Edwin Thomas Penny: Councillor, Orchardist and Pioneer

Penny Family. Back Row left to right – Clifford Penny, Reubin Penny, Edwin Penny. Front Row – Herbert Penny, Edwin Thomas Penny, Hilda Penny and Lyton Penny.

Courtesy:E L Penny

At four years of age, Edwin Thomas Penny came to Melbourne on the Statesman with his parents, Thomas and Henrietta Penny (nee Street) together with brothers Henry (13), James (2), Charles (1 month) and sister Hannah (11). [1] [2] After arrival in Melbourne in September 1852, four more children were born into the family; Caroline, John William Eastman, Eleanor Mary and Albert. [3] Edwin, himself, was born at Marylebone, London in 1849.

Shortly after arrival in Melbourne, the Penny family settled on ten acres of land on Bay Road (later the address was noted as Jack Road) Cheltenham. There Thomas set about clearing the land of scrub, wattle and gum trees to create an orchard and engage in market gardening. Three acres of the land was devoted to fruit trees with the remaining arable land being given over to vegetables. His market gardening neighbours in Bay Road were Thomas O’Neil, Joseph Organ, George Davey and Charles Brough.

After the death of Thomas Penny in May 1866, his son, Edwin Thomas Penny, took over the 10 acres of freehold land on the east side of Jack Road. He was about 17 years of age. Later he purchased or leased more land. Shire of Moorabbin Rate Records reveal an additional seven acres in Jack Road, the ownership of 5 acres in Barkly Street Mentone (later renamed Rogers Street) and the lease from the Mercantile Bank of 18 ½ acres in Tulip Road (later renamed Park Road) He also purchased land in Coape Street Cheltenham. When in 1915 presenting as a witness to a Royal Commission into fruit and vegetable growing Penny was asked by the chairman how much land he worked. He replied ‘about 25 acres’.

Some years earlier, Edwin Penny had developed a reputation as a progressive orchardist; one who adopted a scientific approach to the task. An observer noted a radical change had come over the property since the time of his father with nearly all the old trees being taken out and replaced with more productive varieties. Pruning and grafting was extensively practised. He was described as a gardener and orchardist of the ‘new school’. [4] He planted apples, plums, passion fruit, peaches, pears, lemons and between the trees he planted potatoes, rhubarb and other vegetables. Outside the orchard six acres were allotted to vegetables. When asked at the Royal Commission whether he had parasites in his orchard he replied, ‘millions’, but thought most could be dealt with, although ‘Bitter Pit in apples was an exception’. He explained ‘the disease is under the surface of the apple leaving the surface of the skin perfect. No poison can enter to counteract the disease underneath’. Penny also ventured the opinion ‘that the area was not a suitable fruit growing district, although pears could be grown to perfection and apples could be grown’. [5]

In addition to his work as an orchardist and gardener, Edwin Penny was very involved in community activities and the work of his church. He was president of the shire on two occasions; once in 1898-99 and the other in 1899-1900. Initially he was an unsuccessful candidate in the council elections of 1893 but was elected unopposed in 1896 and again in 1899 and 1902. When first elected to council his appointment was welcomed with comment that he would worthily and creditably fill the role and he would be an acquisition at the council table. [6] On his election he quickly settled into the work of a councillor. For example, he was a member of a delegation to the Minister of Health, Hon Robert Reid, protesting at the approval given of a site in the Shire for a St Kilda nightsoil depot. In the 1905 elections, Mr Wharington of Mentone stood against him claiming Cr Penny failed to explain the financial position of the shire and to note future economies that could be instituted for the benefit of all. Wharington, amongst other issues, was critical of Penny’s failure to actively support the establishment of a fire brigade at Mentone beyond holding up his hand when a motion on the matter was put in council.

Penny argued his case before constituents at a meeting in Cheltenham, addressing much of the criticisms of him advanced by Wharington. He claimed some of Wharington’s ideas verged on the ridiculous, although he said he had no ill feeling against him. Cr Penny was successfully re-elected for another three year term before having to face the electorate again. [7] In 1908 his opponent was William T C Kelly. By this time Edwin Penny, at 59 years of age, had served fifteen years on council. He failed to be re-elected by 26 votes. No doubt disappointed, he acknowledged his support, with the majority of councillors, for the redevelopment of the shire hall in South Brighton was perhaps a mistake. [8] For over three years he had argued that the municipal chambers should be transferred to Cheltenham, but changed his mind when it became clear that it could not be achieved. The turning point came when the Moorabbin community raised £200 towards the cost, and that a sum was matched by government. [9] Perhaps overstating the case, the local newspaper reported the explanation given for the change was satisfactory for some, but to the majority it was unacceptable.

Over many years Edwin Penny was an active member of the Cheltenham Church of Christ. He served as Superintendent of the Sunday School and, at times when the church was waiting the appointment of a new pastor, Penny filled the role of preacher. There were occasions when he undertook this task for several weeks or months at a time. [10] Edwin Penny was amongst a group of men from the Church of Christ who formed a division of the Sons of Temperance, a friendly society that aimed to assist members and their families at times of unemployment, sickness and death. Edwin Penny served the Cheltenham Sons of Temperance in many roles including Worthy Patriarch, Worthy Associate, Recording Scribe and Conductor. One of the major obligations of membership was a pledge to abstain from drinking liquor. Members were encouraged to ‘tell on’ any member who broke this pledge. In 1881 Brother Francis Le Page reported that Brother Penny had transgressed, necessitating an inquiry. The result of that enquiry is not recorded. However, later Penny offered his resignation to the division but he was asked to ‘hold it over’. He said he was willing to stay but did not want access to the society’s doctor, therefore he believed his subscription should be reduced. [11]

As a business man, Penny was successful in gaining the lease of the Brighton Beach Baths. The baths were built by Captain William Kenny in 1863 when he was already the proprietor of a similar service in St Kilda. At the beginning of the twentieth century there was criticism of the condition of the baths at Brighton Beach and calls were made for them to be replaced with ‘first class baths for ladies and gentlemen’. [12] Captain Kenny declined an offer to lease the baths for five years and his licence expired. [13] In 1906 an officer of the Board of Public Health reported that the condition of the baths was alarming. In his view the baths had generally fallen into ‘a remarkably bad state of disrepair and decay’. [14] Following an unsuccessful proposal by Brighton residents to raise the money to acquire and redevelop the baths [15], and the lack of interest of both the Brighton and Moorabbin councils to do so [16], the Minister of Lands announced the lease of the baths to Edwin Penny for 21 years for £10 per year. [17][18]

As part of the leasing arrangements for the baths, Penny had to spend £1200 or £1300, both substantial sums of money, on remodelling and enlarging the structure. The plan was to increase the length of the existing baths by 20 feet and create an imposing edifice. In November 1910 the local member of parliament, Oswald R Snowball MLA declared them open to the public in the presence of the President of the Shire of Moorabbin, Cr Burgess, and several councillors as the baths were within the Shire of Moorabbin boundaries. [19]

Beside his business activity with the Brighton Beach Baths and his work as an orchardist and market gardener, Edwin Penny was very much involved in community activities in addition to those conducted by the council and his church. He contributed to the operation of many community groups and organisations including the Melbourne Benevolent Asylum, the Cheltenham Mechanics Institute, the Moorabbin Rural Industries Association, the Market Gardener’ Association, the Moorabbin Horticultural Society and the Cheltenham Rifle Club. In addition, in April 1901 he was inducted as a Justice of the Peace and served for many years on the bench at the Cheltenham Court.

Edwin married Sarah Ann Coleman. His age was given as 27 years while Sarah was 22. Sarah was born in Collingwood where her father was a member of the first Collingwood Council, but at the time of her marriage was living in Mordialloc where her father, William Coleman, built the Bridge Hotel. Edwin and Sarah were married at the Office of Register of Marriages Gore St Fitzroy on 7 September 1876. [20] Together they had seven children, Albert Edwin Coleman, Percival Thomas, Lytton William, Reubin Ernest, Edwin Clarence, Clifford Frederick and Hilda Eleanor. Sarah died in 1890 at 35 years of age and was buried in the Cheltenham Pioneer Cemetery. The following year Edwin Thomas married Emily Maria Haselgrove in North Melbourne. Emily was 42 years old. They had two boys Leslie Thomas and Robert Frederick Carl.

It was in November 1897 that Penny’s daughter, Hilda, almost ten years old, narrowly escaped a horrible death. [21] Edwin Penny had told one of his young sons to burn the handle out of an axe head. To do this the boy lit a fire in the back yard where Hilda got too close to the flame and her clothing caught alight. Hearing the child’s screams Penny rushed to douse the flames that were engulfing his daughter using his bare hands while a son rushed inside the house to get a table cloth to wrap around his sister to smother the flames. The flames were successfully extinguished but Edwin Penny’s hands suffered serve damage with only two or three finger tips escaping the intensity of the flames.

Edwin Penny died suddenly at his home in Jack Road, Cheltenham on 9 December, 1916. He was 67 years of age. The cause of death was listed as shock, cardiac syncope and internal ruptures. He had been working in the morning on his property, but feeling unwell in the afternoon took a brief rest sitting on the veranda of his home. When shortly after he was seized with a violent vomiting attack his wife, Emily, called Dr Joyce who initially was able to stabilise the condition. Unfortunately the recovery was only brief and a few moments later he died. [22]

The interment took place at the Cheltenham Pioneer Cemetery after a brief service at the Church of Christ conducted by pastor C H Mudge. A memorial service was subsequently conducted at the church. The service at the graveside was curtailed because of continuous rain. Edwin Penny was buried with his first wife, Sarah Ann and their second son, Percival Thomas who died as an infant in 1880. Edwin’s second wife Emily Maria was later placed with them on her death in 1937. They were buried in the Church of Christ section of the cemetery, Section A, Grave72. Edwin Penny left real estate valued at £2180 and personal property amounting to £928 to his widow and relatives. [23].


  • [1] In other documentation Henrietta’s maiden surname is noted as Sturt.
  • [2] Edwin is incorrectly listed with other children in the shipping records as Ernest (4).
  • [3] Victorian Pioneer Index 1836-1888.
  • [4] Oakleigh Leader, 27 October 1894.
  • [5] Victorian Royal Commission on Fruit Vegetables and Jam, Minutes of Evidence, Parliamentary Paper 1915.
  • [6] Cheltenham Leader, 8 August 1893.
  • [7] Brighton Southern Cross, 12 August 1905.
  • [8] Moorabbin News, 29 August 1908.
  • [9] Whitehead, G., Push for a new Shire Hall, Article 218 Kingston Historical Website.
  • [10] Oakleigh Leader, 27 October 1894; Moorabbin News, 16 December 1916.
  • [11] Minutes of Sons of Temperance, Star of Moorabbin Division, 21 July 1881.
  • [12] The Age, 17 February 1903 page 8.
  • [13] The Argus, 14 January 1905; The Age, 6 March 1906.
  • [14] The Age, 17 March 1906.
  • [15] The Argus, 8 August 1908.
  • [16] The Age, 13 January 1910; The Age, 10 August 1910.
  • [17] The Age, 7 May 1910.
  • [18] After Edwin’s death in 1916 his son Clifford continued the management of the baths until 1928 when the Brighton Council took over – The Argus, 11 January 1928.
  • [19] The Age, 29 November 1910.
  • [20] Marriage Certificate, 1876.
  • [21] Caulfield and Elsternwick Leader, 20 November 1897.
  • [22] Moorabbin News, 16 December 1916.
  • [23] Weekly Times, 10 February 1917.


5 December 2017
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