Josiah Morris Holloway: Pioneering Land Developer

Ballarat, 1873 by J C Armytage.

On December 6, 1874 Josiah Morris Holloway was found dead in a police cell in Ballarat. He died with few assets yet he was a man who had owned large swaths of land and made very large profits from sales in the new Colony of Victoria. The doctor noted the cause of death as “sanguineous apoplexy”, a stroke caused by bleeding in the brain. [1]

Josiah Morris Holloway, one of four children, was born c1812 in the St Pancras district of London to Phoebe (Morris) and John Holloway. He had two older brothers, Samuel and John, and a sister Eliza. It was with Eliza that he sailed to Hobart in 1834 aboard the 'Chili'. [2] Later he came to the Port Phillip District where in 1847 he was working as boot and shoe maker in a shop in Elizabeth Street, known as the 'Three Red Boots'. [3]

In October of that year Josiah married Susan Maria Bible at the Scots Church in Melbourne. Eighteen at the time of her marriage, Susan was born in Tipperary Ireland, and came to Melbourne with her parents in c1843. The bridal couple gave their address as Melbourne. Their first child, Henry William, was born c1849 followed by a daughter called Georgiana who was born March 18, 1851 and baptised at St Peter’s Church of England, Melbourne on April 11. [4]

On Josiah’s arrival in Melbourne squatters occupied much of the surrounding land. Initially these individuals had taken up occupancy of the land to graze sheep and cattle despite the prohibitions placed on such action by the colonial authorities located in Sydney. In 1836 squatting was legalised. On payment of an annual license fee of £10 squatters were able to access thousands of acres. [5]

In 1842 John O’Shanassy took up 40,000 acres of land which he called ‘Windert’. The western boundary of the property stretched from what is today Chesterville Road and Nepean Highway towards Dandenong and the Mordialloc Creek. He surrendered his license in 1846 enabling a large portion of his original leasehold to be taken up by the brothers, Richard and John King. Further to the west the Moysey family had the Beaumaris run and to the south Alexander Vause MacDonald held an extensive leasehold named ‘Nepean’.

After the separation of the Port Phillip District from New South Wales to form the colony of Victoria the leases held by squatters were withdrawn. The land was surveyed, divided into portions and offered for sale at public auctions, although the leaseholders were given the opportunity to purchases some of the land they occupied

It was at the land auctions that Josiah Holloway was tenacious and successful bidder. His first purchases in 1851 were in the Parish of Nillumbik. On February 21 he spent £316 to acquire 316 acres in Portion 12 and gained Portion 13 two months later for an identical sum. The following year he established himself as an extensive landowner holding one thousand seven hundred and thirty six acres, gained in the Parish of Moorabbin, at a total cost of £2539. At this time Holloway also purchased four allotments at Benalla for £49 to take advantage of the increasing demand for land following the discovery of gold at Beechworth and along the Ovens River in 1852. [6]

This insatiable appetite for land continued in 1853. Holloway added to his holding in the Parish of Moorabbin with the purchase of forty nine acres, later called Bluff Town, but in addition there were three separate parcels of land in Elsternwick amounting to 81 acres together with eight town lots in Melbourne. These town lots were expensive additions in the area of Victoria Street, Abbottsford Street, Queensberry Street, Lothian Street, of North Melbourne adding £4648 to the value of his investments. [7]

An 1853 map showing Holloway initial purchases in Parish of Moorabbin. The red line showing route of railway line was added later.

1854 saw Holloway purchasing more land at public auction. In the Parish of Prahran he gained eleven portions of land totalling 180 acres. For this land he paid high prices perhaps because the land was closer to Melbourne and because the competition was more intense from other land developers who saw great profits to be made from land investments. For these most recent purchases Holloway committed himself to an expenditure of £10,602. [8]

In addition to purchasing land at government auctions Josiah Holloway was also buying land from other crown grantees. William Mitchell had gained Portion 51 at public auction in 1851 for £473-11-0. He sold this to Holloway twelve months later in August for £1386 making a handsome profit. Holloway sub-divided this land calling it the Beaumaris Estate and immediately put it on the market. He in turn made large profits. Land was also purchased in Collingwood, “adjoining the property of T B Payne Esq” and “situated near the bank of the beautiful Yarra.” [9]

Over a period of four years Holloway committed himself to the purchase of land valued at more than £1800. How did he finance this massive expenditure? While there were people prepared to lend money to borrowers at high rates of interest the documents associated with the land purchases give no hint of financial partners nor is there any indication that Holloway’s family was wealthy and a source of money. Josiah’s brother John was a shoemaker like himself, and Samuel, the eldest brother, had heavy financial obligations with a family of seven children.[10] There is no evidence of mortgages being placed on any portions of the land purchased by Holloway. [11] Indeed he boasted in his land sale advertisements, published in the daily newspapers, that the land was unencumbered.

“To prevent captious objections to title, which are too frequently made by interested parties, the advertiser offers a reward of a thousand pounds to any person who can show that as much as one farthing has ever been borrowed, or is in any way owing on the property; and he is willing to be brought by any purchaser under a thousand or two thousand pound bond not at any future time to encumber the estate” [12]

Shortly after his arrival in Melbourne Josiah Holloway was working as a shoemaker, an unlikely source from which to accumulate a large capital base. He was still listed as a boot maker when his daughter’s was baptism in 1851, at a time just prior to his big investments. [13]

The cash flowing from land sales would have helped. Once Holloway purchased the land he quickly proceeded to prepare it for sale having it surveyed, sub-divided, trenched and pegged on each corner of each allotment. In some instances Holloway was advertising the land before the legal requirements were finalised and the conveyancing of the title completed. [14] Some land sold quickly. Some land was slow to return the original investment. Some land was sold on terms.

From one investment of £300 for eighty acres, Holloway, after he had sub-divided the land into 280 allotments, generated sales of more than £3000. He called this sub-division Gipsy Village. Today in the suburb of Sandringham, Holloway advertised the availability of this land in the Argus and other daily newspapers from April 1852. Sales initially lagged but a boom followed in 1853. By the end of that year 229 allotments had been sold for a total of £3131, a handsome return. The majority of allotments sold for £10. Corner blocks of land were larger in size and sold for £20. Allotments on Beach Road brought higher prices and the price of some irregular shaped blocks had price variations. Thomas Andrews purchased two blocks on the corner of Georgiana Street and Beach Road for £150. Edward Rusk bought five allotments for £48. Stephen Ricketts became the owner of three blocks on Beach Road for £70. John Maston Llewellen bought a total of 21 allotments over several months in a mixture of locations, including Beach Road, for £359. Holloway was not averse to slightly varying the prices to gain a sale.

Early Sales on the Gipsy Village Subdivision.

John Maston Llewellen was also a purchaser on Josiah Holloway’s sub-division at Cheltenham called Two Acre Village. This 625 acres 2 roods 36 perches of land was sub-divided into 370 allotments by Holloway and placed on the market in 1852. Again he was very successful with the bulk of his sales occurring between March 1853 and April 1854. From his initial investment of £938.11.9. he derived sales revenue of £6497. The cost of most blocks was £20 but two blocks on government roads sold for £30 and £35 respectively. In addition there were forty seven blocks in the sub-division which sold for £10.

Similar success was achieved with Beaumaris Town where the investment of £1386 and some hard work generated sales in the order of £3400 by 1859. A common price for one of the 200 allotments at Beaumaris was £30 but prices ranged from £11 to an exceptional £75 for a block on Arthur’s Seat Road. Money was also gained from the Little Eltham Estate sales. In an advertisement in the Argus , March 30, 1852 Holloway called upon purchasers of land at Eltham to pay the balance owing on their land warning them their deposit would be ‘absolutely forfeited’ if payment was not finalised.

But other land purchases were not converted to cash with the same rate of success. Bluff Town is an example. This sub-division was described in advertisements as the land enclosed by Beach Road on the west and Bluff Road on the east with Eliza, Love and Thomas being linkage streets. Later Thomas Street was renamed as Middleton Street. Out of a total of 276 allotments at Bluff Town only forty three were sold during 1853-54. Nevertheless this generated a return of £1299 for land where the initial cost was £546. These sales were predominantly at the beach end of the estate with the highest priced land having frontages to Beach Road. Later sales brought in a further £313.

Bluff Town Subdivision showing Land Sales, 1853, 1854 and 1855-60.

From the developer’s perspective Moorabbin Town was the least successful of his purchases in the Parish of Moorabbin. Portions 34 and 35 were sub-divided into a total of 573 allotments. The eastern and western boundaries were formed by Reserve and Bluff roads and the estate stretched south from Bay Road to include blocks with frontages on to Cheltenham Road. Sales lagged. Returns from the investment of £624-2-0 for the 624 acres were slow. These allotments proved less popular to purchasers and investors than those on the Gipsy Village and Two Acre Village despite Holloway’s glowing advocacy of their prime features. Nevertheless between November 1852 and August 1854 sales to the value of £961 were recorded.

To sell his land Holloway instituted an advertising campaign through the daily press. Extensive advertisements appeared daily over a period of weeks drawing the reader’s attention to the features of the land. [15] Half a column of print was not unusual. Views of the bay, an abundance of fresh water, wide streets and access to government roads were frequently mentioned. The wide streets however were not made, they were often just sand tracks and the bay views were usually limited to a few allotments. The Town of Moorabbin he suggested had enchanting scenery and invigorating sea air and one boundary was adjacent to a Crown Reserve where an unfailing supply of pure water was present. As a further incentive to buyers he agreed, for a short time, to sell allotments for a minium price of two pounds. At the close of this time he indicated he would not sell a single allotment for less than five pounds. Holloway also claimed in the advertisement that purchasers were certain to gain profits of 150 percent within a month should they resell. A similar strategy of offering land at a reduced price and claiming a potential for large financial gain was used with Gipsy Village although in this case the reduced price was to £10 and the expected profit was 100 percent.

Gipsy Village, Two Acre Village and Bluff Town all had land reserved for the erection of a National School. This reservation of land for public purposes went further in the case of Bluff Town where land was also set aside for a hospital, Alms House, and Benevolent Asylum. [16]

While Gipsy Village was only “one mile from the Brighton Hotel from where an omnibus travelled to Melbourne twice a day” Holloway could not resist “directing the mind’s eye of the reader to the anticipated Railway from Melbourne to Brighton and to the hundreds of English and American steamers destined to convey immediately their thousands of wealthy merchants and speculators to our unrivalled shores.” [17] In the case of the Township of Beaumaris, Holloway suggested a railway station would be erected in the immediate vicinity of the land when the line was extended from Brighton to Western Port. He also envisaged a canal linking the property to the bay where a jetty would be erected to enable ships to off load goods for transportation to Western Port by rail. [18] Neither vision eventuated but a railway station was established adjacent to the land when a line was opened from Caulfield to Mordialloc in 1881.

Christmas Day 1853 saw an advertisement for ‘upwards of 600 magnificent building allotments in Prahran at the ‘low prices of Government roads frontages 8s per foot, street frontages 5s per foot and corners 2s per foot extra…. as the proprietor being determined to sell, as he is about proceeding to Europe” There is no evidence in outward or inward passenger lists that Holloway left the colony in 1854 or 1855. [19] Maybe this was just part of a ploy to hasten the decision making process of potential buyers. Interested parties were also warned that after February 26, 1854 the price would double or treble as “the advertiser’s only object is selling at the above prices is to induce persons to build upon the property and thereby to increase the value of the unsold portions, which will not be offered for sale during his absence from the colony.” [20]

In 1852 Josiah Holloway managed the sale of his accumulated property from his office at 57 Great Bourke Street - East, next door to Mr Dawson the grocer. The following year the address of his office was given as 56 Great Bourke Street - West , opposite Kirk’s Horse Bazaar. Prior to this time Holloway was living at 76 Elizabeth Street but on one occasion his address was listed as Collingwood. In the Melbourne Directory of 1862 his address was given as Acland Street, St Kilda. When his wife died in 1865 her address on the Death Certificate was given as Raglan Terrace, Robe Street, St Kilda. At the time of Holloway’s death in Ballarat nine years later he was living at Armstrong Street South. According to information given at the inquest into his death he had been living there for a few years. [21]

Josiah Holloway was taken into police custody on Sunday December 6, 1874. A police constable saw him staggering down the street with a cut head, “He was very drunk”. Hailing a passing cab the constable took Josiah to the City watch house where his wound was washed. Speaking to the constable in the cab Holloway said he had too much beer to drink and it had upset him. After his arrival at the watch house, he was reported to be constantly knocking at the cell door wanting to be let out on bail and not to be brought before the Police court. [22]

On Monday morning Josiah Holloway was not stirring. Dr Brunce was called and pronounced Holloway to be dead, noting the body was ‘somewhat emaciated’ although ‘quite warm’. The doctor reported to the court of inquiry that there was a slight abrasion on the back of Holloway’s head which had been bleeding. During the autopsy six to seven ounces of blood was extracted from the brain, and while the lungs were found to be gorged with blood the heart and other organs were normal. This together with other medical signs lead the doctor to conclude the cause of death was sanguineous apoplexy of the brain.

William Bennett, a watchmaker, told the jurors at the inquest that Josiah Holloway had been of ‘intemperate habits for the last few years’. Another witness at the inquiry, William Jenkinson greengrocer of Skipton Street, reported that he had never seen Holloway sober for the last fortnight. The jury at the inquest returned a verdict in accordance with the medical evidence, and were of the opinion that the cause of death ensued upon continued habits of intemperance. [23]

Shortly before his death Holloway still disposed land in the Parish of Moorabbin. The remaining unsold lots in Two Acre Village were sold on October 27, 1874 for £250 to William Gledhill & Emanuel King, estate agents and auctioneers operating an office at 73 Chancery Lane, Melbourne. A similar arrangement occurred at Gipsy Village where £250 was paid by Gledhill and King for the remaining unsold land.

The titles to unsold land in Bluff Town were also transferred to Gledhill and King. Prior to the transfer of this land Josiah Holloway had mortgaged 102 allotments at Bluff Town in March 1862 to Kenric Edmund Brodribb & Isaac Boynton for £300 suggesting he needed cash. This included land previously reserved for a hospital, school, asylum and almshouse. In October 1871 this land was surrendered to Brodribb and Boynton for the additional payment of £10 suggesting he had been unable to meet the mortgage charges. [24]

At the time of his death, Holloway had £100, some unsold allotments in the parishes of Moorabbin and Jika Jika but no personal property, a dramatic financial decline for a man who twenty years earlier contracted land purchases of more than ten thousand pounds and sold the sub-divided land for large profits. [25] By 1874 he was living in rented accommodation in Ballarat and owned no furniture of his own; a remarkable turn around in a person’s fortune.

Because Josiah died without a will, his son Henry William, was granted probate jurisdiction by the court on February 3, 1875. Henry and his sister Georgina were the beneficiaries of the estate. Georgina had married James Charles Johnston in 1874 and together had seven children, many born in country locations around Victoria. Two years later Henry married Louisa Dunn and they had three children.

27 June 2018
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