382 Napier Street, Fitzroy (Clova)

This house holds quite an interesting history! From this side of the road you can see the tower of the MacRobertson’s Chocolate Factory which rise up behind these houses, but in 1886 when this row of terrace houses were first built, the factory did not exist, however MacPherson Robertson, owner of the Factory certainly did and he was newly married and moved here in in 1887.

MacPherson Robertson, Candy / Chocolate Maker, MacRobertsons

On 8 July 1886, MacPherson Robertson (26) married Elizabeth Alice Hedington (24) at the North Carlton Presbyterian Church. George Taylor, author of ‘Making it Happen’ a biography of Robertson’s life, as commissioned by him said “on July 10, 1886, he felt that the time had arrived when he should at least draw a salary, so he awarded himself 3 pounds a week.” They then moved into 431 Napier Street which had just finished being built in 1885. There was lots of building activity in this area around this time.

A year later, they had moved to this house, which would have finished in approximately 1886.

According to Jill Robertson, author of MacRoberston – The Chocolate King, this was a period of turmoil for MacPherson. It appears that the marriage to Elisabeth was not celebrated by his parents and family, who according to Jill were worried about MacPherson (and the money earned from the factory) being diverted from his family. As such there was tension, which eventually saw MacPherson leave the chocolate business that he had been forging since his first job in a lolly factory in the UK (when he was only 12 to 13 years old).   MacPherson’s father ‘David’ had been operating for some time as the Sales Manager for the factory, which involved travelling to the shops and distributors to sell the products.  During this period, he went by both the name David and MacPherson and so following the rift between him and his son, he appears to assume MacPherson’s name and makes claims on his rounds that it is indeed he that is the founder of the business. 

The young MacPherson sadly leaves the business he created 7 years earlier, but this clearly is not the end of the MacPherson Robertson story.  MacPherson was not idol in this period and started the American Candy Company in the factory on the corner of Kerr and Napier Street.

MacPherson and Elizabeth welcomed both their children into the world while living here at Clova, unfortunately their oldest, Ernest became sick just shy of 2 years old and passed away in 1889.  Seven months later Stella was born in June 1890 and she becomes very special in MacPherson’s life.  Perhaps the house held unhappy memories, because by the end of 1891 they had moved, though I am not sure where to, perhaps closer to their new home built in 1893 in Fairfield.

James Lyons, Draper & Carter

Now while James did not ever live in this house, he was the builder (or organised the building of) this house and the three to the right hand side of it. If you look at the roof of the house and those next to it you can see that they are all still shared. James Lyons lived at number 376 with his wife Hannah. 

The houses stayed owned by James and his wife until they were sold as part of their estate in 1912. Surprisingly the four houses were sold together and remained together under a single ownership until they were again sold in 1950.

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