By J. O’Donnell, B.A., B.Ed.
One of the Glen Eira’s largest old mansions, ‘Myoora’, stands in Alma Road near its intersection with Hawthorn and Dandenong Roads. Like ‘Craigellachie’ in Orrong Road, it is the result of its owner’s good fortune on the goldfields. In each case the owner was a large shareholder in one of the fabled gold mines in Australian mining history – the Day Dawn at Charters Towers and the Long Tunnel at Walhalla. (For an account of William Pearson of ‘Craigellachie’ and the Long Tunnel Mine see Caulfield Historical Society Newsletter No1. Ed.) However, a gap of twenty years separates the stories of the two mansions and their owners.
The things that strike one’s attention about ‘Myoora’ are its massive size, and its architectural similarity, at least on the north front, to an eighteenth-century French chateau. Eminently practical concessions to the Australian climate and to convenient living were made in the design of the back of the house. Along its entire length it features an elaborate two-storey cast-iron balcony of the type which is normally the crowning glory of the front of many lesser mansions. Facing south as they do, the verandah and balcony provide an area away from the influence of the hot northern sun. Additionally, the balcony provides splendid views of the bay and surrounding countryside to the south and west. The back of the house clearly was not intended for the servants, since many of the largest and most gracious rooms open on to the balcony or verandah; rather the servants` quarters were moved away from the family area to the western end of the house, cushioned in their segregation by the night nursery upstairs and the day nursery downstairs.
The central feature of the main façade is the square, four-storey tower with its cantilevered cast-iron balcony. The base of the tower forms an impressive entrance portal to the solid front door framed in its stained glass, high arched surround. An identical doorway inside separates the main part of the house from the servants’ area. Inside the front door a spacious hallway originally gave access to a cedar staircase which has now been removed. The upper part of the walls in the main entrance section still retains the embossed leather which was used to cover them. In the same area of the house is a somewhat unusual feature, which is easily understood when the goldfields interests of ‘Myoora’s’ owner are recalled. Incorporated into the building is a solid bank strongroom with steel door – few great mansion homes can boast one of these.
The tower is balanced by a two-storey wing with a slate roofed turret. At the base of the turret can be seen the ventilation window for the two-room bluestone wine cellars beneath, which are reached by steep descent under the cedar turret stair. An unusual feature of the turret is the barred glass window on the landing. Immediately to the right of the turret is a doorway created from an original pantry window when ‘Myoora’ was converted to flats in 1939. The turret, like the roof ridges, is surmounted by an elegant iron finial. The roof of the servants` wing is crowned by an ornamental cast iron ridging partially obscured from the roadway by a tall row of chimneys which help to balance the height of the tower.
An external stairway, reasonably well camouflaged, hides the remainder of the façade, which was very plain, to counter-act the ornateness of the central section. It should be noted that this stairway is a modern addition.
On the east front, on the upper storey, is a small semi-circular corbelled balcony, poised above twin – arched windows, complemented by a heavy two-storey angular bay capped by a roof finial. The rooms in this section, which included the two main bedrooms and morning room, are exceptionally large and feature highly ornate ceilings and impressive fireplaces. The whole exterior appearance of the house presents an unusual combination of architectural ideas, all however held carefully in proportion and balanced skilfully by each other.
In its early days, before the subdivision of the original land occurred, ‘Myoora’ boasted a large, solidly built coach-house west of the house on the Alma Road frontage. The bluestone base is still visible as part of the front fence of the adjoining property; the plans, by the same architect as the house, survive to show us what used to be.
Thomas Christian, for whom ‘Myoora’ was built, was born in 1845 at Douglas on the Isle of Man, the son of Elizabeth and John Christian. At about the age of 20 he emigrated to Victoria and was, for a short time a dairy farmer in the Broadmeadows area.
In 1872, gold was discovered at Charters Towers, Queensland, and Thomas was amongst the wave of prospectors who arrived in April of that year. The first two years were apparently spent prospecting small claims in the Millchester area, but with little success.
During 1874 he became associated with William Levers and Frederick Pfeiffer and the three became partners in the leasehold of the Day Dawn Mine. The original lease of this area had been taken and discarded several times by prospectors who had failed to locate payable gold. By this time, Thomas Christian was an experienced quartz miner, and a clever, shrewd man of determined character. He was appointed manager and discarded the old vertical shaft and erected steam-hauling machinery. For four years they searched for payable returns; in 1876 the mine produced a miserable 29 ounces of gold.
In 1877 Thomas Christian married Violet Mary Neumann of Richmond, Victoria; the first of their eight children arriving in May of the following year. At the same time, and perhaps providentially, Pfeiffer’s insistence that they persevere with the mine at last paid off.
By 1879 the three partners were becoming moderately wealthy men, but re-invested in the mine, adding machinery and techniques which could lead to greater production and the expansion of the claim. Returns over the next two years justified their action as the Day Dawn production rose.
On 11 October 1881 a company, the Day Dawn P. C. Gold Mining Company Limited, was formed to facilitate even greater expansion. Thomas Christian held 5,250 shares out of a total of 24,000 shares. The next year, 1882, saw him selecting 1,280 acres of land near Charters Towers, next to the selection made on the same day by Pfeiffer. The Deed of Grant was issued on 15 January 1889 after the necessary conditions of residence had been fulfilled. It is not known whether Thomas ever lived at this property; certainly his growing family remained in Melbourne, living in a house in Parkville before ‘Myoora’ was built in Caulfield.
Written by J. O’Donnell, B.A., B.Ed. for the Caulfield Historical Society in April 1974.
(Edited by Glen Eira Historical Society May 2020)