|The theme photo for this week's Sepia Saturday blog is a house.|
Serendipity. I was browsing through the Picture Victoria's photo collection, randomly putting in key words as you do, and was absolutely astonished when this one popped up on my screen.
|Phelan home, Sydney Rd, Coburg (Pentridge), c1870 [Picture Victoria ID 16437]|
When Daniel Phelan arrived from Ireland in 1856 he was employed by the Penal Department as a warder and worked at Pentridge Prison north of the city of Melbourne. He retired as Chief Warder in 1892. The village that grew around the prison was also called Pentridge but in 1869 that was changed to Coburg because of the stigma.
In the 1850s the Governer of the prison and the fifty warders lived on site, with about 400 prisoners housed in dormitories that were clean and well-ventilated but crowded. The prisoners worked as carpenters, tailors, shoemakers, coopers, tinsmiths, painters, stonecutters and labourers. For several decades the warders (mostly Irish) formed the majority of the district's adult population and they socialised together outside work as well because of their shift work hours of up to fifteen hours!
In 1863 the rule about living on site was changed to a requirement that the warders must live within 400 yards of the prison in case of trouble so Daniel and Jane Phelan with their growing family were able to move from the prison into their own house on Sydney Road. An article in the Coburg Historical Society's Newsletter (September 1993) shows that in 1881 there were 74 warders and other staff were living in the local community, concentrated in a few streets near the prison. One in fifteen persons in Coburg was a prison officer.
|An old sewerage map shows the Phelan home and Pentridge Prison|
The house was only small but Daniel and Jane had nine children. Only two married and several died young but after the parents died three sisters (later four when a sister was widowed and returned home) and a brother stayed on in the house. I've heard a number of stories about 'the aunts' - they grew more eccentric as they got older and I think there may have been a 'pecking order' as in a chicken pen. Poor old Daniel, the brother, didn't hold much power. And the house never changed. I'm told they lived as if in the 1800s still.
In 1909 a brother, Jack, died and I found a newspaper item that amused me. Apparently the body had been lying in the coffin in the front room for a few days and after the funeral the sisters decided to fumigate the room by burning sulphur. And ended up nearly burning the house down!
|A fire in the front room. The Argus, 1 Apr 1909|
The street number of the Phelan's home was 401 Sydney Rd, directly opposite the Holy Trinity Church. (It was later changed to 543.) It remained the family home until the last sibling, Daniel, died in 1959. All the houses in that area were demolished by the Metropolitan Board of Works for road alterations but nothing was done to the road and there is still no house on the site.
|Street view (from the same position as the original house photo), Google Maps (October 2013)|
I suggest you wander over to Sepia Saturday to see the houses that the other participants blog about. I'm off to do the same.