30 April, 2017

Hanging ten at 'The Heights'

As I mentioned in my previous post, I recently attended a "paranormal investigation" at 'The Heights', a National Trust property in Newtown, overlooking the Barwon River. Did we communicate with spirits? Well, I remain unconvinced, however as I also said, various people present claimed to have heard the word "white" issue from one of the electronic devices in use.
To anyone with knowledge of the property's history, this is potentially very significant. Could the word in fact have been "Whyte"? You see, WHYTE was the surname of the man who in 1889 married Minna Ibbotson, daughter of the businessman Charles Ibbotson for whom 'The Heights' was built on "Newtown Hill" in 1854.
Louis  Australia Whyte was the second husband of Minna Elizabeth Ibbotson of 'The Heights' in Newtown. He was a keen amateur sportsman and in 1894 became Australia's first amateur golf champion and throughout the 1880s and into the 1890s he competed in a number of tennis championships across Victoria and New South Wales, also winning two titles in that sport.
He and Minna married in England in 1889 and it was here that their only surviving son - Louis Melville - was born in 1890. Within two years, as a family of three, they returned to Australia where they lived at 'The Heights'.
Louis Australia Whyte. Image taken
from the Tennis Archives website
In June, 1892, a stillborn child - a younger brother for Louis - was born to the couple. Neither birth nor death was registered, however cemetery records show that a stillborn male child given the Whyte surname was buried in the Ibbotson grave at the Western Cemetery. On 18th July The Argus published a birth notice announcing the birth of a stillborn son to the wife of Louis A Whyte at 'The Heights' the previous month on 27th June.
Despite the loss, life continued at 'The Heights' with both Louis and Minna regularly involved with the local community. On the 9th November, 1892, Louis spoke at a banquet to celebrate the recent election of a new mayor - Cr J.R. Hopkins (Geelong Advertiser, 10th November, 1892).
In September, 1907, Louis and Minna hosted an event to which they invited members of the Barwon Heads Golf Club - of which Louis was then president - to play on the private course which he had established on the grounds at 'The Heights'.
All was not well however. For many years Louis had suffered from what was at the time of his death, described as "insomnia and neurasthenia". Whilst the term neurasthenia is not generally used today, during the 19th and early 20th centuries it was a common diagnosis for stress, depression and a variety of nervous conditions probably including post traumatic stress disorder as shell-shocked soldiers were also diagnosed with the condition. In many circles it was considered to be a disorder suffered predominantly by the wealthier classes and was sometimes referred to as "Americanitis".
As a result of his ongoing mental health issues, on 3rd April, 1911, Louis took his own life. The subsequent inquest found that he had died from a single revolver shot to the head and that his body was discovered by his son who upon being unable to raise his father's attention, had gained access to Louis' bedroom by breaking a window.
The Geelong Advertiser of 7th April, 1911 reported that Louis' funeral was a large one with the cortege consisting of the hearse, two mourning coaches and 30 vehicles. He was laid to rest at the Western Cemetery.
Following his death Louis' widow Minna and their son - commonly known as "Lou" - remained at 'The Heights'. Like his father, Lou was educated at The Geelong College (1900-1908) and was also a keen sportsman. In 1919 he spent six months in Hawaii. Here, at Waikiki Beach he learnt to surf. Upon his return to Australia he brought with him four redwood longboards which he acquired from Duke Kahanamoku, the Hawaiian man credited with introducing the sport of surfing to the world. Two of those boards can be seen today at the Australian National Surfing Museum in Torquay. This afternoon, I went for a visit:
Timber surfboards brought to Victoria by Louis Whyte
in 1919, located at the Australian National Surfing Museum
Swim suit (left) worn by Louis Whyte, Australian
National Surfing Museum
On his return to Australia, Lou took his newly-acquired boards to Lorne where the photo below was taken in 1920, in the process, bringing the sport of surfing to Victoria.
Louis Melville Whyte. Image taken from the Victorian Collections website

Louis Whyte and friends with their boards at Lorne, 1920. Australian National
Surfing Museum
Lou's other passion was motoring and where his grandfather Charles Ibbotson had once stabled his horses, Lou now parked his cars. His 1957 Daimler can still be seen in the stables at 'The Heights' today.
As a member of the social elite, Lou was no doubt considered a highly eligible bachelor, however it was not until 1936 at the age of 46 that Lou secretly married his partner of 15 years Ella Layton Wyett (known as Marnie). As described in a piece written for Vic News, magazine of The National Trust of Australia (Victoria), Lou and Marnie only announced their marriage in 1938 after the death of Lou's mother Minna who strongly opposed any romantic match for her son.
Grave of Minna and Louis Australia Whyte, Western Cemetery
Unsurprisingly, there were no children born to the couple who lived the remainder of their lives at 'The Heights'. Instead, with the assistance of  architect Harold Bartlett, they turned their attention to the old house which Lou inherited from his mother and which over the years had undergone various additions leaving it dingy and somewhat ramshackle. The makeover of the house undertaken by Bartlett and the Whytes, saw 'The Heights' redesigned as a modern, fashionable home of the 1930s, light and open where the original house had been dark and enclosed. At the same time, the interior was transformed by the noted interior designer Reg Riddell and the garden underwent a transformation at the hands of Marnie.
Over the years however, the land surrounding the house which was originally purchased by Charles Ibbotson was variously subdivided, sold, donated or compulsorily acquired for various purposes. One of the earliest pieces of land to go was a section which was acquired in the 1920s by the Country Roads Board with a view to building an extension to Aberdeen St which at that time stopped at Minerva Rd. This work was a precursor to the construction of Deviation Rd which, after a protracted battle, was opened in 1933. Contemporary newspaper reports indicate that Lou instituted legal action which culminated in the Supreme Court when the Newtown and Chilwell Shire Council endeavoured to have him pay part of the cos of construction of the road as a neighbouring landholder. Lou argued - successfully - however, that as the land had been compulsorily acquired, the council who by then had charge of construction, could not expect to claim costs from him as the previous owner.
Louis Melville Whyte in later years. Image taken from
the  website of The Geelong College
Not all "The Heights'" land was acquired under such controversial circumstances however. As a former pupil of Geelong College, Lou was no doubt keen to support his old school. According to the College's website he both sold and donated a total of around 49 acres of land extending between Minerva Rd and the Barwon River to the College beginning with an initial purchase of 15 acres in 1945. In 1960, the site opened as the junior school campus of Geelong College.
Over the years, various parcels of land were sold and today, all that remains of Ibbotson's original purchases is the 1.13 hectares upon which the house and outbuildings stand. Lou and Marnie lived the remainder of their lives at 'The Heights'. Lou died on 10th April, 1975 and was buried the following day in the lawn section of the Western Cemetery. Marnie survived her husband by only a few months, dying on 18th September, 1975. She was buried with Lou the following day. Their grave is marked by a simple plaque.
Grave of Louis Melville and Ella Layton "Marnie" Whyte, Western Cemetery
(NB note the misspelling of "Layton", spelled "Leighton" on the headstone)
Following Marnie's death 'The Heights' passed to the National Trust and today, is open to the public, providing a unique glimpse into a significant piece of Geelong's past and the life of the Ibbotson and particularly, the Whyte family. It is also interesting to note a number of the street names which now surround 'The Heights' and which stand on what was once land owned by Charles Ibbotson and the Whytes. Names such as Ella Close, Layton Crescent, Louis Court, Melville Avenue and of course, Whyte Court.


10 April, 2017

Things that go bump at 'The Heights'

Over the years, my most popular blog post has transpired to be one in which I looked at ghosts. In "...landlord to a ghost..." I took a look at which of the old houses along the Barwon were believed to be haunted. As it happens, most of the oldest buildings claim to have acquired a ghost or two over the years. 'The Heights" in Newtown is no exception and it was there on a recent Saturday evening that I was invited to act as a volunteer whilst 'The Heights' played host to a "paranormal investigation".
We arrived just on dusk and along with a further four volunteers proceeded to get things ready for the arrival of the living guests.
Our hosts for the evening - Paranormal X-Files - also arrived to set up an array of electronic equipment including infrared cameras, digital thermometers, spirit boxes, an Ovilus and REM pods. If you don't know what this equipment is or how it claims to work, a quick check on Google will set you straight.
A REM-POD similar to that used at 'The Heights'
Eventually, as darkness descended and with all the guests in attendance, we were divided into two groups and set off to investigate. Our group remained in the house where our investigation took us from room to room in search of spirits. At various points the equipment glowed as various coloured lights flashed and an array of electronic noises issued forth. After 3/4 of an hour the group concluded that they may have made contact with a spirit called "Ian" and some guests indicated that they had "felt" a temperature change, a "presence" or been "touched". Two unaccountable knocks were heard in reply to the investigators three knocks and the word "white" was also heard.
At this point, we exchanged places with the other group and all trooped outside to investigate the cold room under the water tower and the stables. Once again the equipment flashed and screeched and people reported temperature changes. Whereas the other group claimed to have been told to "GET OUT!" of the stables, we were not.
The night ended with a joint discussion of what had been seen, heard and felt and the guests were escorted through the darkness to the gate.
So, if ghosts really were present at 'The Heights' who were they? So far I have been unable to find anyone named "Ian" who had an association with the property however the word "white" is a little mcore interesting when one considers the history of the place.
'The Heights' is a pre-fabricated timber building which was purpose made in Germany, shipped to Australia and assembled at "Newtown Hill" for local woolbroker, merchant and pastoralist Charles Ibbotson in 1854. I have mentioned both Ibbotson and the property not only in the post about ghosts mentioned above, but also speculated that the European landscape painter Eugene von Guerard may have paid a visit to Ibbotson and 'The Heights' during its construction whilst he was staying with Frederick Bauer - owner of 'Fritzwilhelmberg House' (now 'Raith') - not far away in Newtown. It was Bauer, a German ironmonger who ran a business in Ryrie St, who was responsible for the erection of 'The Heights'.
The original building erected by Bauer consisted of 14 rooms. Verandas were also added then stables (1855), a groom's cottage (1856-7), water tower (c1860) a bluestone stable complex (1862) and in 1875, a billiard room. Towards the end of the 19th century, a dovecote was also built. According to the National Trust who now own the property, the original garden was designed by Scottish gardener Robert Hughes in the 1860s.
'The Heights' 1866, image held by the State Library of Victoria
'The Heights'' first owner, Charles Ibbotson was an Englishman, born in Derbyshire, England who migrated to Sydney in the 1830s. He and his wife Maryanne Dickens were married in Sydney in 1850 and moved to Geelong not long after. Whilst 'The Heights' was erected in 1854, the surrounding land was not purchased by Ibbotson until the mid-1860s. The original purchaser was Duncan Hoyle who bought allotment 3, Section 10 of the Parish of Moorpanyal at a government land sale in July, 1847 (Geelong Advertiser and Squatters' Advocate, 23rd July, 1847), allotment 5, Section 10 in December, 1847 (Port Phillip Gazette and Settlers' Journal, 11th December, 1847) and may well have purchased the neighbouring allotment 2 the previous year (Sydney Morning Herald, 6th February, 1846) as he is listed on survey maps as the original purchaser. 'The Heights' sits in the middle of allotment 2 but appears to have been built on around 2 acres of land already owned by Ibbotson at the time.
In addition to his business interests in Dalgety & Co. Woolstores, Ibbotson sat on a number of boards and committees including the council of the Borough of Newtown and Chilwell, where he served a term as mayor. He was supportive of efforts to bring the railway to Geelong and was a member on the committee of management of the Botanic Gardens. On 16th December, 1863, he chaired the meeting which established the Geelong branch of the Zoological and Acclimatisation Society of Victoria, whose aim was to introduce familiar and productive species of plants and animals from around the world to the Colony of Victoria (Geelong Advertiser, 17th December, 1863). On 22nd July, 1867 it was reported in The Argus that a shipment containing "a number of larks, thrushes, sparrows, chaffinches, and other birds" had arrived for Ibbotson who is widely attributed with having introduced several such species to Victoria, releasing them from 'The Heights'.
Towards the end of 1866, not long after purchasing the surrounding land from Duncan Hoyle, Ibbotson - then the mayor of Newtown and Chilwell - hosted members of the council and the press to a meal at 'The Heights', showing off his newly-acquired land and outlining his plans to develop it (Geelong Advertiser, 22nd November, 1866). This included planting the slopes stretching down to the river with vines, fruits and vegetables.
In 1882, Ibbotson's wife Maryanne died after an extended illness and was buried at the Western Cemetery, then, after also suffering a long health battle Ibbotson died the following year on 20th October and was buried with his wife.
The Ibbotson grave in the Church of England Section, Row 1. grave 1515
His estate was divided amongst his two sons and four daughters, with 'The Heights' passing to his youngest daughter Minna Elizabeth.
Although the Victorian birth, death and marriage records do not appear to show it, the Geelong Advertiser recorded on 4th November, 1887 that Minna married James Burnett. It did not indicate where the ceremony took place. The marriage however was short-lived as James died at the Grand Hotel, Spring St, in Melbourne on 6th January, 1888 at the age of 39.
By June that year, Minna had placed 'The Heights' on the market. Advertisements throughout May and June indicate that "upwards of 80 acres" of the property was to be offered for sale by tender (Geelong Advertiser, 1st June, 1888). According to a later report in the Geelong Advertiser of 16th June, the property was snapped up amidst keen interest by a Melbourne syndicate who intended to subdivide the property. Although it is not made clear, the land sale presumably did not include the house and land immediately surrounding it as this remained in the possession of the family for decades to come, with significant areas sold to the Geelong College and St Joseph's College in later years.
Not long after the death of her husband, Minna must have travelled to London as it was here on 28th September, 1889 that she married her second husband (The Argus, 31st December, 1889). Not long after, they returned to live at 'The Heights'.
This gentleman went by the name of Louis Australia WHYTE ...