Como House in South Yarra, Melbourne, is one of the few remaining large estates still existing in the suburbs. It was built in 1847, just over a decade after European settlement of the Port Phillip district. For almost a century, it was owned by the Armytage family, wealthy graziers and prominent members of Melbourne society. Originally, the grounds were 54 acres, but today the house is surrounded by 6.5 acres of gardens. Como House is owned by the National Trust of Victoria.
These are the names of the members of the Armytage family, fairly typical for the nineteenth century, and also an interesting look at a slice of Melbourne history.
Charles Henry (1824-1876)
Born and educated in Tasmania, Charles was wealthy by inheritance, and increased the family fortune through working a large sheep holding outside Geelong, named Fulham Station. He bought Como House for forty thousand pounds in 1864 as his family’s town house, hearing about the sale at his club while in Melbourne on business. When his family moved to Melbourne, they soon established themselves as one of the premier families in the Government House set. He died of a pancreatic disorder just after a year after lavish extensions to the house were completed.
Caroline Morell nee Tuckwell (1832-1909)
Caroline was from England; she emigrated to Australia as a teenager with her family. Caroline was used to managing the sheep station during her husband’s absences, and once wrote that the happiest part of her life was teaching the Aboriginal children and worker’s children alongside her own. After being widowed, and left with extensive properties and investments to manage, Caroline took her nine children, a retinue of servants and two cows on a world tour for four years. (The cows were to feed the baby). During the tour, she sent crate-loads of mirrors, vases, chandeliers and furniture back to Como House.
Charles Norman Learmouth (1857-1942)
Educated at Geelong Grammar, Charles attended Cambridge University in England while the rest of of the family were on a world tour. At university, he rowed in the Cambridge eight, and his team won the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley. Married Leila Matilda Buckland Halloran in 1890. Charles was called by his middle name, Norman, to distinguish him from his father.
Ada Elizabeth (1859-1939)
Ada worked for the Red Cross during World War I, and devoted her spare time to the Boy Scout movement. An avid photographer, Ada spent years documenting her home and her family. Ada and her sister Leila were the last surviving members of the children of Charles and Caroline, and they sold Como House and all its contents to the National Trust of Victoria in 1959 – the first house the National Trust bought. They also left an extensive archive of diaries, letters, journals and photographs.
George Herbert (1861-1925)
Educated at Toorak College in Melbourne, and Western College in Brighton, England. At school in England he proved a champion athlete and won the South of England School’s Cup two years in a row. He was managing partner at Fulham Station. Married Amelia Fanny Tyler in 1892.
Harold Augustus (1862-1926)
Educated at Geelong Grammar, Toorak College, and Western College. He managed several pastoral properties in the family’s possession, and was also part of the horse racing world.
Ethel Maud (1865-1872)
Died during a diphtheria epidemic, aged seven.
Ernest Adolphus (1867-1898)
Laura Evelyn (1869-1956)
Frail and artistic, Laura remained behind at Como House when her sisters Ada, Constance and Leila were away from Melbourne for eleven years, unable to leave Europe because of the First World War. She lived the life of a recluse from the 1920s onwards.
Constance Caroline (1871-1969)
During the round of parties and celebrations to mark the Federation of Australia in 1901, Constance met Captain Arthur Fitzpatrick, aide-de-camp to the Governor of Victoria. They were married on May 9 1906, and their wedding was the social event of the season, with the reception held at Como House. (Constance’s bridal photo was used for Girls Names from the Top 100 of the 1900s). Constance and Arthur went to live in England; however the marriage did not turn out well, and Arthur abandoned his wife, taking all her money with him. Constance went back to Australia in 1910, and thereafter lived the life of a spinster.
Frederick Felix Henry (1874-1910)
Died in London.
Leila Christina (1875-1965)
In 1891, Leila attended finishing school in Paris, and during this year, her mother and older sisters stayed in London. In 1894, she made her debut during the Melbourne Cup season at the ballroom of Como House. When War War I broke out, Leila joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment of the Red Cross, and was sent to an Australian military hospital in France. She was joined by her older sister Constance, where they worked as untrained nurses and ambulance drivers, picking up the wounded and the dying from the battlefields.
(Top photo shows Constance, Leila, Ernest, Laura and Frederick on their European tour c. 1878; iimage from Culture Victoria. Bottom photo shows Como House as it is today; image from Melbourne Fresh Daily).