Briars By Night Projection Trail

Imagine one family living at the same property for one hundred and thirty years. The Balcombe Family lived at the Briars from 1846 until 1976 and each of the five generations of the family made their own mark on the land. During this time the property went through highs and lows.  The family farmed cattle and sheep and at one time grew grapes.  The first Balcombe to farm the land, Alexander Beatson Balcombe took over a pastoral lease from a Captain Reid who first settled here in 1840.  At that time, the property extended from Tanti Creek to Mt Martha and the present Mornington-Moorooduc freeway to Port Phillip Bay, a total of 6000 acres. The lease expired in 1854 and Alexander acquired approximately 1,100 acres freehold. Today the Briars is 550 acres and includes a Wildlife Sanctuary, Visitors Centre, Community Forest and Nursery, it is home to the Mornington Peninsula Astronomical Society, Food for Change, The Briars Outdoor Education Camp and Angus and Rose Café.

Each projection has accompanying text so please enjoy discovering the stories of the Briars.  There are a total of ten projections, located around the Homestead and out-buildings. Please take care when walking around in the dark. We encourage you to use a phone torch between each projection. 

Alexander Balcombe Murphy and his car

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Alexander Balcombe Murphy (known as Alec or A.B.) inherited the Briars in 1924 from his mother, Jane Emma Balcombe Murphy. Like his mother before him, he ran both cattle and sheep on the property.  As the owner of the Briars for the next eleven years, he made several improvements to the buildings. The Hutch which is the original family homestead, located on the west side of the precinct was upgraded and at one time, Alec kept his fishing gear in there. The gardens were maintained as his mother had them and the poultry shed was moved closer to the house, near the Apple Store. He built a new tennis court below the house on east side. With the advent of motor cars, Alec built the garage you are now facing. He was a car enthusiast and very passionate about the Lancia Lambda that he is pictured with here.

Alec and his wife, Georgina had three daughters Mary, Elizabeth and Anne.  Sadly, Alec passed away at age 55 in 1935.  Georgina continued to live at the Briars with the girls and with the help of the Sherlock family, she farmed the property.  The Briars was held in trust for the three girls until 1954. 


The three a'Beckett Boys and cousin Penny Armit

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Richard A’Beckett holding a barrow with Tony A’Beckett, Michael A’Beckett and Penny Armit (at front) outside The Hutch

This image is of the three A’Beckett boys and their little cousin Penny Armit.  Richard (the eldest) would have been home from Melbourne Grammar where he was a boarder. This photograph was probably taken during the summer holidays as Penny lived with her parents Anne and John Armit at Bindi Station near Swifts Creek. Michael a’Beckett estimates that this would have been in the 1956 Christmas holidays as the extended family would quite often gather at the Briars, “including all the aunts”.

Tony and Michael attended Osbourne Primary School which is located on Craigie Road.  The boys would walk home from school except on the days when the creek was too high.  They had permission not to drink the school milk (which was often hot and curdled) as the family had a house cow.

Richard, Tony and Michael were the last of the Balcombe Family to live at the Briars. In 1976, they gifted the 8-hectare Homestead and garden site to the National Trust and the Shire in memory of their mother, Elizabeth Clare A’Beckett (look out for the woman driving the tractor). The remaining land (225 hectares) was sold to the Shire.  The Mornington Peninsula Shire have managed the Briars property since the 1970s.  Many of the outbuildings are open for exploring and the Heritage Seed Garden is on the site of the original vegetable garden.



Balcombe Family and Friends on the front steps

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Mary and Owen Moore on the left, Marjorie Farquharson (family friend) and Richard sitting on his mother Elizabeth a’Beckett’s knee. Woman and girl on right unidentified. Little boys Alex Farquharson is sitting with the dog and Charles  Farquharson is standing.

This photograph of the family and friends is on the front steps of The Briars in 1944. This spot was a favourite for the family to sit together as it faces north-west.  The red brick piers on either side of the steps where probably put there when the Edwardian extension was put in.  These have been removed now but the front steps are the same.  This group is probably about to have lunch made by Agnes Laub who would have been running the kitchen at the time.

Can you see the shadow of the photographer in the foreground?


Two gentlemen, small boy and dog on the north steps

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Left to right:  J Griffiths, W H Quick and Balcombe Griffiths, grandson of Alexander Beatson Balcombe.

This photograph was taken on the north steps of the Briars homestead. In the photograph are Jane Emma Balcombe Murphy’s brother-in-law with his son and grandson. Jane Murphy was the second Balcombe to own the property, she was born on December 1844.

William Hinchins Quick was married to Lucia Balcombe, one of Jane Murphy’s sisters.  John Griffiths is his son-in-law, married to William’s daughter, Ruth (Quick) and Balcombe Griffiths is the son of John and Ruth. It must have been taken on a Spring day as the wisteria is happily scrambling up the verandah.

Jane inherited the Briars after the death of both her parents although the property had been willed to the Balcombes’ second son, Herbert. He already owned a station near Parkes in N.S.W. with his brother Alick and had no wish to return to Victoria. Jane purchased the property from Herbert in 1909, she was 65 years old and a widow.  Assisted by her son A.B. Murphy and Andrew Sherlock, she ran her property until her death in 1924.



Portrait of Jane Balcombe

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This photograph is of Alexander Beatson Balcombe’s mother, Jane Balcombe, who never lived here at the Briars in Mount Martha, however she was the lady of the house at the original Briars on the island of St Helena.  Jane and her husband William Balcombe are most well known for hosting Napoleon Bonaparte after his defeat by Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

St Helena only received three days’ notice of the news of Waterloo and the exile before Napoleon, and entourage of some 30 Generals and staff, arrived on 16 October 1815. As the Vice-Governor’s summer residence Longwood was being used as a stable and was not inhabitable, Napoleon saw the Briars and asked if he could reside in the Balcombe’s Pavilion (which William had built as a ball room) until Longwood was ready.

Napoleon and some of his entourage lived there from 17 October to 10 December 1815.  During the time Napoleon was living with the Balcombe family, he was able to relax from being the emperor for the first and only time.  The Balcombes treated him as one of the family, and he took part in games with the children and had an unusually close relationship with the 13-year-old daughter Betsy. They spoke French together and Napoleon gifted her some of his personal items which were handed down through the family.

William died in 1829 and for the remainder of her life Jane struggled to survive.  Her son Alexander asked her to come and live with them at the Briars, Mount Martha, but by that stage she felt she could not make the major trip from England to her age and ill health.  She died in 1892, aged 70, in London in very poor circumstances.  



Agnes Laub, the Briars Cook in the vegetable garden

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Agnes Laub was a permanent fixture in the Balcombe Family and supported three generations over nearly forty years.  She was first employed by Jane Balcombe Murphy in 1910, then Georgina Murphy (wife of A.B. Murphy, known as Alec [son of Jane Balcombe Murphy]) and was with their daughter Elizabeth and her husband, Dick a’Beckett until she retired in 1949.  There are some reports that she was Swiss but, in fact, she was born near Kyneton in Victoria.  Her father had been born in Switzerland, naturalized in 1862, and her mother’s parents were Welsh.

Agnes’s domain was the kitchen which was positioned facing the Hutch, as the original homestead was known, on the south side of the building. Agnes both cooked and preserved food, using the fruit from the orchard and vegetables grown in the vegetable beds located just to the right of this shed. She made jams, chutneys and preserves from the produce grown on site. Agnes also looked after the chickens in the yard that Alec Murphy constructed close to the Apple Store. Honey was gathered from the bee house which was located in the orchard on the north side of the house.

Agnes left in 1949, two years after the final extension (a new kitchen) was built.  She moved to up to Melbourne to spend her retirement and the a’Becketts visited her often until her death in Oakleigh at the age of 89 years in 1962.  She was described as being ‘small and energetic’ and when not working made, ‘the most beautiful drawn-thread work embroidery’. 

We believe she lived in the servants’ quarters which no longer exist and at one time was living in one of the rooms at the back of the house, in the South Wing.


Elizabeth a'Beckett on her Australian pony

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Elizabeth and her sisters were very keen horse women and they rode their ponies when assisting on the farm.   Elizabeth is pictured here on her Australian pony outside the tack room and stable which is located further up the hill behind you.

The Australian Riding Pony was bred by selective crossing of Thoroughbred, Arabian and pony bloodlines and is mainly used as a children's show pony.


Little Elizabeth a'Beckett on a pony with her father

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Elizabeth always spoke very fondly of her father. Here she is on her pony, in front of one of the many farm sheds. These are all open for you to view the many different types of machinery used by the five generations of Balcombes to farm the Briars.


Alexander Balcombe Murphy (Alec) on the silo

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While serving in the First World War in the 9th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment at Gallipoli, Alexander Balcombe Murphy was wounded. He came upon a cousin in Eqypt - Dame Mabel Brookes.  She wrote an interesting account of this meeting in her book, Memoirs.

“Later I was drawn into a tangle of circumstances over another cousin who had joined a Sussex regiment, he being in England at the outbreak of war. Arriving back from an afternoon’s visiting, a message waited from a British hospital in Alexandria, No. 29. Could I communicate immediately with the C.O.? This I did to discover Alec had arrived with a new batch from, Suvla, badly wounded in the arm and an amputation was deemed necessary.  He refused to allow it and gave my name as next of kind. Would I come down? I did, taking a night train and arriving about 12 o’clock to find a harassed Dr Watkins waiting.  Alec’s arm had been badly shot up. It was imperative to amputate.  I went into the ward where three Australians lay, one not conscious, another with his eye removed, and Alex showing a high temperature and a determined look. ‘I shall shoot myself if they remove my arm,’ he announced flatly.  The doctor said there was a faint chance of his recovery if the wound was irrigated but it would be agony and the chances problematical since no antibiotics were then known. It was up to me.  I walked up and down the corridor and discussed the situation, a grim one, for I knew Alex and was not in any doubt that his threat would be carried out.  A country man who lived for horses and stock, one arm would be a daily agony and reproach.  Dr Watkins almost washed his hands of the crazy Australians when I told him not to amputate, to irrigate as he said, and to give anaesthetics during the process. ‘But I can’t do that all the time,’ he protested. ‘Then let him suffer,’ I told him hard-heartedly. ‘He will stand it.’ When I went back to the ward and told Alec of the decision he, an undemonstrative man, held my hand and clung to it for a while, while the officer with the ruined eye, considering me a determined woman, begged me to try and get him kept in the East for he was due to go home invalided the following week.  Dr Watkins shrugged his shoulders and saw me to the train in the early morning and I wondered if I had sanctioned Alec’s death.  Never had the dawn appeared so beautiful, the Pyramids so close, nor the little morning breeze so pure.  I had made a decision for good or ill and rested on it. It was what Alex wanted and what I considered a fair risk. Irrigation had proven successful in the Cairo hospitals and with Alec’s temperament he would stand the pain – better than a suicide.

Later Alec returned home, one arm a little shorter, but well. He went to the Mayo Clinic in the U.S.A. and had a graft of kangaroo sinew that rendered his mobility almost unaffected.” p76-77

Alec’s injuries did prohibit him from carrying out heavy work on the farm. However, he had the great fortune to be assisted by Sam Sherlock, a third-generation member of the Sherlock family to work at the Briars.



Elizabeth Clare a'Beckett on her tractor

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This photograph is from 1948 and is Elizabeth Clare a’Beckett on the family’s first tractor, an International Harvester Farmall A. Up until this time ploughing and harvesting had been done using horses.  Elizabeth took over the ownership of the property in 1957 when she and her two sisters inherited the property and divided it in two, Mary and Elizabeth bought their younger sister out.  Elizabeth with her husband Dick, bred Herefords and produced vealers for the Melbourne market.  Like in Elizabeth’s father’s, Alec Murphy, time, Sam Sherlock continued to work at the Briars up until his retirement in 1968.

The main changes to the Homestead occurred after WWII, these included connecting the property to mains power in 1958 and building a new kitchen and service wing.  The major structural change around 1960 was adding an entry directly in front of the house off the farm service road instead of using the original sweeping tree-lined drive. The old croquet lawn and other formal garden areas were turned over to grazing. A terrace was added to the house to take advantage of the views to the north and to overlook a pool that was added in the 1960s.  Elizabeth was passionate about the natural environment and planted a variety of eucalypts for shelter and as specimen trees.

Elizabeth kept the very large lemon scented gum and the spotted gum by the garage alive over the 1967-1968 drought by watering them with a bucket, even though her son Michael said, “…there were three perfectly capable men in the house who could have helped her”.

Elizabeth and Dick had three boys Richard, Tony and Michael. You can find them on the south side of the house.