Hugh Glass and Flemington House


Hugh Glass (1817- 1871), speculator, squatter and merchant, was born at Porta Ferry, County Down, Ireland, he was the son of Thomas Glass, merchant, and his wife Rachael, nee Pollock. In 1840 he migrated to Victoria and began farming on the Merri Creek; by 1845 he had established himself as a station agent and merchant. In 1853 he married Lucinda (Lucy), youngest daughter of Contain Nash, a Victorian squatter and station holder. After his marriage Hugh Glass began dealing in livestock.

In 1849 the estate ( owned by Watson ) with 2,494 acres of land in Essendon district, including 107 acres running west along Buckley Street to Waverly Street was sold to Hugh Glass. At this time he built Flemington House, valued in 1850 s at 60,000 pounds. Hugh Glass also built an artificial lake on the estate and imported white swans from Ireland and black swans from Western Australia. The landscaped garden sloped down to the Maribyrnong River, it became the showplace of Melbourne.

As an agent and dealer, Glass speculated in buying and selling stations throughout eastern Australia. He also owned a core of runs from which he sent stock to Newmarket sales, the most notable being the Wimmera and Westernport stations of Moyreisk, Nettyallock, Avoca Forest, Bullock Creek, Weddikar and Glenrowan. Although Glass invested in mining and suburban real estate, his absorbing interest was stock and station market and he considered himself primarily a squatter.

In 1859 the Melbourne and Essendon Railway Company was incorporated with 75,000 ten pounds shares, Hugh Glass the biggest property owner in the colony at the time was chief shareholder while McCracken and Smith families were also major shareholders too. In 1876 the Melbourne and Essendon Railway company was sold to the State Government. In 1861 Hugh Glass built the Flemington National school opened on the estate owned by Glass. First head teacher was Mr Joshua Mason under the common school act it was renamed the Flemington school number 250.

Glass was at his peak in 1862, he was reputed the richest man in Victoria, worth some 800,000 pounds. As a businessman, he was brilliant organizer with a detailed knowledge of law, which he used to his advantage. He was also alert to the possibilities of manipulating the men who made the law. For instance, in the 1860s he formed and directed an association aimed at influencing parliamentarians to pass land bills sympathetic to the pastoral interest. Although the extent of his influence is uncertain, James McKean claimed in 1869 that one of Glass s associations had spent 80,000 pounds in influencing members of parliament.

Without a doubt Glass had made himself a force to be feared and reckoned with in Victorian politics. He created around himself an aura of absolute power and self-assurance. At Flemington House he entertained lavishly, while his office in Bourke street was the centre of financial and political influence. By his style of life he buoyed up his contemporaries trust in himself, his methods and empire.

With all his ability Glass was unable to maintain his position. Glass, unlike other big squatters such as Richard Goldsbrough , bought large areas of freehold, mostly by acquiring certificates under the 1865 land act and by employing dummies (using others to buy properties for himself). This latter method of Glass s became notorious and a poem entitled The charge of the dirty Three Hundred, reputedly written by a clerk in the lands Department was widely circulated,

Pay them all said Hugh Glass
Let them all go to hell
All that is left of them
All the three hundred.

From his land he had to borrow heavily, his pastoral empire became mortgaged assets which after the 1865 drought were shown to be vulnerable.

By mid-1860s Glass owned 35,000 acres scattered over twenty runs, none of which was particularly productive. In his intrigues to acquire land he often lost sight of its economic potential and bought unwisely.

In the late 1850s he had also extended his leasehold interests into parts of New South Wales and Victoria. Unreliable water supplies, the drought in 1865-66 and 1868-69 exposed the weakness of his leases and freehold in these areas. The droughts decimated his assets and reduced the resale value of the remaining stock and of the stations themselves. Glass attempted to extricate himself by selling some of his stations, but did so at a loss.

Worse still, three of his purchasers failed in 1869, owing him over 100,000 pounds. In that year Glass s business empire collapsed; he assigned his estate to trustees, with debts reckoned at more than 500,000 pounds. All that remained was his suburban land, which later helped to clear his estate of its debits.

Glass s political influence in Melbourne came under attack at the same time. A select committee found him guilty of taking part in corrupt practices and parliament committed him to jail. The Supreme Court, headed by Sir William Stawell, a former partner, promptly reversed parliament s decision, arguing the Legislature had encroached upon the powers of the judiciary. The decision to release Glass was popular and he was widely congratulated. However, the popularity of his release derived as much from feeling that parliament was corrupt, overbearing and ripe for censure as from any sympathy with Glass himself. Nonetheless his political power had been effectively broken by scandal.

Glass s personal life was also placed under stress, Lucy the baby had died in 1866 and another daughter, Evangeline, died in June 1869 aged eleven months. In addition Glass s own health was deteriorating from cancer of the liver, he died on 15 May 1871 aged 55.

The inquest jury found that the immediate cause of death was an overdose of chloral, administered at his own request by his son, with the object of causing sleep to relieve pain. However the evidence at inquest by two doctors who attended Glass on his death indicated that the dose was fatal only because of his already diseased condition from which he might have died in a few months.

Glass had enjoyed an illustrious career, within ten years he fell from financial heights to bankruptcy and from success as a political manipulator to rebuke by a parliament. His strength lay in his vitality and opportunism but he lacked foresight. His political dealings left him open to public criticism while his rash purchases of land strained his financial resources, leaving his pastoral interests exposed to danger of drought. In the event his network of power and wealth collapsed.

Flemington house was a mayor landmark earlier this century and it is just a memory now but should be revived, according to Local historians.

Flemington mansion stood on hill where the Flemington Primary School now is and was part of sheep property owned by Mr. Watson, one of the state s earliest squatters. The original property, with a modest dwelling, extended over a vast area from Moonee Ponds Creek to present Showgrounds.

Flemington estate was sold to Hugh Glass, who settled there after his marriage in 1852. He determined to spare no expense in converting it into one of finest estates near Melbourne; it cost an estimated 60,000 pounds.

It took nearly two years and an army of tradesmen s to erect Flemington House with fittings and furniture coming from England.

The mansion was of bluestone and brick with a large ballroom, as big as a suburban town hall and 20 bedrooms.

It also had a music room, French room, smoke room, billiard room, dining room, library, kitchen with servant rooms off the side and two staircases that run upstairs both sides of entry.

This was surrounded by a balcony supported by 72 Corinthian pillars and 250 balustrades. Hugh Glass built an artificial lake that ran under the house with an underwater viewing area, which was made of glass that could be lit so people could view the fish, he had stocked from all over world.

In the grounds, numerous glasshouses, arbours, hothouses and aviaries were built. The hothouses and aviaries were moved to Melbourne Zoo after Hugh Glass death in 1871 and are still used today.

During his time at the estate, Glass experimented with growing a number of diverse crops such as tea, cotton, coffee, rice, guava, banana, and pineapple and even sugar cane with varying success.

Glass imported many brightly plumaged birds and songbirds to keep in the gardens; he also kept emus, kangaroos and ostriches. During the years that followed Glass was improving the Flemington estate, he was actively occupied in managing various large pastoral and agricultural estates elsewhere. Special paddocks were set-aside at Flemington to provide for depasturing of valuable imported stock before their transfer to properties.

Glass filled Flemington estate with several angora goats, deer, llamas and camels. Some were kept on the estate; the camels were subsequently used in the rescue Bourke and Will’s .

After Hugh Glass death in 1871 his wife Lucinda took over the mansion and 60 acres, the rest put in the hands of the trustee s.

The trustee s sold the land in land boom of 1880s, it was purchased by a syndicate at a very high price but when the boom collapsed the estate was reverted to the trustee s. At one time there was wide support for property to be converted to a public park but the government wouldn t buy the land and house.

the land knows as Glass’s paddock was sold on January 7 1892 and Moonee Ponds Coffee Palace opened on Puckle Street.

The mansion and a great portion of the property was purchased by a horse trader named Henry Madden in 1906, he renamed the property Travancore estate after a British army base in India.

Mr. Henry Madden and his brother spent their boyhood and youth living on the estate as their family live on the estate next door to Glass.

Henry Madden subdivided part of the property in 1918 and most of the rest during the 1920s. He retained the mansion and 60 acres until 1926. In 1926 he sold the mansion and land to the Victorian State Government. Real estate agents marketed the area as the new Toorak and like the name Travancore , street names on the new subdivisions, such as Cashmere St and Delhi Court, originated from India.

In 1926 the State Government purchased the mansion and transformed it into a residential special school and outpatients.

Clinic for intellectually disabled children. The gates to the former mansion are still standing at the Mt. Alexander Road at entrance to The Flemington Primary School.

Travancore mansion , was demolished by the Victorian state Government in 1945.

Further Reading

  • R.W. Chalmers The annals of Essendon-volume (1850 to 1924)
  • Essendon history societies from 1971 to 2003
  • Essendon historic building. Historic Buildings of Flemington and Essendon,(1985)
  • Essendon gazette. Men of Past,1992
  • Owen, Garry, (E Finn), The Chronicles of Early Melbourne, (Melb, 1888
  • Herington. J, Witness to Things Past (Melb, 1966)
  • H. H. Peck, Memoirs of a Stockman (Melb, 1942)
  • Kiddie, M.L, Men of Yesterday (Melb, 1961)
  • Sayers C.E, Syme David, A life (Melb, 1965)
  • Age, 16 May 1871

One thought on “Hugh Glass and Flemington House”

  1. I need to contact
    anyone named Glass in Geelong area I have a family tree on large parchment so many influential names related to gentry. So I need help
    Carol (Wimbledon) London

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