Malcolm Farnsworth
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The Clarke Family

Rupertswood, Sunbury, the country home of Sir William Clarke built in 1874 under the supervision of Joseph Clarke
The Clarkes transformed the sober home of Alfred Watson into what was probably the most splendid mansion in privileged Toorak at the time. It reflected their prominent position in society and their influence and interests across several of the Australian colonies and in New Zealand. Mandeville Hall parallelled the family's fortunes.

Through its name it was a reminder of their Tasmanian origins. Joseph Clarke was born at Norton Mandeville near Gretna in Tasmania in 1834, the third son of William John Turner or 'Big' Clarke, one of the greatest land owners in Australia. 'Big' Clarke had a shrewd head for business, a keen eye for livestock and a strong sense of dynasty. The patriarch, W J T Clarke, died in 1874, two years before Joseph bought Mandeville Hall. His eldest son, William, who was born in 1831, became head of the family and the largest land-holder in the colony of Victoria. He started his own home, Rupertswood, at Sunbury in 1874. In 1882 he was granted Victoria's first and only hereditary baronetcy. At the peak of the Boom, in 1888, Sir William built his Melbourne home, Cliveden, since demolished for the construction of the Melbourne Hilton.

The second son, Thomas, became estranged from his two brothers as a result of his marriage. William had courted Hannah Nicolas of Ouse in Van Diemens Land. Michael Clarke, the family historian, writes: 'But Hannah had a mind of her own. She refused the most eligible bachelor in Tasmania, preferring instead, Tom, the Clarkes' second son and a far more dashing and volatile match. Regrettably, in accepting Tom she precipitated a rift between the brothers that widened over the years.' He was given Quorn Hill near Campbelltown in Tasmania as a wedding gift. Thomas Clarke died in 1878. Joseph Clarke inherited the rest of his father's substantial Tasmanian lands including the favourite, Norton Mandeville.

Joseph had married his first cousin, Caroline Clarke, in 1860, at Timsbury House near Glenorchy in Tasmania, the home of his mother who lived apart from W J T Clarke. They were given Norton Mandeville as a wedding present from his father. Both were eventually buried there side by side.

As well as his pastoral interests, Joseph Clarke had local business interests and dealings in Melbourne. He was a philanthropist and is said to have donated 5,000 pounds towards the building of St Paul's Cathedral but only 50 pounds each to the Irish Famine Relief Fund and to the fund for the construction of St Patrick's Cathedral. He was also touched by scandal. Michael Cannon in his book Land Boom and Bust called Joseph Clarke 'This reprobate younger son [of a quasi- aristocratic Victorian family], the dissolute playboy of the Melbourne in the 1880s.'

In 1892 a woman called Clara Parker, whom Clarke had met many years before in Tasmania and who seems to have become his mistress, sued him for 500 pounds damages for alleged slander. It was all to do with promissory notes and speculative land deals in the Kooweerup Swamp. Clara, when the trial was reported by the Age, was described as 'about 30, above medium height, of good physique, dark complexion, and may be fairly described as good looking.' That's not what she looked like in a contemporary cartoon which showed the bearded lover signing a note above the bed and another man hiding below it. The revelations about her private life became so distressing that Clara refused to answer any more questions and abandoned the case in tears. Clarke was represented by Mr James Purves QC who went on to defend many of the notorious landboomers.

The same day Joseph Clarke went on to lay charges of forgery against Clara Parker. She was arrested, could not raise bail and spent seven weeks in prison. A week before her trial, her bail was paid by two mystery men. She failed to appear and it was claimed that she had been 'forcibly removed from the colony'. Three months later Mrs Parker dramatically re-appeared in Melbourne with an extraordinary story. She had been drugged and kidnapped! The story told by Michael Cannon and based on the lady's testimony is pure farce, however, as her incompetent abductors tried to spirit her away presumably to save the reputation of Joseph Clarke. Having put her on a steamer in Auckland bound for San Francisco, they abandoned their charge telling the purser not to believe anything she might say in her 'hallucinations'. She jumped ship at Honolulu and turned back for Melbourne where she fronted up to face the charge of forgery.

Joseph Clarke, the key witness for the prosecution, when he gave evidence could only say that he couldn't remember anything about any promissory notes, although at least one note was proved to be his, and he denied any knowledge of the abduction. Other witnesses were called but in the end Mrs Parker was found not guilty. The Age thundered rather tongue in cheek against the jury but nothing much happened. The Clarkes tried to maintain their dignity and position in society. Then, in 1893, Mrs Parker sued in turn for 10,000 pounds damages for malicious prosecution.

This second case did nothing for the reputation of either party, nor for those who had played roles in the earlier farce. Michael Cannon writes that the barristers summed up, one saying that Clarke was 'an easy tempered old voluptuary' while Mrs Parker had been 'a pure woman living reputably with her husband until one day she met a millionaire in the form of Joe Clarke, and that meeting marked her fall', and the other barrister, for the gentleman Clarke, saying she was 'a dreadful woman ... a harpy ... an impudent adventuress'. The jury found in favour of Mrs Parker and required Joseph Clarke to pay her 1,250 pounds damages and her costs. But she was insolvent and, after the sensation of the case, drifted into obscurity.

Only the best would do for the Clarke family however. For example, Joseph and Caroline Clarke's portraits were painted by Tennyson Cole; he in oils and she in watercolours. Cole, a society artist in London, had come to Melbourne in the hope of heading the National Gallery of Victoria. He also painted W J T 'Big' Clarke. Joseph and Caroline engaged the fashionable architect, Charles Webb, to transform their house. It went from a French Neo-Classical style to a robust Italian style strongly influenced by the work of the great Renaissance architect, Andrea Palladio.

The Clarkes' time at Mandeville Hall ended suddenly with Joseph Clarke's death in 1895. His estate was embarrassed with debts far beyond the estate's capacity to pay. The Colonial Bank took possession as mortgagee and Mrs Clarke removed to another house nearby called Timsbury after the Tasmania home of Eliza Clarke, Joseph's mother. The contents of the house were put up for sale, although no auction catalogue has been discovered, and the house was empty for several years. The Bank's records show that Mrs Clarke 'removed' the light fittings of the drawing room with herself to Timsbury. She was asked to return them by the Bank's Board which she did and they are still there today. Joseph Clarke had been the Bank's Governor.

Most of the grounds of Mandeville Hall were subdivided and sold off as thirty-three mansion and villa sites along Malvern and Orrong Roads and the newly created Mandeville Crescent. It may be that the flats at the corner of Orrong Road and Mandeville Crescent, again owned by the school, were built on the foundations of the original gatehouse. The sale, conducted by C J & T Ham & W L Baillieu & Co, took place in 1902. | | | | © 2002-2003