“Few modern pictures are better known than the late Frederick Walker’s ‘Harbour of Refuge,’ representing a group of homes in one of the western suburbs of London, erected by the thoughtful benevolence of a lover of his kind, belonging to a former generation, for the shelter of a number of aged people upon whom fortune has frowned in the closing years of their lives. The philanthropic spirit which prompted the foundation of this peaceful haven animated the veteran actor and manager, Mr. George Seth Coppin, … proposed the institution of an association having the following objects in view: ‘To assist necessitous old colonists, to promulgate facts relative to the early history of the colony, to promote the advancement of native-born Victorians, and to encourage friendly recognition between members.'” (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344)
The cottages were erected ‘as a rest for the weary’ in the vicinity of Rushall Crescent, North Fitzroy. In 1869 “Mr. Coppin convened a meeting of old colonists, to submit to them a proposition for the formation of an Association, for admission to which, all persons who had been resident in Victoria for a period of at least twenty-five years were to be eligible; those members who had arrived prior to the 23rd of November, the day upon which Constitutional Government was proclaimed in the colony- and their male descendants to be designated as ‘pioneers’. The Association was duly organised with Judge Pohlman as its first President, Mr. Coppin as Vice-President and Mr D. Ogilvy as Treasurer…”(The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344)
This first meeting was held at the Menzie’s Hotel on Tuesday 11 May 1869 and Mr. Coppin submitted a proposal that residents of twenty years should be eligible for membership and that the subscription should be 1 pound 1 shilling per annum. This was unanimously adopted and the committee was appointed (The Age, Wed 12 May 1869, p. 5). This slightly contradicts the information from the Cyclopedia.
The inaugural dinner of the Old Colonists’ Association took place on 1st July (Separation Day) at Menzies’ Hotel and over sixty people attended. The Association was well underway and had members of over 200 people (The Age, Sat 17 Jul 1869). Mr. Coppin was incredibly influential and involved in the fund raising for the Association. On Sat 17 Jul 1869 (p.8) it was advertised the Theatre Royal was having an Old Colonists’ Night to raise funds for the provision of Almshouses. The entertainment covered six popular pieces featuring Mr Coppin in each on Thursday 22 July.
At their meeting held on 20 July, a letter from Mr. Coppin was read which stated that he would undertake the erection of the first almshouse in connexion with the association to be called ‘Founder’s House’. To fund its build he was to use the amount raised from the theatre and would contribute the remaining balance from his own purse, approximately 250pounds. At this meeting they also resolved “That a tablet should be fixed upon each almshouse with the name of the donor inscribed upon it” (The Age, 21 Jul 1869, p.5). Coppin raised 110 pounds from his Theatre night (The Age, 30 Jul 1869, p.2).
“It was agreed that donors of ten guineas should rank as life governors; subscribers of two guineas or upwards, as governors; and subscribers of one guinea, as members; while life governors, governors and subscribers for ten years consecutively were alone entitled to vote at the election of inmates to occupy the homes. It was likewise decided that the names of donors of 50 pounds and upwards should be inscribed upon commemoration tablets to be erected at the homes” (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344-345)
“The land upon which the homes are built consists of four acres thirty-six perches, and was a grant to the Association by the Government; and as the names of the benevolent founders deserve to be held in lasting remembrance, we subjoin a list of them.” (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344) contained below.
The land was “in a very desirable situation on the banks of the Merri Creek adjacent to the Northcote Bridge. The fencing of the land was arranged by architect and surveyor Albert Purchas. Plans for two semi-detached cottages designed by G. R. Johnson were approved by the council of the OCA. The foundation stone of the cottages was laid by the President, Judge Pohlman, on the day of the first annual general meeting, 1 July 1870. By December of that year the first inmates were installed” (Source: Picturesque Charity: the Old Colonists’ Homes in North Fitzroy, by Frances O’Neill, part of ‘Fitzroy, Melbourne’s First Suburb, p.61-64)
The Dramatic Association was not as popular as the Old Colonists Association and by 1907 the two Associations merged and the complex of nine acres became one institution. “This settlement had no master plan but evolved in an extraodinarily orderly and functional manner. The complex consists of several brick and stone cottages erected from 1870 until recent times. Each cottage has been privately donated and is marked by a memorial stone. Coppin donated the earliest stone cottage and these were designed by G. Johnson. Rushall park is a unique complex of national significance and is of great architectural importance. The complex is unified by its superb garden and picturesque architecture all on a domestic scale. Recently some of the old cottages were demolished to be replaced by an unappropriate modern structure. Any future additions or alterations to buildings should be carefully considered.” (North Fitzroy Conservation Study 1978) (Glossary)
- “The Sumner Hall and Lodge, erected by the trustees of the late Mr. T. J. Sumner, containing a pretty hall for religious services, meetings, library etc., capable of seating about 100 persons and caretakers quarters.” (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344). The building of the lodge and hall were designed by Joseph Crook (Australian Builders and Contractors News, 19 April 1890, p.956 and 18 July 1890)
- “The Founder’s Cottages, erected and endowed by Mr. G. S. Coppin”. (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344). The Founder’s Cottage was designed by George Raymond Johnson (Architect). (North Fitzroy Conservation Study 1978). Adverts ran for a tender in June 1870 to erect dwellings to George Raymond Johnson’s design.
- “The Clarke Cottages, erected by Sir W. J. Clarke, Bart., and Mr Joseph Clarke.” (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344) The Clarke Cottages were constructed in 1880 at 22a Coppin Avenue. (North Fitzroy Conservation Study 1978)
- The Campbell Cottages, erected by Hon. W. Campbell. (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344).
- The Jubilee Cottages, (1) erected by Hon. W. Pearson, M.L.C. endowed by Mrs A.L.Grice; (2) erected by Mr. and Mrs. Mark Moss; (3) erected by Mr John Halfrey; (4) erected by Old Colonists in England; (5) erected by Lord Loch, Canon Perks, Messrs. Francis Henty, Francis Clarke, and A. J. Young; (6) erected by the Hon. and Mrs Robert Reid; (7) erected by Mr. and Mrs. J. M. Bruce; 8 erected by Mr. and Mrs. Henry Brooks. (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344).
- The Clarke Cottage, erected by Mr. C. E. Clarke. (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344).
- The McCulloch Cottage, erected by Hon. W. McCulloch.(The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344).
- The Long Cottage, erected by Mrs. D. R. Long and her son, Mr. D. R. Long. (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344).
- The Alford Cottage, erected by Mr. and Mrs. J. C. Alford. (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344).
- The Laidlaw Cottages, erected by Mr. Robert Laidlaw. (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344).
- The Boubray Cottages, erected and endowed by Alderman Thomas Moubray and Mrs Moubray. (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344).
- The Felton Cottages, erected and endowed by Mr Alfred Felton. (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344). The Felton Cottages were constructed in 1891 on 41-47 Coppin Avenue. The Architect was Joseph Crook. (North Fitzroy Conservation Study 1978)
- The Ramsden Cottage, erected by Mr. Geo. Ramsden. (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344).
- The Malpas Cottage, erected by Mr W. J. Malpas. (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344).
- The Hearn Cottage, erected by Mr. and Mrs. James Hearn. (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344).
- The Benson Cottage, erected by Mr. R. G. Benson and Miss M. E. Benson. (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344).
The following four cottages were designed by Joseph Crook and constructed in 1898 (North Fitzroy Conservation Study 1978)
- The Dean Cottage, erected and endowed by the late Mr. Wm. Dean. (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344).
- The Aubrey Bowen Cottage, erected and endowed by the lade Dr Aubrey Bowen. (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344).
- The Wills Cottage, erected by Mrs. E. Wills in memory of her husband, Mr. H. S. Wills. (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344).
- The Carnival Cottage, erected to commemorate the carnival held in May 1898 by which the sum of 1,850 pounds was raised for the maintenance fund. (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344).
- The Sumner Cottage, erected by the Association in recognition of the generous support accorded to the Association by the trustees of the late Mr. T. J. Sumner, M.L.C. through Mr. James Grice. (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344).
- The Jessie McCall Cottage, erected by the late Miss Jessie McCall. (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344).
- The Cropper Cottage, erected by the late Mrs. A. H. Cropper (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344).
- The W. Bell Jackson Cottage, erected by the Association in recognition of Mr. W. B. Jackson’s presidency during the years 1897, 1898, 1899. (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344).
- The Edward Wilson Cottage, erected and endowed by the trustees of the late Mr. Edward Wilson. (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344).
- The Zox Memorial Cottage, erected by the citizens of Melbourne to the memory of the late Mr. E. L. Zox, M.L.A. (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344).
- The James Hingston Cottages, erected and endowed by the late Mr. James Hingston, of Melbourne. (The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903-1905, Vol 1, p. 344).
The Cyclopedia of Victoria 1903-1905, Vol 1, p345, provides a good summary of how the Association operated at this time “Each inmate of a cottage has a separate sitting-room and bedroom, and receives a weekly allowance of eight shillings. Irrespective of the inmates who are thus accommodated, there are eighteen persons who are in receipt of a weekly stipend, but for whose reception no cottages are available and this disbursement amounts in the aggregate to 500 pounds per annum. The list of members of the Association shows that there are 320 life governors, about 110 governors, and nearly 200 subscribers on the roll”
“When a vacancy occurs in one or more of the cottages, applications are invited by advertisement from old colonists desiring to be admitted. Each applicant must be recommended by at least three members of the Association to entitle the application to consideration. The applications are considered and inquired into by the relief committee, acting on whose report the council recommends to the members entitled to vote (life governors, governors, and ten years’ sub-scribers) three or four of the most deserving applicants, one of whom they elect by ballot to the vacancy”
“Members of the Association are particularly requested not to sign a recommendation of applicants unless they have some personal knowledge of them and their circumstances. A right of nominating an eligible person as an inmate is also vested in donors of 250 pounds to the buildings or endowment funds”
According to Frances O’Neill, Fitzroy, Melbourne’s First Suburb, “Although there was a good deal of emphasis on the deserving qualities of the recipients of the charity of the OCA, those who received charity were not admitted to membership of the OCA. There was a clear demarcation between those who gave and those who received. The cottages themselves were the most obvious demonstration of this relationship. To enter one was to be identified as a member of the deserving poor. And in spite of the OCA’s rhetoric about the contribution made to the colony by the honest toil of the early settlers, one would look in vain among the inmates of the Old Colonists’ hoes in the nineteenth century for the calloused hands of a retired railroad digger or railway navvy. Here in so far as backgrounds of the inmates can be ascertained, the emphasis was on the semi-genteel, the governess or schoolteacher, the clerk or failed squatter”.
In total O’Neill states there are “142 single-storey cottages … in which stand examples of Australian domestic architecture ranging from the early colonial bluestone to Californian bungalow and 1960s home units.” She writes that “each avenue (is) named for a Victorian pioneer”.
Additional sources of information from the North Fitzroy Conservation Study 1978, include:
- Building – March 1926 p.125-127, August 1927, p.133 “Semi detached cottages Gawler and Drummond Architects”
- Building and Engineering Mining Journal – 15 Oct 1892, p.3. Tenders wanted for the erection of brick houses. Joseph Crook Architect.
- Illustrated Australian News – 10 Oct 1870 p.12. Design of Almshouses of the Old Colonists Creek (Perspective Sketches and Description)
- Unpublished Thesis – Andrews, Gilligan and McMahon “Rushall Homes, Old Colonists History Essay B. Arch. University of Melbourne 1961 (thesis analyses development of complex includes a map of the complex and plans).
- Architectural Drawings – Vernon Collection, Ballarat (i) James A Wood 1911 “Keep Cottage” for the Old Colonist Association of Victoria. 1 water colour working drawing, 1 copy of specification (ii) Hugh L. Peck and Arthur Peck. Two cottages at North Fitzroy for the Old Colonists Association
- Architectural Drawings – Fitzroy Town Hall – (i) Proposed Alterations and Additions to Summer Cottage, Old Colonists Association. Verner Fick A.T.A.A 1 drawing and specification
- Melbourne University Archives – 20 drawings of the Old Colonists Association by Joseph Crook Architect.