If Only the Walls Could Talk
by Carol Poole, member of City of Moorabbin Historical Society.
A childhood memory of seeing an old house on the top of the hill, across open paddocks and the Elster Creek, inspired a member of the historical society to dig deeper into the history of the old house in Yawla Street, Bentleigh.
The property is currently the East Bentleigh Club, run by Melbourne Football Club who until recently owned the property, they sold to property developers in 2021.
Buried deep beneath the many extensions and modernisation is a house that was built sometime in the 1850’s from handmade bricks of clay taken from the nearby Elster Creek, the history of which reflects the changing times and fortunes of the district and the people who helped write its history.
The early owners, looking out from the upper windows, would have seen thick scrub and stately red gums, rolling grasslands and swamps. Later the orchards and gardens as the property and surrounds were established.
Today it is surrounded by streets with rows of neat suburban houses. Its smooth bowling greens, well-cut lawns and carpark where once Kangaroos, peacocks and emus used to roam, for one of its earlier owners kept a private zoo on the grounds.
The house was built by Walter Adamson in the 1850’s and subsequently was the home of the families of Flora Rachel Wallace Dunlop, Sir Thomas Bent, Robert Gray Ford, Betsy Armstrong and Arthur Crozier. The property was known as Whitmuir Hall, Killearnan and the East Bentleigh Club.
The land surrounding the property was used for orchards, market gardens and agistment of horses.
As the population of Melbourne grew the property surrounding the old house was subdivided and sold.
Walter Adamson, a hotelier, sold the property as his fortunes that were made and lost in the colonies dwindled. Mr Adamson built a hotel on the site of the current Vue Grand, on Hesse Street, Queenscliff, which was named the Australasian Hotel, which he sold due to his inability to pay his mortgage.
Flora Rachel Wallace Dunlop, the wife of a property owner in the Western District of Victoria, purchased the property after her husband had died in in the mid to late 1850’s. In the 1877 rate books the property, owned by F. R. Wallace Dunlop was valued at £225 consisting of 155 acres with a 14 roomed dwelling.
Sir Thomas Bent then purchased the property with the view to subdivide the land in anticipation of a period of development that was bound to come when the railway line to Mordialloc was opened four years later. Thomas did not live in the property and within the year of purchase, subdivided and sold the land.
In 1877, Robert Gray Ford purchased the property, being the house, Whitmuir Hall, and 13 acres. The statuary and fountain which still stand in the grounds of the East Bentleigh Club, where purchased by Mr Ford which were valued at £1000 at the time of his death in 1891.
In 1893, the property was purchased by Mrs Betsy Armstrong, by coincidence, another widow of a wealthy land owner of the Western District. Betsy renamed the property to Kilearnan.
Betsy moved to Toorak and the property remained vacant for a few year under the management of a caretaker, Mr John McKerral until it was sold to Arthur Crozier and his family.
Arthur Crozier was a great racing enthusiast who bred many good horses on his stations on the Murray River. After his death in 1929 the family remained living in the house until it was sold in 1949.
The Bentleigh Club
A group of local business men and residents saw the need for a Men’s Club in the district and when the Killearnan came onto the market, in 1949, their visions became a reality. They turnrd the old house into club rooms and a function area. A bowling green and tennis court on the grounds were built to cater to the sporting members of the club.
For more detail of the history of the property and the lives of those who passed though read the full research document. “If only the walls could talk.”
Killernan taken during the time of Mrs Armstrong’s occupancy.