Posted on 16/08/2016 by Phillip Island Nature Parks

Churchill Island’s rich legacy                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Churchill Island’s rich history has been documented in the release of the ‘Churchill Island Conservation Management Plan’ which was showcased at a series of community information sessions in late July.

Over 25 community members attended the sessions where Anita Brady from ‘Lovell Chen’ gave participants an overview of the plan’s findings and recommendations. Ms Brady explained that the plan was developed following an accepted methodology, as practised across Australia, and endorsed by the heritage agencies and authorities.

The plan scope included buildings and structures, gardens and the broader landscape, archaeology (not Indigenous) and the collection of machinery and objects. It involved input from several disciplines including historians, architects, historic landscape specialists, archaeologists, interpretation consultants and historic farm machinery specialists.

The team undertook thorough research of historical records including survey maps dating from 1801 and a recently completed PhD study.  Aerial photos were also used to illustrate how the landscape has changed over time: “and these photos do not lie”, said Ms Brady.

The findings revealed that the Island has both ‘State’ and ‘Local’ significance. At a state level, it represents evidence of the early European exploration of Victoria and has the first documented planting of European crops and structure or building in the state of Victoria. At a local level, the island demonstrates ‘retreat’ history, with important owners including Melbourne identity Samuel Amess (1870s to 1920s) and Gerald Buckley (of the Buckley and Nunn Melbourne department stores from the 1920s).

It also is an example of the era of the early conservation movement including Victoria Conservation Trust (1970s to 1980s) and demonstrates the survival of the remnant Moonah trees and their integration into the modified landscape.

The plan clearly identifies original elements and recommends that ‘items of significance be retained and conserved’. It endorses emphasising what is authentic about the island, to enhance awareness and understanding of the history.  It also states that ‘change can be considered where it supports the ongoing viability and operation of the island’.

“In summary, the Conservation Management Plan will provide a guiding document to assist in the future planning of Churchill Island,” said Matthew Jackson, Phillip Island Nature Parks CEO.

“Now that this study has been completed, we are able to make informed decisions about Churchill Island to ensure that its important history and landscape are protected and appropriately showcased. It demonstrates that change can occur as long as it is managed in a way that has regard for heritage values.”

The plan will now be endorsed by the Phillip Island Nature Parks Board. 

Please click here to view a summary of the draft plan.

Churchill Island – a brief history

The Churchill Island Conservation Management Plan details the fascinating eras of history on this tiny island in Western Port:

Pre 1798: Boon Wurrung people visit the area. (Note: Indigenous history was not included in the plan scope, this will be undertaken in a further study.)

1798 Surgeon George Bass enters and names Western Port. The bay was at that time Sydney’s furthest-known harbour to its west.

1801 Lieutenant James Grant, Captain of the HMS Lady Nelson, explores Western Port in greater detail. Grant and his men row over to Churchill Island and, under his orders, a blockhouse is erected and a garden planted. Grant names the island ‘Churchill’ after one of his benefactors (John Churchill of Dawlish, Devon) who supplied him with seed, including wheat, corn and other vegetables, to plant in the new colony.

His first mate, John Murray, assists Ensign Francis Barrallier in drawing a chart of the bay, which includes a dashed outline marking the area where ground was cleared for the blockhouse and garden on Churchill Island. The exact location of this has never been found, yet it is thought to be in the south-west corner of the island near the Moonah forest.

1801-2 Acting Lieutenant John Murray returns to Western Port the following summer to finish the survey for Bass Strait’s northern coastline and islands visited by Grant. Murray records his return visit to Churchill Island, where he noted that the corn and wheat planted earlier that year under Grant’s orders had matured and ripened and the garden and the blockhouse were as they left it.

1802-1842 Churchill Island is variously depicted as an island in its own right, as an isthmus or just left off maps produced by both British and French explorers during this time.

1842 Lewis Roper Fitzmaurice, assistant surveyor to John Lort Stokes surveys Western Port. The map Stokes produced from Fitzmaurice’s survey shows Churchill Island as wooded, with the exception of two small portions in its centre, most likely due to the fact the island was not explored on foot, but only from a small boat. No sign of Grant’s garden appears on the map.

1854 John Rogers acquires the pastoral lease for the Sandstone Island Run and becomes a squatter (The accepted term at the time, and since for a lessee of a pastoral run is a squatter). The run originally comprised of Sandstone, Elizabeth and Churchill Islands – all in Western Port. Evidence suggests that Elizabeth Island became a run in its own right in 1855, and Churchill Island was added in 1860. Until 1863 Rogers paid £10 per annum for the privilege of de-pasturing each separate Run.

1860 The Pickersgill family begin living on Churchill Island, occupying it in their own right and later sharing it with the Rogers.

1861 A Coastal Plan indicates a ‘White House’ on Churchill Island – exact location not recorded, but it was nominated as a navigational aid so would have been obvious, most likely on the top of the hill and could be where Rogers Cottages is today.

1865 Rogers purchases Churchill Island as a special lot at auction at the upset price of one pound ten shillings per acre, for 140 acres.

1866 Rogers receives title and his family continue farming Churchill Island. Sheep are de-pastured in large numbers and agriculture appears to continue. Records show that potatoes were a major crop grown.

1867 Rogers takes out a mortgage to JD Mc Haffie – likely to fund further buildings and improvements.

1869 First series of advertisements for the sale of Churchill Island - it fails to sell.

1869-72 John Rogers selects land on the mainland. It is said that the island is leased back to McHaffie.

1872 - 1929 Samuel Amess, (building contractor and Mayor of Melbourne 1869-70) purchases Churchill Island. Writings from the 1880s and 1890s strongly support the contention that Samuel Amess used the island as his private rural seaside retreat. He built the homestead and planted orchard and gardens. Farming continued and the Island remained in the family, being passed from father to son until 1929.

1929 Gerald Neville Buckley (of the Buckley and Nunn department stores in Melbourne) purchased Churchill Island. Under Buckley the island is run as a dairy farm. Buckley leaves the management of the island to local brothers Bob and Ted Jeffrey.

1932 Jeffrey brothers win the better farming award for their work on Churchill Island.

1935 Gerald Buckley dies.

1936 Churchill Island purchased by Edward Harry Jenkins for his son, Ted, who had been incapacitated due to a diving accident. Prior to the war the Jenkins family used the island as weekender, leaving its care to Eve and Ern Garratt. During the war years it seems that Ted Jenkins and Margaret Campbell, his nurse, ran the island themselves as a dairy farm. Sister Campbell cared for Ted Jenkins until his death in 1960.

1959 The first bridge from Phillip Island to Churchill Island is built, although its construction was marred by the death of one of the contractors hired to build it.

1963 Harry Jenkins dies and leaves the island to Margaret Campbell. Eve and Ern Garratt return to the island under her employ to help manage it. During this time the island was used as a primary home by its owner for the first time since the 1860s.

1973 Margaret Campbell sells Churchill Island after illness reduces her capacity to manage it. Although the newly formed Victorian Conservation Trust are interested in the property, and enlist State Government aid to purchase it, they are outbid at the auction by Alex Classou.

1976 After some years of negotiation with Alex Classou, the Victorian Conservation Trust, with the aid of the Hamer State Government purchases Churchill Island as a heritage and natural conservation site. Carroll Schulz begins work as the site’s first manager in 1978. Restoration works are carried out on the cottages, house and outbuildings.

1983 Victoria Conservation trust hands over the management of the island to Victorian National Parks.

1985 Churchill Island management changes to the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment.

1996 Phillip Island Nature Parks is given management of Churchill Island.

2000 Restoration work is completed on the homestead, this time in accordance with ICAMOS and the Burra Charter heritage guidelines. The National Trust loans period furniture to furnish the homestead and cottages. New bridge completed.

2014 Churchill Island Key Area Plan completed.

2015 Churchill Island Conservation Management Plan completed.

CMP Sessions


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