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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.