The historical Mount Mitchell homestead will open to the public this weekend to mark 180 years since the property was claimed.
Civil servant Henry Bowerman claimed the 8417 hectare property at Lexton in 1838 – only three years after the site of Melbourne was established.
Two years before in 1836, Major Thomas Mitchell’s lieutenant Granville Stapleton wrote of the district:
“Ascended a high forest hill and beheld a country beyond measure superb, a mixture of every terrestrial qualification desirable for the settler. To the eastward and north-east high green hills bare of timber and downs… I can scarcely credit my good fortune when the fact even presents itself to my view that such a vast portion of country which may be truly said to be unequalled in the world, should in this age of wonder have been left to your humble servant and the Surveyor General to discover”.
The original map of the Mount Mitchell run takes pride of place in the enclosed veranda of the homestead.
The early drawing of the property – named after Major Mitchell – highlights the boundaries with noted landmarks identified on the map including “Gum Tree marked with a W”, “Stoney Gully”, “Light Tree marked on four sides” etc. highlight the early squatter’s process to claim.
A road on the map is labelled Geelong Road, not Ballarat, as the drawing was completed prior to Ballarat’s establishment.
After Bowerman retired from his position at the Moreton Bay Convict Settlement, Bowerman went overland to Port Phillip with sheep, cattle and assigned convict servants.
He took up the Mount Mitchell run near Lexton but in the spring of 1839, Bowerman sold his stock to the Learmonth brothers, who took over the run and the assigned convicts.
Tom Robertson, who had been previously employed by the Learmonth brothers in partnership with William Skene, became the new owner of Mount Mitchell.
A homestead was built about 1843 along the creek bed about a kilometre from the current homestead.
In 1861 Robertson employed notable architect Charles Webb – who designed the Windsor Hotel, East Melbourne’s Tasma Terrace and Melbourne Grammar School – to design a significant home of distinction.
An extension was added to the Mount Mitchell homestead in 1910, almost doubling the size of the residence, and renovations were undertaken in the original part of the house.
Thomas Barratt Junior became the new owner in 1926 and by 1936 when the Muller brothers purchased the property, it had been reduced in size to 1048 hectares.
Over the next 45 years the Muller brothers focused on farming, producing super fine merino wool.
Richard Salter bought the neglected property in 1981 and started an extensive restoration of the homestead and garden re-establishment.
Current owners Simon and Kate Toll bought Mount Mitchell three years ago and primarily use it as a working farm.
Mrs Tol said it was rare the property opened to the public, with the family occasionally sharing it for various events, tours and functions by arrangement.
But she said the family wanted to celebrate its 180-year history with the public. The celebrations on November 10 and 11 will feature historic tours conducted by actors taking on the personalities of the property, high tea, Pyrenees wines, local produce, entertainment and children’s activities.
There are four hectares of superb garden rooms and parkland settings.
The homestead and stables are both listed with the National Trust and are on the Heritage Victoria Register. Plaques will be unveiled this weekend.
Then open property will be held in partnership with Eurambeen homestead at Beaufort, encouraging guests to make the looped trip from Ballarat.
Tickets cost $15 for adults and $5 for children.