Black Rock House offers a unique window into the past. In 1854, Charles Ebden purchased 122 acres of Boon wurrung country. Located on the coast, not too far from Melbourne, it was an ideal located for a retreat from town living.
Between 1856 and 1858, Ebden built Black Rock House as his holiday abode. It was a unique property consisting of a T-shaped brick and timber house with a cellar, joined by a covered walkway to a castellated stone courtyard and stables.
It is not known to what extent Ebden and his family enjoyed their holiday house, however it was a social rendezvous for Melbourne’s elite between 1858 and 1861. Following the Ebden Family’s return to England, Governor Sir Henry Barkly used the house as a vice-regal retreat between 1861 and 1863. After Ebden’s death in 1867, the house remained in the Ebden family until 1911, during which period it was rented out.
Over the years the house has been used as a guest house, a private house, and was for a decade converted into four flats. The land was gradually sold off and consequently, the house lost its beach frontage. Today, the beach track from the garden to Beach Road, remains.
Black Rock House was twice on the brink of demolition, first in 1927-30 and again in 1971-74. It is now owned by the Bayside City Council for the purpose of preserving and promoting important local heritage.
Black Rock House is a good illustration of how modern societies value and care for their past.
The first real effort to conserve and restore the house was made by Professor Peter MacCallum in 1931. Purchasing the house as a virtual ruin, he proceeded to restore it as his home.
Forty years and a number of owners later, the house was again saved from demolition when it was purchased by the City of Sandringham in 1974.
The first stage of conservation works concentrated on restoring the house ‘as it was in the 1860s’. Later verandah enclosures and additions were demolished and the roof re-slated. During the interior restoration process, scraps of the original wallpaper were discovered, enabling reproductions to be made. In 1983, the first stage works received an Award of Merit from the Royal Australian Institute of Architects.
The second stage, concentrating on the reconstruction of the courtyard stables and reinstatement of stone walls, took place in 1994-96. The following year, an adjoining block of flats was purchased and demolished as part of the landscape master plan for the grounds. Conserving a heritage building is, however, on ongoing process and work continues to this day.
Black Rock House is included in the Victorian Heritage Register, the Register of the National Estate and is classified by the National Trust.
I fear I … [have] become disgustingly rich.
Charles Ebden may have been something of a dandy, with a reputation for oddity, but he was honest in his self-description. Ebden was indeed a wealthy man who was also powerful and popular.
Born in South Africa in 1811, Ebden studied in England and Germany before settling in Sydney at the age of 21. After three years working as a merchant, the lure of the land proved too strong and he began to build a pastoral empire.
He developed sheep runs along the River Murray and was one of the first overlanders to travel south to Victoria. The Macedon region was selected for a station named Carlesruhe after his German university, the University of Karlesruhe.
In the 1840s, Ebden was living in Melbourne. On three occasions – in 1843, 1848 and 1850 – he was elected to the Legislative Council of New South Wales, which then included the area that was to become Victoria. In 1851, he was appointed Auditor General in the first Victorian government.
Ebden was an enigmatic man who contributed to the social and economic fabric of Victoria. In 1861, he returned to London where he lived for the next five years, returning to Melbourne where he died in 1867. In recognition of Ebden’s many portfolios and philanthropic work, more than 100 carriages followed his hearse to the Melbourne General Cemetery.
Fulfilling his own description, Ebden left an estate of well over £100,000.
Descendants of Charles Ebden have kept in touch with the Friends of Black Rock House, kindly passing on information that tells us even more about this accomplished man. A visit to Black Rock House will certainly reveal even more stories about Ebden and his beach retreat.