The exquisite 60-room Italianate Mansion and its 10 hectare of magnificent gardens built at Werribee Park from 1874 to 1877 is a testament to the successful partnership between Scottish squatters Thomas and Andrew Chirnside. The pioneering brothers were a driving force behind early settlement in this region, all of which evolved from humble beginnings.
Thomas Chirnside left his homeland of Scotland in 1838 with a few hundred pounds in his pocket, a bible and dreams of a new life in an emerging country. As an enterprising individual Thomas invested largely in stock and land. His younger brother Andrew joined this venture in 1841 and the brothers set about building a lucrative pastoral empire.
With business progressing well Thomas returned to Scotland in 1845 where he fell in love with his first cousin Mary Begbie and asked for her hand in marriage. Her parents did not approve so he returned to Australia alone.
With Thomas safely back, Andrew finalised plans for his trip home. But before leaving his older brother asked a favour – to bring Mary back to Australia any way he could.
Andrew returned in 1852, accompanied by Mary as his wife. Thomas never married.
Thomas wanted Mary to reside in a home and grounds of stature and serenity unrivalled in Victoria, so he and Andrew he set about building the mansion, which was at the time, also an opportunity to showcase their successful venture to the world. Using the finest materials the Mansion was built in three years for Andrew and Mary Chirnside and their three youngest children, they were joined by Thomas for his last few years.
In keeping with the theme of their elaborate Mansion, Thomas and Andrew Chirnside created an equally stunning garden in a distinctly European style.
Like many notable early settlers the Chirnsides were members of the Acclimatisation Society, an organisation that introduced several European flora and fauna species to the Australian landscape. As a result the ten hectares of manicured landscape contain a variety of exotic species combined with Australian natives. The specific designer of the garden is unknown; however it is often credited to W.R. Guilfoyle, Curator of the Melbourne Botanical Gardens from 1879 to 1909.
The majestic gardens feature a colourful parterre, ornamental lake and grotto, glasshouses, heritage-listed trees and expansive lawns
Thomas and Andrew passed away within three years of each other, in 1887 and 1890 respectively. Andrew left Werribee Park to his two youngest sons George and John Percy with a proviso that Mary maintain residency in the Mansion for her remaining days. Mary died from a terrible accident in 1908. Her hair caught alight from a bedside candle and tragically she did not recover.
Chirnside ownership of Werribee Park ended in 1922 and changed hands many times until the Victorian Government acquired Werribee Park from the Catholic Church in 1973 and commenced work to progressively restore the Mansion and remaining 400 hectares of land to its former glory.