Part 1 Early Days.
Tootgarook is just one of the many beautiful peninsula towns within the Shire of Flinders and today can be found between Rosebud and Rye, although historically the boundaries of these three suburbs are not as defined. Once the home of the Bunurong peoples, the peninsula was visited as early as the 1790s by white explorers, fishermen and bark gatherers. It was the site of the brief Collins Settlement, the first European Settlement in Victoria 1803-1804. Although now the ideas of leisure and the Mornington Peninsula are often inseparable there was little to be had for the early pioneers. At the kilns, on the farms, in the scrub and forest, the daily round was hard, repetitious, often lonely and rarely profitable. The houses of the period reflected their occupants’ way of life. Built of what was handy: wooden slabs, limestone, wattle and daub, and clay, quarried on the site or nearby and locally shaped into bricks and baked. As the years went by when useful material could be salvaged from wrecked or disabled ships it was also used.
Squatters and Pastoralists
From 1837-1841 grazing licences were taken up in the Port Phillip area. Squatting licences of 10 pounds per year were issued for any run. Under this system almost the whole of the Port Phillip District was acquired by squatters. In 1847 the Council gazetted and introduced in 1848 regulations that allowed squatters to purchase pre-emptive rights to their household blocks. Holders of pastoral runs were able to purchase up to 6400 acres of their runs before any land in the locality was made available to the general public. This privilege was given in recognition of their pioneering efforts. Pre-emptive right plans, which had to be lodged with the authorities, survive as important historical documents and show the boundaries of PR Allotments. As well, they often show the locations of buildings, fences, tracks, and descriptions of vegetation and soils in the vicinity. The area of Tootgarook was gazetted December 11th 1850 as an area of 6400 acres.
One of the first peninsula settlers was Edward William Hobson, in 1837 he held land as far as Point Nepean as a ‘squatter under licence’ and applied for a lease of the ‘waste land’ with a rated carrying capacity of 700 cattle and 5000 sheep. A condition of the application was that the applicant must have occupied the land for 12 months. As Hobson was, and had been engaged in Gippsland since 1843-44, someone must have sustained the rights as the original occupant. Hobson had also bought Woolwoolooboolook from George Smith and it is possible that they were partners in Tootgarook too.
Land owners and Leisure
Edward William Hobson’s application was granted, but he wrote to the Superintendent La Trobe ‘begging’ to transfer the licence to James Purves which was signed on July 16th 1850. James Purves, an architect, was the first in a long line of Melbourne businessmen to acquire property on the Mornington Peninsula. The transfer was not affected without friction however, as Hobson wanted payments for improvements to the holding. A visual survey in Purves’s name in 1851 accorded him a frontage of three miles east along the Bay from White Cliffs, to a point somewhere between Tootgarook and West Rosebud and three miles inland. Leisure, as we understand it, came into life of the Peninsula with men such as Dr Godfrey Howitt, J.B. Were, J and J.L Purves, Charles Gasvan Duffy and W.E Hearn. These men were among several remarkably gifted individuals for whom the Peninsula became a retreat from their Melbourne city lives. Purves described parts of his land as beautifully wooded and parklike, studded with banksia. Purves and others used some 15 acres of it as a racecourse and picnic ground. The remaining land fattened cattle and Horses were raced along the beach at low tide. Some records show that on June 23rd in 1869 Mr Purves forfeited in settled district to the Council; others suggest the estate remained with the Purves family until it was auctioned in 1890.
In the early days individual mail deliveries simply did not exist. Mail was collected from the post office by everyone. Initially the mail came from Melbourne to Mornington by a four horse coach, from there to Dromana by a two horse coach, and from there on, by a mailman on horseback. One carried mail to Portsea and back, another to Flinders and back. The inward mail arrived at Dromana at 3pm and the outbound mail arrived at Dromana at 8-9pm. Wally Gibson had the local mail contract for many years and it was a tradition that the mail must go through in all weathers or in the face of any other disaster.
It is recorded that in the year 1858, 180 pounds were paid per annum to Francis Cavell to carry mail from Snapper Point (Mornington) to Tootgarook. Official records show that the first Post Office was opened 18th January 1858 as the ‘Tootgarook Post Office number 165.’ There is a possibility (but it is unverified) that the Post Office operated for a time from the school or teacher’s residence known as the Tootgarook common school with the Teacher Thomas W. Courtney. The name was changed to Rye 1st September 1879.
Early Tootgarook Schools
On the 4th December 1855 The Church of England opened the first Tootgarook school with William B. Wilson as Head Teacher. In 1856 the Denominational Schools Board granted 200 pounds for a school building. The earliest recorded correspondence with the Board of Education is dated 16th July 1867, advising: The ‘Tootgarook common school No. 623’ “Needed aid with the master’s salary, and that the committee wanted it to become a vested school.” The building was 30ftx16ft with stone walls, a wattle and daub kitchen with an “utterly bad” paling roof.
By August 1873 John Cain, Correspondent of the Board of Advice of the Kangerong Road District, requested ‘a SAFE State School,’ to replace ‘a DANGEROUS Church School.’ In November Head Teacher George Ellis enquired about his future position at this still non-vested school. 12th May 1874 one wall fell and a second was dangerously cracked. After only two days the school resumed in John Campbell’s building which consisted of one large room 30ftx18ft, and two small rooms, all rented for 10 shillings weekly. On the 11th of August Departmental Architect and surveyor, Captain F.R Grantham of ‘Mitford’ Flinders, pronounced the building suitable, ‘though lacking a fireplace.’
In May 1875, John Cain recommended walls of local limestone, which was abundant, would improve with age, required very little maintenance and would be cool in summer for the proposed new school. Lime burning was about to be resumed and a great increase in population was anticipated. Thomas Doyle, who succeeded W. O’Connor, as Head Teacher, blamed the leaking thatched roof and lack of a fireplace for his and the children’s frequent illnesses. Thomas Doyle must have requested leave of fourteen days, because correspondence indicated it would not be granted, until he ‘visited the nearest Medical Officer on some Saturday’. This would have been quite a journey of 22 miles to Snapper Point. Between the 31st October – 20th November 1875 the little old school No. 623 closed and the new building, SS1667 Rye, opened under Head Teacher Thomas Doyle.
The later development of Tootgarook will be continued in part 2.
Image from State Library of Victoria Collection:
Books used for this article:
History and Heritage: Shire of Flinders Heritage Study. Context Pty Ltd. Dr Carlotta Kellaway and Helen Lardner. 1992.
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Victorian Squatters. Robert Spreadborough and Hugh Anderson. Red Rooster Press 1983.
Lime Land and Leisure: Peninsular History in the Shire of Flinders. Charles N. Hollinshed. Shire of Flinders Municipal Offices 1982.
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Vision and Realisation: A Centenary History of State Education in Victoria, Volume 3. Education Department of Victoria 1973.
Rye: A Book of Memories Compiled and edited Nell Arnold. Rye Tootgarook Area Committee.
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Other interesting books on the area:
He Volunteered For Service: The men of Rye and District who enlisted during WW1. Linda Berndt, Danielle Burns and Pauline Powell OAM. Rye Hisotrical Society. 1968.
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Amongst the old folks: Rye cemetery. Phil Cain and Mick Woiwod. Rye Hisotrical Society. 2007
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Arthur Dark: My memories of Rye
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Rye: A short history compiled by N. Arnold on behalf of the Neapean Historyical Societ 1981.
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Rye: A book of memories originially compiled by Nell Arnold 1985. Rye Historyical Societ 2nd Edition 2018
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Rye Primary School NO.1667: A history of the limeburners’ School, village and pioneering families celebrating 125 years 1875-2000.Patricia Appleford.
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