'Names' by Bruce Steele (English, 1957 - 1960)


by Bruce Steele (English, 1957-60)

What’s in a name? Quite a lot in fact – as I found in researching family and local history.

The context: For more than 60 years our family have owned an old cottage in the bayside township of Dromana, some 50 miles south-east of Melbourne. The starting question – “When was the cottage built and by whom” – had so far produced only a suggestion that it is pre-World War I with no evidence other than some architectural features. My investigations also led me to ask “Where did the name Dromana come from and who gave the place that name?”


This may seem small beer in comparison with centuries old cottages in Britain. In this case we come close to the first white settlement in this part of the colony. Permanent settlement in the Port Phillip district of New South Wales dates only from the mid-1830s. The Colony of Victoria became a separate entity in 1851 and became the State of Victoria at Federation in 1901.

To begin with the place name. The aboriginal name for the area where Dromana is situated was Kangerong and that name was retained by one of the first white graziers or “squatters” who gained a lease on a considerable tract of what was then deemed “Crown Land”. These first settlers seemed to have co-operated with the native people whose view was that it was their land on which the settlers were grazing their cattle. All this changed once the Port Phillip government was established. The natives who had hitherto moved freely about their lands, and had sites of special significance to them, were herded into compounds. Occasional confrontations led to slaughter. Few of their descendants survive today. Kangerong is now a street name and a holiday venue!

The new place name. The town itself nestles at the foot of Arthur’s Seat, a mount so named by explorer Lieutenant Murray in 1803 as it recalled the hill of the same name in his native Edinburgh. Dromana is an ancient Irish word (pron. dromanna) meaning “ridges”. The Dromana Estate of Earl Grandison (Villiers-Stuart) is on the banks of the river Blackwater in County Waterford in Ireland. It has surrounding hills (ridges) which resemble the ridges which back Arthur’s Seat. Although there is so far no conclusive evidence, there is a strong probability that the town name Dromana came from Richard Bourke, Governor of NSW from 1831 to 1837.

In 1830, the Whigs had gained government in Westminster after a period of Tory rule. Bourke was their one of their first appointments. He was Anglo-Irish and a cousin of the Whig politician Edmund Burke (despite the difference in spelling). Although from neighbouring County Limerick, Bourke knew, and shared many political views with, the Lieutenant-Governor of Waterford, Henry Villiers-Stuart. That Bourke even had some connection with the Grandison Dromana Estate has been established. As NSW Governor, he visited the Port Phillip District several times and saw more of the area than any other Governor of that early period. He wrote to his son: “I have had the pleasure of affixing Whig names in the Bush”. Although Bourke had retired and returned to Ireland before the earliest recorded use of the name Dromana, he is known to have left a list of place names with Captain Lonsdale whom he had appointed the first Police Magistrate of the Port Phillip District. Until the arrival of LaTrobe as District Administrator in 1839, Lonsdale acted as Administrator as well as magistrate, taking authority and instructions from Bourke. Lonsdale visited the area in 1852. His wife Martha gave her name to Mt Martha, a mount close to Dromana. He himself is remembered by Point Lonsdale, at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay, and Lonsdale Street in Melbourne. The naming of Dromana probably dates from about that time. It had local currency well before the town was officially declared until 1861. The naming by supposed Irish gold prospectors has no authority.

And so to the house. Various people with some knowledge of architectural styles were unanimous in claiming that our house was pre-World War I, probably Edwardian. One would have thought that the title certificate at the time of sale to our family would have confirmed that. The problem was that the title certificate we held went only from 1920 and clearly the house (not to mention the property itself) was older than that.

A search of the Titles Office records online came up with the same result – nothing before 1920. I decided that a visit in person to the Office was the only way to break the stalemate. At first, the same result. However, an officer at the next desk overheard our conversation and at once offered a solution. A change in the Act affecting Titles in 1915 meant a re-coding of Certificates. “Try such and such a code,” he advised. Out came a magnificent document which began “Victoria, by the Grace of God etc.” She graciously granted our property to a certain Mr Lockwood on 12 June 1866 “upon the payment to us of £3/10/-” He was purchasing a Crown Land block in a new subdivision of the little township. In fact he bought three such properties that day. But he did not build the house. This property, it seems, was merely an investment. When he sold the property 50 years later at the end of 1916, it was divided into two, hence the change of title certificates.

Finally in this name chase comes the next owner. A search of rate-books at the Public Records Office revealed that it was this second owner who built the house – not pre-War as we supposed but during 1917. While of Mr Lockwood I have discovered little, the name of these next owners – Rev. Canon and Mrs Nash – was to uncover a another intriguing story. The certificate of title lists her as the purchaser.

Clifford Harris Nash was born on 16 December 1866 in Brixton. In1885 he was a scholarship holder in Classics at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, graduating in 1888. He then studied theology. In 1890 he was appointed as deacon to St Peter’s, Huddersfield. He was ordained priest in Wakefield Cathedral in 1893. After he became engaged to his vicar’s daughter, it was said that he made advances to her sister. This led to his first resignation from a parish position.

He emigrated to Australia in 1895. His undoubted priestly gifts led to a number of appointments in New South Wales and Victoria. In 1903 he became a Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne, and a theological lecturer at Trinity College in the University of Melbourne. He was enormously popular as both preacher and teacher. Yet similar scandals had led to his twice more having to resign from a parish. Despite the scandals which ensued, in neither case was anything proved against him.

It was late in 1916 that Mrs Nash purchased the Dromana property from Lockwood. In 1917 they built the house we now enjoy. A wooden mantelpiece which we removed during renovations had “Sold to Rev. C. H. Nash” written on the back. Because it was wartime, clearly an older builder had been employed – hence the rather dated style of the house. The property was mortgaged in 1918 and eventually bought in 1920 as our present title shows. It changed hands several more times before our family bought it in 1954. Canon Nash died in September 1958. After his funeral in St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne, he was buried in the Dromana Cemetery – during my first long vacation at St Cuthbert’s!

So what’s in a name? A history, a place, and a person uncovered. There is, however, one name I cannot solve. The house is named “Tarraway”. This shows up not as a place name but a family name and can be found especially in parts of Devon and Cornwall. There is one migrant family of that name in Australia but there is no possible connection with the house. Why that name and who gave it, remains a mystery. Could it have been the Nashes? Should anyone be curious enough to look at the internet, you will discover that our daughter, who spent many happy holidays at “Tarraway”, adopted that name for her stockhorse stud in NSW.

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