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The Manor House

The Manor House, built for Captain Bacchus in the late 1840s. This photo was taken in the 1980s. Photo – State Library of Victoria

Bacchus Marsh & District Historical Society Inc. / Victorian Heritage Register

A Scottish immigrant, Kenneth Clarke, who had immigrated to Van Diemen’s Land in 1818, was one of the earliest of the pastoralists to follow [John] Batman and [John] Fawkner across Bass Strait. In December 1836, Clarke bought a flock from George Town Tasmania which he then drove along the Maribyrnong River valley in search of new grazing areas on behalf of the Great Lakes Pastoral Company. In 1838, Clarke chose to take control of land in an area now known as the Pentland Hills after conceding his initial holding near the Werribee and Lerderderg Rivers to Captain William Bacchus and his son who had also brought sheep across from Tasmania. Once Clarke had moved on, Bacchus concentrated on consolidating his holdings in the area. He established a head station and built four outstations to ensure possession of an area of a radius of three miles [4.8km] around each hut. In William Darke’s survey of the River Werribee and its tributaries undertaken in 1839-40, a structure is shown on the present Manor House site. The nature of the structure, which was elsewhere referred to as ‘Captain Bacchus’s house’, is not well established, but a brick building on the site possibly pre-dates the existing house.

With the foundation of his status as a retired military officer and English county magistrate to support him, Captain Bacchus quickly developed close social and business connections in Melbourne. He was a foundation member of the influential Melbourne Club, and a member of the Melbourne Cricket Club and the Pastoral and Agricultural Society of Australia Felix. Captain Bacchus’s commercial activities in Melbourne combined with the success of a number of astute land purchases in the early 1840s enabled him to avoid the depression of 1842 which had adversely affected many of his colleagues. In 1846-47 Captain Bacchus erected a substantial and imposing house of a scale which reflected an image of a suitable dwelling for a country gentleman. Captain Bacchus’s occupation of the Manor House was however, short-lived. In February 1849, Bacchus died at his home, having resided in it for about only two years. Following his death, the house passed into the ownership of his son William Henry Bacchus. W Henry Bacchus chose to live on his Peerewur run rather than move to his father’s property.

In 1851 he sold the Manor House to John Atkins and Robert Nalder Clarke. Clarke occupied the house and resided there until 1853 when the whole of the property was leased to the Victorian government for use as a court of Petty Sessions. Following the end of the lease in 1856, the property was sold to James Elijah Crook, the Woolpack Inn’s proprietor. When advertised for sale in 1856, the house was referred to as the Mansion House, rather than the Manor House, but it is not known for what period the house carried that name. The Manor House was occupied by the Crook family for the next ninety years.

The importance of the Manor House as an historic structure was confirmed when in 1959 it became one of the earliest properties to receive a National Trust of Victoria classification. The house went through a series of ownerships before it was sold in 1962 to Dr Pulteney Malcolm and his wife who restored it under the guidance of National Trust honorary architects John and Phyllis Murphy. As one of Victoria’s oldest residences, the Manor House at Bacchus Marsh is a significant element in the township which bears the name of its distinguished first owner.