Ellis Cottage Historical Precinct

Published Dec, 2021

Ellis Cottage and surrounding farmland c1940.
Our area of the Shire of Nillumbik was roamed for centuries by the Wurundjeri-willam clan of the Woi wurrung speaking people. The woi wurrung territory encompassed the watersheds of both the Yarra and Maribyrnong Rivers and therefore occupied much of present-day Melbourne.

William Ellis migrated to Port Phillip, now Melbourne, from Devon in the mid 1840’s and was an early settler in the district, initially working on a farm in Kangaroo Ground, until he took up land along the Diamond Creek i 1850. He bought 147 acres at what was then ‘Nillumbik’ or ‘Nillumbik on the Diamond Creek’. He added to his land holding in 1861 with the purchase of a neighbouring property.

William lived on and worked the land living in a hut near what is now the Main Hurstbridge Road. The farm stretched from today’s Reynold’s Road across the creek flats and hills towards Wattle Glen. Once established, he built the cottage that stands on Ellis Cottage Reserve today. It is built of local stone and was completed around 1865.

Ellis Cottage, home of the Nillumbik Historical Society was fully renovated in 1989 by the Shire of Diamond Valley
The kitchen fireplace in Ellis Cottage, most of which is original with updates to the hearth with renovations. It was built large enough to cater for all cooking needs.
The spinning wheel at Ellis Cottage. Used for spinning thread or yarn from fibres, it was fundamental to the cotton textile industry prior to the Industrial Revolution, and increased the productivity of thread making by a factor of greater than 10. Traditionally this work was done by females, many of whom demonstrated great skill and speed

The stone walls, 40cm or 16 inches thick, were plastered inside with mud and straw. The design was simple; a central passage with two rooms on either side, each with its own fireplace. The kitchen fireplace was built large enough to cater for all cooking needs. A separate doorway led directly outside from the kitchen to a dairy and other farm buildings. The roof was of hand-cut wooden shingles. A domed well, still visible today though not in use, collected rainwater from the roof, and two Italian cypress trees flanked the stone steps leading to the front door. A peppercorn tree was planted near the kitchen.

Peppercorn tree at Ellis Cottage Reserve is close to the cottage and may be as old as the cottage itself - c1865.
The original well at Ellis Cottage was filled in many years ago and is now used as a garden bed.
Two Italian cypress trees flank the stone steps leading to the front door.

In 1870, William’s nephew Nathaniel also migrated from Devon. As William and his wife had no children and needed help, he came to support them on the farm. William and Nathaniel prospered during their time on the farm, giving back to the community and supporting development of the area.

Ellis Cottage and surrounding farmland 1973.

The farm stayed in the Ellis family until William’s death in 1896 when part of the farm was sold off according to conditions in his will. William also left a bequest of £100 to build a gateway at Nillumbik Cemetery, Diamond Creek. The gateway was completed in 1897 and inscribed with the Latin words ‘Janva Vitae’ meaning Gate of Life. It stands strong and proud today facing the Sawpit Gully roundabout.

A red brick gateway is the entrance to Nillumbik Cemetery, Diamond Creek. It was erected in 1897 by the executor of the will of William Ellis who bequeathed £100 for its construction.

In the years following William’s death, and after Nathaniel moved to his farm at Dixon’s Creek, the property was lived in by various families until the Lovitt family bought the cottage and surrounding land in the 1960’s. Phillip Lovitt and Peter Marriage rebuilt the cottage during the summer of 1972-73, as it was by then in an advanced state of disrepair and has been used for some time to store hay. The cottage stayed in the care of the Lovitt family until the property was sold, subdivided and developed in the early 1980’s. As par of the subdivision, the cottage and seven acres surrounding it was passed to the Shire of Diamond Valley who recognised the historic value of one of the earliest buildings in the Shire. They repaired and renovated the cottage and handed it to the Nillumbik Historical Society for safe keeping on behalf of the community in 1989.

Ellis Cottage sits on a public reserve of seven acres and is surrounded by outdoor displays and gardens

The renovation of the cottage was as true as possible with methods of the time to its original build. There was enough left of the doors and windows for replicas to be made and fitted into the thick walls. To this day, the internal walls of the cottage are undressed, most likely because the skills to replace the internal plastering were not available when the renovation was completed.

Ellis Cottage Reserve is public open space and is well maintained by the Shire of Nillumbik.

An envelope of land around the cottage and its gardens is maintained by the Nillumbik Historical Society.

The carving of a Miner commemorating the importance of gold mining to the district, stands in the gardens which are lovingly maintained by volunteers and by the Shire of Nillumbik
Nillumbik Historical Society welcomes visitors and offers tours to clubs, schools, and groups, by arrangement. We are open to the public on the first Sunday of each month or by appointment

Got a question or some interesting facts?  Leave a comment and we’ll reply.

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