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The Sunbury area's first white settlers were George Evans and William Jackson, who arrived in July 1836. It was Jackson, who, together with his brother, Samuel, named Sunbury after the English Sunbury-on-Thames.
Evans took up the Emu Bottom run. His original sandstone homestead (1836) remains today as part of a more substantial building.
W.J.T. 'Big' Clarke was another early pastoralist to obtain land in the Sunbury area. The double-storey, bluestone fifty-room 'Rupertswood' mansion was built by his son, Sir William Clarke , from 1874-76. The mansion features a 100 feet high tower and a description from the time states that it was built in the 'Byzantine order of architecture'. A ballroom was added to the building in 1881-82.
Rupertswood, one of the largest residences in Victoria, was also an important social centre and played host to parties, balls and hunt meets. Clarke, who was the president of the Melbourne Cricket Club, met the English cricket team while sailing home from a European tour in 1882 and invited them to join him for Christmas and New Year at Rupertswood, a visit which has been credited as giving rise to the existence of the Ashes trophy.
The Ashes, today a bi-annual series of test cricket matches played between England and Australia, was born as a result of Australia's surprise seven-run victory against the English team in a one-off test match at The Oval in England in 1882. This was the first time that an Australian eleven had played an English eleven.
The English Sporting Times ran a satirical obituary, written by journalist Reginald Brooks, after the match which lamented the death of English cricket and stated that, 'The body will be cremated and the Ashes taken to Australia'.
|Emu Bottom Homestead, Sunbury
The English team, captained by the Hon Ivo Bligh, travelled to Australia to reclaim 'the Ashes' in 1882-83, winning a three test series 2-1.
Though there was a long-held view that the Ashes trophy was presented to Bligh after the third match, further research around the centenary of the Ashes gave rise to another version of events. This account tells the story of the Ashes urn being presented to Bligh after a social game at Rupertswood. The urn was said to contain a burnt bail, but it has also been stated that the urn contains the remains of a burnt stump, ball or ball cover. It was also suggested by Bligh's daughter-in-law that the urn actually contains the remnants of her mother-in-law's veil. Bligh retained the urn until his death in 1927. It was given to the Lord's cricket ground in the 1930s and remains there today.
The Clarke family sold the Rupertswood property to Sunshine Harvester manufacturer, H.V. Mackay in 1922. Rupertswood was subsequently subdivided and the remaining property was acquired by the Salesian order of Catholic priests and brothers in 1927.
The railway reached Sunbury during the construction of the line between Melbourne and Bendigo from 1859 to 1862, around which time Sunbury's first vineyards were being planted. The Sunbury region grew into an important winemaking area and Victoria was producing half of Australia's wine at one point during the 19th century However, an infestation of the 'Phylloxera' vine louse devastated the state's vineyards (though it bypassed Sunbury) after entering Victoria in the 1870s and the depression of the 1890s signalled the further decline of the winemaking industry
The 'Craiglee' vineyard was established in 1863 by politician and businessman, James Stewart Johnston, who constructed the property's bluestone winery between 1865 and 1868. Winemaking at Craiglee ceased in the 1920s due to the economic circumstances and public tastes of the time. Vines were replanted on the site of the original vineyard by Patrick Carmody in 1976.
James Goodall Francis, who became the Victorian premier in 1870, also established his Goona Warra vineyard in 1863. The vineyard continued to operate for a while after Francis' death in 1884, but the land here too was eventually given over to other farming activities. The remaining 17 acres of the Goona Warra property was bought and replanted as a vineyard in 1983 by John and Elizabeth Barnier. Original buildings such as the homestead (1863-75) still remain on the property today.
The Sunbury township was also developing in the 1860s. A Catholic church and school, as well as an Anglican school opened in 1860. In 1867 a permanent Anglican church was established, and a Presbyterian church was built the next year.
An industrial school opened at Sunbury in 1864 and was converted to a mental asylum in 1879. Extensions were made to the building between 1891 to 1914. The asylum was renamed the Caloola Centre in 1985. It was decommissioned in the early 1990s and opened as a campus of the Victorian University of Technology in 1995.
Sunbury, around 35 kilometres north-west of Melbourne, began to develop as a commuter suburb of Melbourne from the 1960s. In the 2001 Census Sunbury's estimated population was recorded as 27,342 people.