Harrieville, 403 George St, Fitzroy

  • Architect: Unknown / Builder: Unknown
  • Built: 1911 (thereabouts)
  • First owner: Arthur Trotter
  • Other owners: Hope, Younger, Trotter, Truscott, Foote

This house, described as a ‘Queen Anne Villa’ is probably most famously known as the location where Arthur Trotter, commercial traveller for MacRobertson’s Chocolate Factory was murdered.

The house however that exists today was not the first on this site, and Sands and MacDougall list a John W Hope (wheelwright) living at the site now known as 403 George in 1860 and G Walsh (cab proprietor) living there in 1865. <Note to self – need to look prior to 1860>

Margaret Manson

James Younger is recorded as living at 245 (renumbered to 403 George St, perhaps in 1886) in 1870, and then in 1875-1887, William Younger is listed until his death in August 1887. William was a horse dealer.

Following William Younger, there is a record of a Charles Davis and George Mills (bookmaker) / Elizabeth Mills residing at 403.

Throughout this period 403 appears to be owned by Miss Margaret Manson. There are two Margaret Manson’s living in Fitzroy around the time, but I am not able to confirm whether either of these are the same person. The house during this period is recorded as a wooden house with land to one side of it.

Arthur Trotter

Arthur Henry Trotter moved to the large cottage on George Street, which he commissioned to be built in approximately July 1911, a six room dwelling, just behind the Marquis of Lorne Hotel. The house was named ‘Harrieville’ after his son, Harry, and was modern in form. The roof was red tiled and red bricked and has the half-timbering under the gables, consistent with a Queen Anne Federation style house. At some point, the tiles were replaced with slate tiles, but the featured the ridge capping and finials on the roof and bay windows with multiple panes remain. It is not as decorative with features as some of the more pronounced examples, which is emphasised in the current version of the house where many of the decorative wooden features that did exist have been removed during repair and renovation. On the Argyle side of the house was a vacant block and it is speculated that this was where the burglars watched the house from and where they were able to escape over the fence into. A row of silver poplar trees lined one side of the street.

Arthur had moved from 63 Kerr Street (1908) and 116 Kerr Street (1909), which both were single fronted terraces. He was about 40 years when he moved with his wife and young child into the house he built for them. 403 George Street was grand and just around the corner from 145 Argyle Street where Arthur worked for Macpherson Robertson, confectioner and owner of MacRobertsons Chocolate Factory as a commercial traveller. In this role he would collect sums of money owed to MacRobertsons for the delivery of chocolates and other goods.

On 12 March 1912, Arthur’s mother who lived in the house passes at age 75 years.

On Monday 6 January 1913 Arthur returned home with over 200 pounds of gold and cheques, a larger than normal collection due to it being the first following Christmas for many of the stores. If he finished work after the banks were closed, he would place the collection under his mattress. According to witnesses the fact that he had such money was known, but his wife, Beatrice Emma Trotter was surprised that anyone would know where the money was stashed in the house. However, during the interview of others, it was clear that others such as his chauffeur also was aware of this practice and location.

At just after 1am, Arthur and Beatrice were awoken by the flash of the electric lights being turned on in their bedroom. Two burglars with white handkerchieves over their mouths had broken in through the kitchen, and were standing in their bedroom. Their son, Harry, awoke in his cot under the front window, with the commotion and allegedly said “Don’t shoot my daddy”. The burglars demanded the cash. Mrs Trotter pleaded to provide them with the money and the burglar assured her she would not be harmed, at which point, the lead burglar was distracted and Arthur lunged from his bed at the burglar and was shot.

The lead burglar demanded the other to get the money and he immediately lifted the mattress and retrieved the bag of gold and cheques and left via the kitchen through the open back door and screen door which had been propped open with some bricks. In a state of hysteria Beatrice ran screaming into the street raising the alarm to her neighbours and the chauffeur, who after finding a policeman and visiting the Fitzroy police station returned and tried to raise an ambulance. Unsuccessful, he transported Arthur to the St Vincents Hospital (admitted approximately 1.30am-2.10am). Unfortunately he died at about 8-8.30am the following morning. There are mixed reports as to whether he regained consciousness, some accounts saying he did to ask for his ring to be passed to his wife, and another report saying he did not gain consciousness at all owing to the wound which entered from his left eye and lodged in his brain.

MacRobertson offered a 100 pound reward for information, and although finger prints were found matching Harold Thompson, the jury did not convict and to this day the murder is unsolved. It is alleged that while the initial finger print off the kitchen window sill was an identical match, that the finger print no longer matched by the time of the trial owing to the finger being ‘bitten or manipulated in some way so as to affect some of the ridges’. In addition, Beatrice being the sole witness of the crime repeatedly indicated that Harold’s voice did not match the breaking voice of a young man which she heard in her room.

403 George St, photo published in the Australasian on 11 January 1913 with the caption ‘the bedroom is on the right hand side under the veranda’, referring to where Arthur Trotter was shot in the head in front of his wife.

Following the passing of Arthur Trotter and the mystery surrounding his death, the papers report that hundreds of people (though I imagine the number was somewhat smaller) took to standing outside the property out of ‘morbid curiosity’ until the police had them moved on.

Photo of Arthur Trotter. Photo sourced from: Punch, Thu 9 Jan 1913

Over 1000 people attended the funeral, it being reported as a ‘dense throng’ requiring police presence and six troopers. The service was held in the dining room with 40 close relatives and friends before moving to Melbourne Cemetery. Arthur Trotter’s estate was valued at 1696 pounds.

Sister Truscott’s Private Hospital

It appears that sometime later, sometime post 1924, Sister Agnes Jean Truscott (aged 44 years) moved from Maldon with Lavinia May Truscott and took up residence, initially in Sydney Road Coburg, before moving to 403 George St, Fitzroy. The electoral rolls confirm her occupation as a nurse and her residence from 1928, but it appears that she may have moved in in 1926, with the first account of a child being born in Truscott’s Private Hospital occurring on 31 July 1926. Another account is capture in 1930.

Agnes is recorded as being resident at 403 George until at least 1937. In 1942, she is recorded as running a tea room in Bacchus Marsh, but she must have missed Fitzroy as she was living at 2 Leicester Street Fitzroy in 1954 before she passed away in 1956, aged 76.

The Foote Family

Isaac Foote and Gladys Foote moved in with their young family, and her sister Doris Ellen Ford in 1939. The boys William Keith and William Herbert grow up in the house becoming a Textile Worker and Driver respectively. Isaac passed away in 1954 and Doris Ellen Ford in 1956. Gladys was still living in Fitzroy when she passed away in 1986.

The house According to the advertisement in 2011 advertising the 546m2 property for sale, the property had been in the same family since 1939, so the house must have been kept by one or both of their sons until 2011. The house is described as: a distinctive double fronted façade defined by a stately pillared veranda and elegant bay window is matched inside by 14 ft ceilings and beautiful leadlights. The wide hallway leads to an impressive living room with second bay window, separate dining room (open fireplace) and a large original kitchen complete with wood fire stove and meals area. Three double bedrooms are accompanied by a bathroom and laundry. The very wide side and rear garden include George Street frontage and Kerr Street ROW. Nestled within a quiet tree-lined streetscape yet only moments from bustling Smith and Johnston Streets, the lifestyle appeal and opportunity offered are unparalleled. (Text from the realestate.com advertisement in 2011).

The floorplan of 403 George St on 23 July 2011 when it was last sold for $1.75m. It is likely from the descriptions that the original house did not have the extension on the left outside the Kitchen and that this would have originally been open to the back door. The Bath and Bedroom on the right are also likely to have been one room, making the house a six room dwelling (Image from realestate.com).
The house as it was in 2011 when it was sold. It is fascinating to see how much of the inside remains in its original condition. (Image from realestate.com)

References: available on request.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: