three Mountjoy women signed the 1891 Women’s Suffrage Petition…
When the many holidaymakers and guests stay at Erskine House in Lorne, little do they know that they are enjoying the oldest permanently operating guesthouse in Victoria. And when the numerous visitors and tourists fill the cafes, shops and restaurants along busy Mountjoy Parade, they honour a true pioneering family of Lorne.
Originally named Louttit Bay, after Captain Louttit who commanded the first ship that took wool from Port Phillip to London, the small township was re-named Lorne in 1869, coinciding with the marriage of Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Louise, to the Marquis of Lorne. Just five years earlier, three young and intrepid settlers from Cornwall – Lawrence, Thomas and Caleb Mountjoy, came to take up the Louttit Bay run of 17,280 acres.
The young families built a small two-room house, yet realising the popularity of the area and potential of a new business venture, the Mountjoys soon expanded the premises, hoping that ‘summer visitors would be more profitable than chancy crops grown twenty miles from a country railway station.’ In 1870-71, Thomas and Caleb Mountjoy paid £18 in rates on 44 acres and a house. A year later, stables were built, followed by gardens and an orchard.
The name Erskine House was first used in 1877 and the addition of another dining room and a long suite of bedrooms saw people flock to Lorne to enjoy the comforts and the seaside, although a petition in 1880 to the Winchelsea Council from Lorne residents complained that persons were bathing at all hours of the day, a sight looked on as offensive to respectable people.
To remedy the situation, the Mountjoys built a bathing house and change room for their male guests at one end of the beach in front of Erskine House and a female bathing house at the other.
Keeping the sexes half a mile apart was seen as the best solution to placate the locals.
In 1878, with the ever increasing rise in tourist numbers, Caleb and Thomas Mountjoy established a coach service to bring the visitors from the Melbourne train to Lorne. After breakfast in Geelong and two more train changes at Birregurra and Deans Marsh, where lunch was enjoyed at Bell’s Hotel, passengers undertook a two and a half hour dusty and hot coach journey for the final twenty miles to Lorne. In its heyday, ninety horses were used in the service and eight men were engaged in the blacksmith shop at Erskine House.
There was little social or community life in Lorne that did not involve the Mountjoy families. Thomas Mountjoy was the first Post Master at a salary of £10 per year and was one of the first Trustees of the cemetery in 1878. He was also part of a vocal group who advocated for a footbridge over the Erskine River, he was a member of a committee to build the Anglican Church and three Mountjoy women signed the 1891 Women’s Suffrage Petition.
That same year, both families were united in grief when 14 year old Annie Mountjoy, daughter of Caleb and 15 year old Sophia Mountjoy, daughter of Thomas, died after a tragic accident. On going to bed one night, the young girls poured water over the coals of a fire and the toxic fumes poisoned them while they slept.
Today, the Mountjoy name is synonymous with Lorne, testament to their pioneering spirit.
Photos above were provided from a private family collection.
And these photos are from the Lorne Historical Society which is open on the first Sunday of each month from 2pm to 4pm. Special thanks to Peter Spring for selection and scanning.