Hugh Glass is the grandfather of Flemington. In 1853 he bought the land now bordered by Racecourse Road, Ascot Vale Road, Kent Street and Citylink for £4,100 and dreamed of building a northern suburbs nirvana to surpass Toorak.
Glass arranged our first school (Flemington National School in 1858), our first permanent church (the Wesleyan Church, next to the school, in 1865) and, with others, our first railway line (Melbourne to Essendon, in 1860).
From 1852 to 1862 Glass built his opulent mansion, Flemington House, including glasshouses, arbors, hothouses and aviaries, orchards and native and introduced flora and fauna. During this period Glass also managed various large pastoral and agricultural estates and by 1862 was reputed to be the richest man in Victoria, with a fortune of £800,000.
According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Glass created around himself an aura of absolute power and self-assurance. He entertained lavishly at Flemington House, while his Collins Street office was a centre of financial and political influence.
By 1869 his business practices turned sour, with Flemington being one of the few properties not claimed to settle his £500,000 debt. At the same time Glass’s political influence was under attack, and he was briefly gaoled by a parliamentary select committee. Although he was released with some popular support, his political power was undermined and his personal life also placed under pressure.
Some accounts wrongly suggest Glass committed suicide. The inquest found that Glass, who was dying from cancer of the liver, was administered a lethal dose of chloral by his son at his request.
Glass bequeathed Flemington to his wife and 8 surviving children, who slowly sold the land to try to revive the family fortune. From 1872 to 1881 lots were auctioned from Glass’s “paddock”, ultimately resulting in the Victorian architecture that stretches from Newmarket Street past Newmarket Station.
Flemington mansion and grounds were also later sold, ultimately being bought in 1910 by lawyer and horse-breeder Henry Madden, who renamed it Travancore and later sold off much of the land to create the current Travancore estate.
Glass was born in County Down, Ireland, and migrated to Victoria in 1840. He initially farmed on the Merri Creek but by 1845 had established himself as a station agent and merchant.
Australian Dictionary of Biography
Breen M, People, Cars & Cows: The Changing of Flemington (Melbourne, 1989)
Peck HH, Memoirs of a Stockman (Melbourne, 1942)
Hosken FW, From Mansion to School: Early History of Travancore (The Argus, Melbourne, Sat 4 June 1932, p.6)