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Henry Dendy (1800–1881)

by Weston Bate

This article was published:

Henry Dendy (1800-1881), special survey proprietor, was born on 24 May 1800 at Abinger, Surrey, England, only son of Samuel Dendy, farmer, of Great Millfields and other property in Sussex and Surrey, and his wife Sarah, née Hampshire, who died when Henry was aged 3. When his father died in 1838, Henry was a brewer at nearby Dorking, which may help to explain why he sold the farms in 1840 and paid £1 an acre for a special survey of 5120 acres (2048 ha) at Port Phillip. He arrived in Melbourne on 5 February 1841 with his wife Sarah, née Weller, whom he had married at Capel, Surrey, on 6 January 1835, and their 5-year-old son Henry.

Dendy's behaviour was extraordinary, especially his attempt to establish a manorial estate in the pastoral colony. Inadvertently, though, he almost made a fortune. If applied to urban land, his order was thought to be worth £100,000. Melbourne's capitalists were agog, and Superintendent La Trobe, alarmed by the unexpected situation, appealed to Governor Gipps, who withdrew from sale land within five miles (8 km) of towns.

Astonished by his potential windfall, Dendy accepted advice from the forceful merchant J. B. Were, who was his agent when the land order was presented to La Trobe on 8 February. Defiantly, they claimed urban land before accepting two miles (3.2 km) of bay frontage at the Melbourne five-mile limit. Their Brighton Estate was surveyed in May 1841.

The ambitious plan, a pace-setter for Melbourne, offered delightful foreshore sites, a township with crescents and an inland village among seventy-eight-acre (33 ha) farms. Dendy built a two-storey 'manor house' and made his seventy-four-acre (32 ha) seafront home, Brighton Park, a show place. In partnership with Were, he played the role of founder, implemented a grant of ten acres (4 ha) to the Church of England and hosted a picnic match between the Brighton and Melbourne cricket clubs. His prosperity seemed assured, although the original manorial dream had been amended. Unable to employ the twenty-nine families and twenty-two single workers he had sponsored under the land regulations, he helped them to settle. They left names like Carpenter, Lindsay, Male and Hampton on Brighton streets; a street was also named after Dendy.

When depression hit the colony in 1843, land sales ceased and bad debts accumulated. Dendy suffered severely but kept afloat until required to honour his guarantee of £1500 on a bank loan to Were. In April 1845 he was declared insolvent, a fate softened by his wife's ownership (as her dowry) of Brighton Park. While Were was sustained by his brother in England, Dendy attempted to recover by brewing at Geelong in 1846-48, but could not keep the Brighton property. When it was sold in 1848, he tried squatting at Christmas Hills in 1849-53 and Upper Moira in 1853-55. The former was miserable, but the latter, near Nathalia, carried 8000 sheep when gold-rush demand for meat was strong. Its sale enabled him to visit England, apparently for several years.

Dendy, the dignified rolling stone, returned to a sheep property near Werribee, then to a flour mill at Eltham, where Sarah died in 1861. He sold the mill in 1867 to go to Gippsland, where he was a director of the Thomson River copper mine. It devoured his capital. Growing old, Henry lived with his son, who drove the engine at the Long Tunnel gold-mine, Walhalla. Pathetically, seeking independence, Dendy asked the friend who had built Brighton Park for materials to do up an old hut in the bush. On 11 February 1881 Dendy died at Walhalla, where he was buried. An epitaph might be the comment of his former servant John Booker: 'a good, honourable, kind master, but no businessman'.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Bate, A History of Brighton (Melb, 1962)
  • L. A. Schumer, Henry Dendy and his Emigrants (Melb, 1975)
  • Dendy file (Brighton Historical Society, Melbourne).

Citation details

Weston Bate, 'Dendy, Henry (1800–1881)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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