The tall, stately, white painted two storey house, constructed of stuccoed brick – Como House is a gracious colonial mansion, prominently situated on a South Yarra hill overlooking the Yarra River. This stately home built in Italianate architecture gives a rare glimpse of the life of wealthy early settlers of Victoria. The house and the surroundings exuberate a charming combination of elegance and architectural beauty with tantalising memories of a gracious past. Its delicate wrought ironwork and slender pillars characterise the colonial style. The house now serves as a Museum House run by the National Trust of Australia (Victoria).
History of the house
The first land sale in Prahran was held on 10th June 1840 and crown allotments 11(20 acres) and 12(34 acres) were sold to Alfred Langhorne. After a succession of owners, the free hold to this land which extended down to Yarra River was acquired by Barrister Edward Eire Williams in 1846. The first stage of Como House was built in 1847 for Eire Williams and his family. He named the house after Lake Como in Italy, where it is said he proposed to his wife Jessie. The single storey house stood on 54 acres of land sweeping down to the Yarra River. In 1852, it was sold to Frederick Dalgety and in 1853 it again changed hands and was bought by wealthy Wine and Spirit merchant John Brown. Brown enlarged the house by adding a second storey.
John Brown was a young Scottish master builder who emigrated to Van Diemen’s land in 1832 and came to the new settlement of Melbourne in 1838.
John Brown appointed William Sangster as his head gardener in 1855 to transform the bushland into garden orchard and farm areas. On the slopes of the Yarra, Sangster established an orchard of peers and apple varieties.
At the west end of the present Como Park, on the hill above the swamp, a Gardner’s Cottage was built around this time. The cottage had iron doors and shutters to protect the inmates from spears of aborigines who have camped nearby. (The gardener’s cottage doesn’t exist now)
Charles and Caroline Armitage, wealthy pastoralists purchased Como in 1864 in a mortgagee’s auction for £14,000. The two-storey ballroom wing was built in 1874. Arthur E Johnson was commissioned to design a billiard room and a ballroom extension, with children’s bedrooms above. Arthur Johnson’s touch can be found on Melbourne General Post Office, Melbourne Church of England Grammar School and the Melbourne Law Courts.
The property was self-contained on those days. It had cows for milk, a piggery and a meat house and hay were grown to meet the needs of the stock. The property had an army of servants, extensive stables and coach houses.
The park lands of Como was almost treated like a public property. Most residents of Prahran district had at one time or the other enjoyed a picnic in some quite corner of the grounds. Towards the Toorak road of the grounds, there was a “Lovers Walk”, where many a courting couple wandered.
Charles Armitage died in 1876 at the age of fifty-two, of a pancreatic disorder. The same year Caroline with her children, went for a world tour through Egypt, India, China, Japan, Russia and Europe. During this tour, Caroline purchased novelties from around to world to decorate Como. The family was back in Melbourne in 1881.
Caroline died in 1909, aged 77. In 1911, Como estate was subdivided into 64 allotments and was auctioned on 25 February 1911. There was a condition to the vendors that no school, church, shop or venues of public entertainment should be erected in the land and this should be held in perpetuity. The Como House was purchased by John Buchan for £7500 on behalf of the daughters of Caroline and Charles Armitage.
In 1921, 35 acres were sold to Prahran City Council. Ten years later, during the great depression, with gift from Sidney Myer of 10,000 pounds, sustenance workers were employed to develop it into Como Park. Now the Como Estate is only 5 acres.
Out of Charles and Caroline’s nine children, Ethel Maude died in 1872, aged seven, after he fell sick with diphtheria. Ernest Adolphus died in 1898, aged thirty-one. Only two of her sons married and out of their four daughters only Constance married but lived most of her life single after her husband left her. Ada died in 1939. Laura lived as a recluse at Como and died in 1956. In 1959, after 95 years of family ownership, Charles and Carolyne’s last surviving children, Constance and Leila sold the Como estate on extremely generous terms to newly formed National Trust of Australia (Victoria).
National Trust claims Como Estate due to its high maintenance costs have been a drain on the trust’s finances.
Location: Como House and Gardens, Cnr Williams Road and Lechlade Avenue, South Yarra
The gardens at Como and the Stables Cafe are open Monday – Saturday 9am to 5pm and Sunday 10am to 5pm. Closed on Good Friday and Christmas day. Bookings Office 03 9656 9889 (Mon-Fri)
House guided tours are run on select dates. To book visit www.trybooking.com/ZPGL
Como Shop Opening hours: Saturday – Sunday: 10.30am-3.30pm
Guided tour to the house covers the history it and the families that have lived on the property. The tour run for approximately 45 minutes on most weekends. Tickets for the tour are released 8 weeks in advance and can be purchased online or can be purchase limited tickets from the Como Shop in the servant’s courtyard (opposite the Stables Cafe). There is a maximum of 15 people per tour.
The horse stables of the Como house now serve as a café, ‘The Stables’, Visitors can opt to enjoy freshly brewed coffee and patisserie at the Café.
Como’s magnificent gardens are perfect location for Wedding Ceremonies and photographs and the historic Ballroom for receptions.
Email – email@example.com or phone (03) 9656 9845.
Most of the information provided here are collected from the information plaques at Como House gardens.
The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954) Sat 17 Jul 1954, Page 7, Elegant Como House – retrieved through Trove on 4th November 2019