Society

Sir Malcolm McEacharn was elected to the House of Representatives in the first Australian Parliament as a representative for the Electoral Division of Melbourne. He was to hold the seat between 1901 and 1904. As a conservative politician, he was a supporter of the Prime Minister, Edmund Barton, who was to be a guest at the McEacharn’s house ‘Goathland‘ in Studley-park road, in early June 1903 [1].

Prime ministers, politicians, and prominent businessmen were not to be the only guests that McEacharn is recorded as entertaining at Goathland. The Argus records that he had as a guest in June 1903 the Right Revd. Monsignor the Count Vay de Vaya, who had recently arrived from the East [2]. McEacharn, like his predecessors at Goathland took a keen interest in cricket, and was elected President of the East Melbourne Cricket Club in 1903. The Argus records a dinner that he gave at Goathland in honour of the Club’s immediate past president of 46 years – Mr. A. J. Clarke – to which were invited Sir Edmund Barton, Mr. Roderick Murchison (president of the M.C.C.), Major Mardill (secretary of the M.C.C.), Mr. William Riggall and Major Appleton [3].

Elections

This period of polite celebration was to take a sharp nosedive at the end of 1903 when new elections for the Federal Parliament were called. The contestants for the seat were McEacharn and William Maloney, the ‘Labour’ candidate. Maloney’s supporters believed that the ‘technical franchise’ which compelled voters to vote where they lived would give the latter victory. The booths were clearly divided, Bourke, Railway and Hotham giving majority support to Maloney, whereas Jolimont, Latrobe and Gertrude favoured McEacharn. At the end of the day, McEacharn had a lead of 146, with absentee votes still to be counted. Due to errors in counting at the Latrobe booth by the official in charge of postal certificates, the results of the election were called into question and appealed [4]. In ruling on the appeal, the High Court also found that supporters of both candidates had improperly canvassed for, and gained votes from inmates of the Melbourne Benevolent Asylum [5]. Following the successful appeal, a new election for the seat was called in March 1904 [6].

By 1 April the results of the election were known. McEacharn was defeated and the federal electorate of Melbourne was to become a Labor stronghold for over 100 years. The Hobart Mercury was one of the few state newspapers to provide a negative response to McEacharn when it stated that he ‘… does not possess the charm of personal popularity, and his career in the Federal Parliament has been very much of the “Yes-No” description, in consequence, it is said, of an effort to secure the appointment of High Commissioner. That airy castle has been swept away by defeat.’ [7]

Dancing all cares away

No signs of despair or impending disarray were in evidence at Goathland on the night of 4 May 1904. It was to be the occasion of the last grand social event in the McEacharn era, and probably in the mansion’s history. While the Bendigo Advertiser [8] and the Australian Town and Country Journal [9] reported briefly on the event, ‘Queen Bee’ in the Rockhampton’s Morning Bulletin was able to describe the purpose of the event, the ballroom, the costumes and jewels, the decorations in the rooms and in the garden.

GOSSIP.
Lady McEacharn’s Dance.
By “Queen Bee” in “Australasian.”
In honour of her older daughter’s twenty first birthday, Lady McEacharn gave a dance at Goathland, Studley Park Road, Kew, on Wednesday evening, the 4th of May. Dancing men were in a majority, and the hostess and her daughters introduced continuously all the evening, and would permit of no wall-flowers, so a great success was the result.

The marquee ballroom was completely draped with crimson and white Liberty’s muslin, and all round the side were oblong mirrors. The lighting came from electric-lit Japanese lanterns, quaint in shape, and from lights with crimson and red globes. There was a perfect shower of both overhead, and the effect was extremely like what one imagines fairyland to be.

Lady McEacharn, who wore ornaments of diamonds, turquoise, and pearls, was in a gown of blue satin, brocaded with bunches of lilies of the valley. Filmy white lace with powderings of silver formed the trimming. Miss McEacharn, who had quantities of lovely flowers sent her during the day, with “Many Happy Returns” attached, wore a soft dress of eau-de-nil silk and a garland of autumn leaves down one side of her low-dressed hair.

Very few married people were present, only very old friends. The remainder of the guests, being young folk, who danced until nearly three o’clock in the morning, the floor in the ballroom being very good. The billiard-room was set apart for the serving of refreshments, and there was supper at small tables in the dining-room an hour before midnight. The tables looked very well with their crimson flower decorations, and all the lights in the room were shaded with globes of small roses, that looked very delicate and uncommon. Between the dances, the company walked or sat about in the garden, most elaborately illuminated with electric lights, some having colour effects.
Morning Bulletin, 1904. [10]

Departure

By the end of July it was all over. The McEacharns had packed and booked their passage on the Ortona for London. At the time, and later, McEacharn has been criticised for reacting so badly to his rejection by the electors. But he and his family still had their supporters. Friends gathered at Goathland on 10 July to wish them farewell, including the Paderewskis. Later, a crowd would assemble on Station Pier to ‘see them off’ [11]. One of the ironies of their departure was a present given to Lady McEacharn by the committee of the Women’s Hospital. They sent her, presumably in thanks for her philanthropic work, a silver-mounted perfume bottle [12]. The same hospital many years later would buy and sell Goathland, then named Tara Hall, to a demolisher.

This was not to be the end of the McEacharn era. They were to return again in 1908, two years before Sir Malcolm’s death in 1910. Future entries on this period will describe the attempts of the McEacharns to sell Goathland and its contents over a six-year period. Perhaps it will also be possible to create a separate entry on the garden of Goathland.

[1] The Argus, 8 June 1903, p.5.
[2] The Argus, 17 June 1903, p.5.
[3] The Argus, 10 October 1903, p.15.
[4] The Argus, 17 December 1903, p.7.
[5] The West Australian, 31 March 1904, p.4.
[6] The Argus, 23 March 1904, p.5.
[7] The Mercury, Friday 1 April 1904, p.7.
[8] Bendigo Advertiser, 10 May 1904, p.4.
[9] Australian Town and Country Journal, 11 May 1904, p.40.
[10] Morning Bulletin, 28 May 1904, p.7.
[11] Australian Town and Country Journal, 27 July 1904, p.40.
[12] Australian Town and Country Journal, Ibid.

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