Author: Robin Waters

Amongst our most popular records at Public Record Office Victoria are land files, particularly the correspondence relating to an individual’s application to lease and the purchase of land from the Crown.

The correspondence between private individuals and land authorities give us a great opportunity to hear the stories and achievements of people who may otherwise have been excluded from the overarching narrative of history.

One such person is Mary Ann Brown who, at the age of 24 purchased sixty acres of land in the parish of Mooroolbark in 1880 for the sum of £61. The land is now the site of the York on Lilydale Hotel. It is even more notable that when she first applied to occupy the land in 1877 she would have only been 21.

Given that many women of the time have been primarily defined historically as wives or daughters, this affords a great reminder that archival collections with their rich sources of primary material can provide further insights into the lives of individuals who are often overlooked in the grander historical narratives.

Letter from Mary’s Father Francis in relation to his own property and admittance to Yarra Bend Asylum

The file shows that the house she built on the land had three chimneys, which means it would have been of above-average value at that time. Mary also improved the property with a gravity-based irrigation system that ran from the creek that passed through the property.  Her independence is evidenced in other correspondence in the file, in which she states that her single status may soon change but that she nonetheless wishes for the property to be in her name only.

The file also contains information on her father, Francis Brown, who made applications for two other pieces of nearby land in 1876, both rejected. This does raise the question of whether Francis may have used his daughter’s name to purchase the land but there is no evidence in the file to confirm this. It seems from his own letter included in the file that Francis had previously owned land which he lost after being committed to Yarra Bend Asylum. His two unsuccessful applications were made after that time.

Public Record Office Victoria wishes to thank and acknowledge researcher Wayne Knoll for bringing this record to our attention and providing further context. There are many questions that surround both Mary and Francis beyond this file. If you are a researcher that can help tell this story, please log in to our wiki site featuring the June record of the month, click on the discussion tab to read more and add your thoughts!

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