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Nobility at Mordialloc

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Mayfield in 2000, a former residence of the Fonçecas. Photograph courtesy, Stephen Calvert-Smith.

In 1874, Allotments 1 and 2 of Section 23 in the Parish of Mordialloc were acquired by Count de Castelnau. It was on this 654 acres of land on the southwest corner of what is now Lower Dandenong and Boundary Roads, that a residence had been erected. Under the ownership of Count de Castelnau it was rated as a six room house. By 1876 the house was described as having twelve rooms. [1]

The rate books identify the owner of the mansion only as ‘Count de Castelnau’, and his occupation as French Consul. François Louis Nompar de Caumont La Force, Comte de Castelnau had served as the Consul-General to France in Melbourne since 1864. Castelnau (c1806-1880) who had studied natural history in Paris, was also a naturalist of some note. He travelled widely from the 1830s to the 1850s, combining both of his vocations, collecting zoological specimens from numerous continents, and publishing many books and papers on a variety of scientific subjects. He served as French Consul in Lima, Brazil and Siam before arriving in Melbourne with his mistress in 1862. He was appointed Consul-General in 1864.

Carolina d’ Aaranjo Fonçeca (also spelt Fonseca) was born around 1830 in Bahia, Brazil, and she presumably met Count Castelnau when he was serving as French Council in that city in the 1850s. Carolina, who appropriated the title ‘Countess’ for herself, had two children. The elder, Charles, was born in Brazil in the 1850s, while the other, Edouard, was born in Melbourne in 1864. Both children were almost certainly fathered by Castelnau, although Edouard’s birth certificate lists one Louis Edouard Fonçeca as the father. [2]. Charles later settled in France, where he died in an asylum in the early twentieth century.

In 1876, Castelnau travelled around Australia with Madame Fonçeca, her son Edouard, and his private secretary, Edmund Marin La Meslée. An account of this trip is recorded in La Meslée memoirs, entitled The New Australia. Throughout the book, he discreetly refers to Castelnau’s mistress only as ‘Madame de X’, describing her as a ‘pure-blooded Brazilian women’ who spoke only Portuguese.[3] During the trip, La Meslée was in charge of Carolina Fonçeca’s son, Edouard, whom he described as:

"a youngster of about twelve, small for his age, thin, even emaciated, thoroughly spoilt by the Count but not at all by nature, and placed in this world for the sole purpose of making me do penance for my sins". [4]

Castelnau died at his city residence in Apsley Place, East Melbourne on 4 February 1880. He bequeathed his collection of books to the newly-formed Melbourne Public Library, and his ‘freehold farm estate at Mordialloc ... known as Mayfield’ to his mistress, Carolina Fonçeca. [5] In April 1881, she leased the property to John McArthur Wright, a grazier. [6] Although the lease was originally for three years, he remained living at Mayfield until 1886. [7]

In 1887 James Smith Jenkins became the occupier of the property. The rate books over the next few years identify Jenkins as the owner and occupier of the ten-room house and 314 acre Lot 2. [8] There is , however, evidence that the property remained in the ownership of Carolina Fonçeca throughout. [9] In 1893, Mayfield was occupied briefly by Simon Jorgenson[sic], listed in the rate books as a farmer. Although he is identified as the owner of the property in the rate book for 1893, there is documentary evidence that he was in fact the tenant of Carolina Fonçeca. [10]

In 1894, Carolina Fonçeca, and her son Edouard, returned to live at Mayfield. After Castelnau’s death on February 4, 1880, she moved out of their house in Apsley Place although she remained living in the East Melbourne area intermittently for over a decade. She lived at 40 Powlett Street in 1881, and at Canterbury Terrace, also in Powlett Street, from 1884 to 1887. In the early 1890’s Carolina appeared at Burlington Terrace, in Albert Street.[11] She moved from there to Mordialloc, where she lived at Mayfield until her death on April 28, 1901 at the age of 70 years.[12] The ownership of the estate passed to her younger son, Edouard, who is listed as both the owner and occupier .

Edouard, reputedly suffered a mental illness, and he was declared to be of unsound mind in 1901. [13] The ownership of the state passed into the hands of Count Castelnau’s former solicitors, Blake & Riggall, acting as trustees. A Master of Lunacy was appointed, who in turn appointed some domestic staff to live at Mayfield with Edouard. [14] These included a live-in property manager, Henry Whitfield, who is listed in rate books as the co-occupier of the house. Subsequent rate books indicate that there were five people living in the house in the 1910s. [15]

Although the state was apparently controlled by Trustees after the death of Carolina Fonçeca, her son Edouard is still identified as the owner in the rate books between 1902 and 1912. It is only after 1913 that the owner is listed as Blake & Riggall, trustees. It was also during that year that portions of the state were leased to other interests. The southern half of the estate, comprising 158 acres, was let to the newly-formed Mordialloc Golf Club at a rate of £1 per week. Soon afterwards, the Education Department leased a three-acres block with a frontage to Boundary Road for the purpose of establishing a local state school. [16]

Edouard Fonçeca became something of a semi-legendary figure amongst the residents of Mordialloc, who referred to him as ‘The Mad Count’. Each night, he was reputedly locked in his bedroom, which had a grille in the door, and during the day, he would traverse his vast estate. [17] Several long-time residents of the Mordialloc area still have memories of seeing ‘The Mad Count’ wandering around the Woodlands golf course, borrowing cigarettes from the golfers. [18] ‘The Mad Count’ also enjoyed playing the claviola in his mother’s room, and he loved visiting the theatre, where he would often stand up during performances and shout comments. Edouard Fonçeca, ‘The Mad Count’ died at Mayfield on April 15, 1939 at the age of 75 years.

Author

Allom Lovell & Associates

Footnotes

  1. Shire of Moorabbin Rate Book 1876.
  2. Professor Walter Kirsop, personal communication. Professor Kirsop, of the French Department at Monash University, has done much research on Castelnau’s life.
  3. Edmund Marin la Meslée. The New Australia [1973 translation of l’Australie nouvelle] pp24 & 43.
  4. Ibid p24.
  5. Will of Count de Castelnau, held in Blake & Riggall papers, University of Melbourne Archives. Transcript provided by Professor Wallace Kirsop.
  6. Memorandum of Agreement, dated April 11,1881. Held by Blake Dawson Waldron, Melbourne. This firm of solicitors is the descendant firm of Blake & Riggall.
  7. Rate Books 1881-1886.
  8. Rate Books 1887-1892.
  9. Indentures. Held by Blake Dawson Waldron.
  10. Indenture between Carolina Fonceca and Simon Jorgenson, dated August 3, 1892. Held by Blake Dawson Waldron, Melbourne.
  11. Sands & McDougall Melbourne Directory. 1881-1893.
  12. ‘Deaths’ Argus. 30 April 1901, p1.
  13. Frank McGuire. Mordialloc:The Early Days. p58.
  14. ‘Information from Mr Drew’ Undated typescript notes in National Trust file No 5467. Mr Drew was/is the nephew of a housekeeper who lived and worked at Mayfield around 1910.
  15. Mordialloc Rate Book. 1913. Public Record Office, Laverton.
  16. Education Department of Victoria. Vision and Realisation, Melbourne, 1973. Vol 3. P443.
  17. Information from Mr Drew. op cit.
  18. Information supplied by Mordialloc Historical Society, based on conversations with elderly local residents who remember ‘The Mad Count’.

Article Cat. People
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