on their own slice of the development, could be best described as their weekenders or holiday houses. The only possible exception is the house belonging to Percy Dobson.

Although the property size altered over the years the ratebooks confirm that while it was in the possession of Dobson and later Harkin, Killara appears to have had an estate of seven acres. The ratebooks of 1884 give the first record of any structure appearing on Dobsonís property.[5] However, shortly after Dobsonís marriage to Emily Elizabeth Tayler in July 1885, there appears to have been a change in his economic situation, as the property was transferred in August to Lloyd Taylor (Dobsonís father-in-law) and David Watson (Dobsonís brother-in law). This situation remained unchanged until October 1889 when James Caldwell Anderson (barrister) replaced David Watson as joint owner of Killara. The title then remained in their names until November 1896. Meanwhile the rate books indicate that Percy and Emily Dobson moved out temporarily, for in 1886 David Watson occupied the house. Although it cannot be positively ascertained, it seems that the Dobsons did not return to Killara until 1889.[6] Percy Dobson died soon after, in February 1890. [7][8]

At Dobsonís time of death he was a partner in Dobson, Watson and Co, a firm of Melbourne merchants associated with Charles Henry James. C H James was another of the early speculators who bought up farm lands by the acre and resold them by the foot. When Dobson, Watson and Co. bankruptcy proceedings were investigated in 1891 it was revealed that the profits from land speculation amounting to £100,000 had disappeared.[9] Coincidentally, a company headed by Matthew Davies called the Australian Mortgage Finance & Agency Co suddenly appears on the ratebooks with huge holdings of land in the Mentone area.[10] Perhaps further investigation into this company may highlight possible connections to Dobson or his widow Emily.

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Kllara c1900.

By 1894, although the ratebooks indicate that Emily still owns the house, the property is being leased by Hughs (a secretary). However, by the following year Thomas Inglis (manager) is the new tenant. In this year (1895), there is the first mention, that Killara is a brick dwelling consisting of ten rooms.[11] Although the occupancy cannot be determined over the next few years, the propertyís ownership changes in November 1862 to a Mrs Emily Elizabeth Harkin (wife of Dr Charles Fitzmaurice Harkin of Chiltern). It appears that Emily Elizabeth Dobson married again. She continued to have a long association with the property, although she lived with Charles Harkin in Chiltern.[12] Presumably Killara was dear to her for although the evidence suggests that she did not live in it again, it remained in her hands until 1929. After selling Killara Emily Harkin still retained huge holdings of property in the immediate Mentone area until at least 1937.[13]

Various tenants occupied the property during these years:

1901 - 1904 David Hare (Accountant)
1905 - 1920 Albert E. Langford (Sharebroker)
**** - 1923 Marcella Dawson (Domestic Duties)
1923 - 1927 Marcella Dawson
1928 - 1929 Unknown

A new phase of occupation began in April 1929 when the ownership of Killara finally changed hands. The titles indicated that Lilian Rose Squire, a spinster of Charman Road, Cheltenham, was the new owner.[14] It was also at this time that the estate was subdivided. By 1931, according to the ratebooks, Lilian Squire was sharing the house with five other people including Joseph Squire.[15] Oral tradition suggests that the property at this time was turned into three flats and remained so for approximately forty years.[16]

The occupancy of the property during the period of ownership by Lilian Rose Squire (1929-1954) appears to be

**** - 1931 Lilian Squire plus five other occupants
1932 - 1933 Lilian and Joseph Squire
1934 - 1936 Unknown
**** - 1937 Basilia M McDonald (Domestic Duties) and James Y. Allan (Chemist)
1940 - 1954 John Cotter

The property changed hands again in 1954 when Ellen Amelia Vincent (matron), previously of 57 Mathoura Road, Toorak, became the new owner.[17]

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Killara 1998.

References

  • (Abridged from) Elizabeth Dixon, (1995), Killara - 6 Harkin Avenue, Mentone : A Conservation Analysis.
  • Joy, Shirley, M., Ulupna, No 26 Gordon Street, Beaumaris, Victoria, Aspects.

Footnotes

  1. Interview with Laura Ferguson, Historian, Mordialloc Historical Society.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Cannon, M., The Land Boomers, South Yarra, 1986, p174.
  4. Lewis, Miles Australian Architectural Index, Lloyd Tayler.
  5. Shire of Moorabbin rate books (1862-1900) .
  6. Shire of Moorabbin rate books (1862-1900) No record of anyone occupying the house at this time.
  7. Births, Deaths and Marriage Index, Public Record Office. Percy Dobson, Reg. No1303.
  8. Probate Index, Public Record Office. Percy Dobson No 43280.
  9. Cannon, M., (1986) The Land Boomers, p174.
  10. Shire of Moorabbin rate books (1862-1900) In 1891 a variety of investment companies from Normandy Chambers appear in the Mentone area. At least one, the Australia Mortgage Finance & Agency Co, can be directly linked with Sir Matthew Davies.
  11. Shire of Moorabbin Rate Books, op cit.
  12. Sands & McDougall Directories. Listing under Dr. C Harkin of Chiltern. .
  13. City of Mordialloc Rate Books.
  14. Title, Land Titles Office.
  15. City of Mordialloc Rate Books.
  16. Laura Ferguson, Historian, City of Mordialloc Historical Society.
  17. Title, Land Titles Office.

Article Cat. Historical Features
Article Ref. 49

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