HOME OF SIR WILLIAM
(For illustration see Camera Supplement.)
Walking along Sir William street, Kew, one unexpectedly comes upon an old bluestone mansion, its walls mantled with ivy, which stands aloof from the red brick villas surrounding it. This old-world home is still known as d'Estaville—the name that Sir William Stawell gave to it when he built it in the late 'fifties. The purchase of d'Estaville Estate in 1856 by Mr. William Stawell, as he then was, marked the emergence of Victoria from what approximated a Crown Colony to the status of a self-governing Colony with responsible Government.
It was at the end of 1842 that William Stawell, then a young barrister of 21, arrived in Port Phillip from Ireland. His
outstanding ability as a barrister soon at- tracted notice. He also threw himself wholeheartedly into all the movements of the day for the progress of Port Phillip. By the time separation came in 1851 William Stawell's legal acumen, his ability to get right to the essence of things, his strength of character, and his amazing capacity for work had so impressed La Trobe, that the Lieutenant-Governor ap- pointed him one of the Crown's nominee members of the first Legislative Council, giving him the office of Attorney-
In the difficult years that followed, when the pioneer work of creating the machinery to carry into effect the Go- vernment of the Colony was further com- plicated by the gold rush. Governor La Trobe and Sir Charles Hotham, who fol- lowed him, relied greatly on the advice of their Attorney-General. From the first the colonists looked upon the Legis- lative Council of 1851 as a stepping stone to self-government, with a Parliament responsible to the people. It was to Wil- liam Stawell, as Attorney-General, that fell the heavy duty of preparing the New Constitution Bill for the future era which was to begin in November, 1855, while he was still grappling with the almost Herculean tasks presented by the years 1851 to 1854.
In January of 1856 Stawell married Miss Mary Greene, daughter of Pomeroy Greene, R.N., of Woodlands. For a short time they lived in William street, then moved to St. Kilda. By now Victoria was a self-governing Colony, but the election for the new Parliament, which was to consist of two Houses, were not held until the second half of 1856. Stawell was in- vited to stand as a candidate for the Legislative Assembly, and, as such, had to be possessed of freehold property to the value of £2,000. Early one morning he and Mrs. Stawell drove along the rutty tracks of Melbourne's suburb on the all-
important quest. At length, looking at
his watch, Mr. Stawell remarked, "We
have just time to look at one more estate as I must be in court at 10 o'clock."
Heavily wooded and with its own fern gully, that last property, sloping down to the picturesque Yarra, held them almost spellbound. The few scattered houses were screened by the bush. To the west
was Studley Park, with all its original
charm; to the east, no city of Kew but miles of undulating virgin forest, which merged into the distant mountains. Mr. and Mrs. Stawell immediately resolved to
buy the land and to make their home
there. In those days d'Estaville was bounded on the south by Studley ......... until it meets the old gully, now dry and
bare, below Studley avenue .... the boundary followed the north-west ........ the gully to the river. The Yarra forms its western boundary, while that on the north was in a line with Holroyd street.
At first d'Estaville did not extend quite to Princess street on the east, but a little later that strip of land was added, bring- ing the area of the estate up to 32 acres.
The house was not completed until
1859. In the meantime Mr. William Stawell had become Sir William Stawell and Chief Justice of Victoria when only
41 years of age. Although now shorn of 31 acres, d'Estaville is one of the very few early homes of Victoria that can still look proudly out on the world of 1934. Its bluestone walls are very thick, and its
pleasing lines of design have an enduring
appeal. What tales it could tell of
crinolined ladles gliding through its
candle-lit rooms, of plastic feminine figures moulded into the Grecian bent. More youthful tales it could tell of the days of the Franco-Prussian war, when childish fingers laboriously made bandages to send to France for their wounded French heroes.
When free from public duties Sir Wil- liam Stawell enjoyed the life of a country gentleman at d'Estaville. Vegetable gar- dens and an orchard with its collection of fruit trees from all over the world, in- cluding the then novel olive trees and vines, have today given way to Barry street and villas. Rosy Irish dairymaids milked the cows and churned the butter,
while in the post and rail horse paddock adjoining Sandy road—now Princess street—a bevy of young children bade fair to carry on the equestrian traditions of
During his earlier years in the Colony Sir William Stawell was a familiar figure in the hunting field, and he also rode in amateur steeplechases. Upon becoming Chief Justice, his sense of the dignity of his office would not permit him to figure in Grand Nationals any longer. He con- tinued to ride on circuit. Wishing to spare his associates and troopers, he often sent them ahead by coach or train, and rode long distances alone. One night in the early seventies he asked for lodging at a lonely selection in the Euroa district. At the time bushrangers were active. The host looked with suspicion on the stranger in well-worn cardigan instead of con- ventional coat, who rode such a good horse. Receiving evasive replies as to the stranger's business, an urgent message was sent to the police regarding the sus- pected bushranger.
In 1877 Miss Stawell, now Mrs Syl- vester Browne, returned from a visit to England, where tennis had but recently captured the country. She straightway had a tennis court made at d'Estaville, one of the first in Victoria. There were no heated arguments at that time as to whether shorts were to be or not to be. The regulation costumes was a gown with tight-fitting bodice, long sleeves, and skirts, complete with bustle, reaching the
From 1873 to 1877 the house was let to Mr. Neil Black, while the family was in England. Sir William Stawell came back
alone in 1875, and was Acting Governor until 1877. During that time he lived at Bishopscourt. His other vice-regal terms were spent at d'Estaville.
Toward the end of 1888, failing health impelled him to sell d'Estaville and visit Europe. The eight-acre horse paddock along Princess street had already been sold. The house with 24 acres was taken over by a subdivision company and put up for auction on November 17, 1888. Although The Argus of that date had nearly seven pages of advertisements for auction sales of real estate, the "boom" had begun to collapse. Despite the desir- ability of the position and the recent extension of train and tram to Kew, only
two of the 38 sites were sold. The reserve price for blocks with a depth of 200ft in the best positions was £28/10 a foot.
Later the whole estate was to come back to the Stawell family, since neither sub- division company nor the two buyers at the auction sale could complete their pur- chases. It was not until the depression of the early 'nineties had passed that the estate was again put on the market for subdivision. In the meantime the house was let until it was bought in 1908 by Mr. G. Kay, whose widow now lives there.
Sir William Stawell died at Naples in March, 1889. It is doubtful whether any man had such a strong influence as he on the life of Victoria in the last century. He was actively interested in many and various phases of life. President of the Royal Society and of the Melbourne Hos- pital, Chancellor of the University, origi- nal trustee of the Public Library, member of the Anglican Synod, were but a few of his many public offices.