History of Beleura | A Theatre of the Past

James Butchart wore the air of one destined for worldly success, when he was hardly past boyhood. He was a short man, but the lift of his head, the set of his mouth, the vigilance of his eyes, and the adroitness of his broad, strong-fingered hands were things that marked him out as one who would prosper in the Australian colonies. Within an hour or two of his landing from the 400-ton sailing ship William Nicol, on February 15, 1842, he had seen enough of the youthful town of Melbourne to have no qualms about his future. – John Hetherington

At the first chance he sat down and, in his brisk and masculine hand, wrote a characteristically self-confident letter to his father, back on the family farm at Auchtermuchty, in Fifeshire, Scotland. ‘I have no fear of getting on well enough’ he wrote. ‘The climate is most delightful and it only requires the exercise of the three virtues of patience, prudence and perseverance to do well.’ Buildings with a Past (20), a series of articles published by The Age in 1963 by John Hetherington.

James Butchart certainly did well and built Beleura in 1863 on land he purchased at Schnapper Point, now Mornington. Originally part of Alexander Hunter’s selection Yan-ti-Cran, Hunter had built a timber and brick cottage and this became part of Butchart’s much grander house. It is presumed that James Butchart named it Beleura. An Italianate villa by the great Joseph Reed of the famed Melbourne firm of Architects Barns and Reed, Beleura was described as the finest mansion in the colony.

Charles Edward Bright, who married Anna Marie Georgiana Manners-Sutton, founder of Bright Bros and Co., Steamship and General Agents, purchased Beleura in 1870. Bright’s father-in-law Sir John Manners-Sutton, 4th Governor of Victoria and later Viscount Canterbury, used Beleura as an unofficial summer retreat. When Charles’ father-in-law retired, Beleura was leased, firstly to the Victorian Government and was used, for a short time, by his successor Sir George Bowen as his official residence and secondly to B.T.P. Backhouse who conducted the Mornington Grammar School.

Caleb Joshua Jenner purchased Beleura in 1888. Jenner enlarged Beleura but died there in 1890. His widow retained Beleura until 1899 when it was purchased by Robert Smith Esq. as a wedding present for his daughter Helen Macpherson who married William Schutt.

In 1911 Beleura was again offered for sale and purchased by William Ernest Albert Edwick, a grazier. Three years later Beleura was again sold. Purchased by The Hill Williams Syndicate, “Beleura by the Sea” was subdivided into 183 choice villa allotments. This auction attracted Mr and Mrs George Tallis, later Sir George and Lady Tallis, who, the previous year, acquired Sunnyside, a huge house next door. Beleura, and most of the villa sites, were purchased in 1916 by Sir George Tallis but held in his wife Amelia’s name, and again used as a summer retreat. Sir George was the first owner to add land to Beleura, ultimately acquiring some 2000 acres in and around Mornington, giving it an estate sufficient to support a fine house. 

Sir George spent his retirement farming; however, he is better known as a theatrical entrepreneur who for many years was the major shareholder and Chairman of Directors of the giant entertainment company J.C. Willamson Ltd. His wife, formerly a singer of light comic opera, became a doyenne of Melbourne society and charity worker. Sir George and Lady Tallis continued the traditional use of Beleura as a seaside house and had four children. Lady Tallis died in 1933 and Sir George in 1948 at Braehour, Wagga Wagga, a splendid property he had farmed as well as Beleura during his retirement years.

In 1950 Sir George’s youngest son, Jack Morton Tallis, or John as he preferred, took Beleura by family agreement saying at the time that it was a momentous decision, and not wholly a wise one.

His life thence on was dedicated to the preservation of Beleura. John Tallis died in 1996 and bequeathed Beleura, its considerable contents and The Tallis Foundation to the people of Victoria. In 200 years a visitor will be able to unravel how we lived in the second half of the 20th century, an astonishing legacy.

Beleura is a wonderful time capsule, a theatre of the past, yet it appears that life in the house goes on. Unlike a theatre, Beleura and its contents are real and were ever thus; the world it represents will continue, the future will find the past preserved and be able to understand a way of life long gone. The magic of Beleura is the depth of its provenance collection of household things, some grand, but much ephemeral, trivial, amusing…”

PO Box 1198
Mornington Victoria 3931

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