1876: Werribee Park Mansion, Werribee, Victoria.

Werribee Park Mansion was built for the Scottish brothers, Andrew (1818-1890) and Thomas Chirnside (1815-1887) [1] between 1874 and 1876 to the designs of Colquhoun and Fox [2].

“…the contractor for the building. Mr. P. Colquhoun – has been the chief designer, assisted by Mr. Fox, architect, and by the Messrs. Chirnside themselves… [3]

The most striking features of the mansion are the large acid etched picture windows, in, and surrounding the stairwell which was the work of the colonial Victorian stained glass firm, Ferguson & Urie (1853‐1899) of North Melbourne[4].

Photos taken: 20th October 2012.

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In October 1876 the Mansion was reported to be nearing completion and an extremely detailed account of the architecture, decorations and embellishments was reported in the Bacchus Marsh Express. On the windows it reported:

“…At the end of the staircase hall there is an immense window, for which Messrs. Fergusson [sic] & Urie are making a quantity of embossed glass, portions of which will contain large figures of St. Andrew and St. George…[5]

The St. Andrew and St. George windows appear on the bottom floor flanking the first flight of stairs. Beneath the St George window is the Latin Motto “HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE”, a French phrase meaning “Shamed be he who thinks evil of it”. On the opposite side of the stairs is the St. Andrew window, and beneath is the Motto “NEMO ME IMPUNE LACESSAT,” meaning ‘No one attacks me with impunity’ or ‘No one can harm me unpunished’. Interestingly, the exact same cartoon used for the St. George window was also used for the full colour stained glass stairwell window extant in the Tolarno Hotel in St Kilda.

The centrepiece window of the Chirnside’s mansion is in the stairwell. The window contains an intricate reproduction of the famous 1869 wildlife painting of “Red Deer at Chillingham” by Sir Edwin Landseer (1802‐1873). It depicts a majestic stag in full profile with a deer and faun in the foreground, intricately acid etched into a single pane of glass of nearly five feet in height. Surrounding the central picture are twelve smaller panels depicting game that can be hunted in each month of the year. “…each representing the class of game obtainable here and in the old country… [6]

These smaller panels make up the wide outer border with each class of game alternately separated by a panel of floral designs with birds. At the apex of the window appear the initials of Andrew and Thomas Chirnside as an interwoven logo of the letters “ATC”. Near the base of the window is the interwoven numbers of the year “1876”, the year the mansion was completed. Flanking the main window are two smaller arched windows. On the left is Britannia, wearing a medieval helmet and carrying the trident, and on the right side is depicted Victoria. Many other acid etched windows appear throughout the mansion.

“…the embossed glass, for instance, being extremely rich, and freely employed… [7]

Various designs appears in doorways and fanlights and the conservatory includes a large cycle of windows from floor to ceiling depicting flowers in vases adorned with birds and other floral designs and an intricate bowl of fruit in a roundel above.

The concept and designs for the windows at Werribee Park began circa mid‐1875, at the time when the Ferguson & Urie stained glass windows for Sir William Clarke’s mansion “Rupertswood” at Sunbury were in course of erection.

“…Messrs. Chirnside are also adopting stained glass decorations; and if the design submitted be approved of, they will have “The twelve months of the year,” each representing the class of game obtainable here and in the old country, have made an elegant border. Many sketches, all in colors, some lay, others ecclesiastical, are to be seen in the establishment of Messrs. Fergusson [sic] and Urie, the bulk of which have been accepted and executed.- Age [8]

It appears that Ferguson & Urie’s ideas and sketches were to be adopted as described in the historic newspaper articles, although not as expected in traditional full coloured stained glass. Although the company displayed full colour designs of the windows at their workshops in Curzon Street North Melbourne, the entire cycle of windows for the Chirnside’s mansion was eventually created in acid etched glass with no coloured stained glass whatsoever. This cycle of windows currently represents the single largest collection of acid etched windows known to have been created by the firm. Other smaller examples of the same kind of work by the company are extant at Mandeville Hall in Toorak (Flora & Pomona, in the doors to the conservatory, c.1878) and the entrance doors to the Deaf Children Australia building erected on St Kilda Road in 1866.

Above the sandstone eagle in a banner above the entrance to Werribee Mansion, and also in gold painted plaster in the vestibule, are the latin words “FAC AUT MORERE” which translates to “To do or Die”. The latter part of the saying dictated the next few years of Chirnside history.


After a long illness, and believing himself bankrupt, Thomas Chirnside shot himself in the laundry of the mansion on the 25th June 1887 [9]. After a lengthy illness, Andrew Chirnside died at his daughters residence at Irrewarra near Colac on the 30th of April 1890 [10].

Six years after Andrew’s death, his widow, Mary (nee Begby), commissioned Ferguson & Urie to create a memorial stained glass window for the Presbyterian Church at Werribee [11]. The Chirnside’s were liberal donors to the church and Thomas had originally donated the land for it. The three light chancel window was eventually erected in 1896 and depicts “The Last Supper” which, whether by design or coincidence, includes the characters St. Thomas and St. Andrew amongst the apostles portrayed in the window.

Mary Chirnside died at Colac aged 80 on the 4th of March 1908 [12]. A report published in the Bacchus Marsh Express [13] stated that she had died at Dr. Brown’s private hospital at Colac as a result of blood poisoning from an earlier knee injury.

By 1922 there was no Chirnside family involvement in the mansion and it was subsequently used as a Catholic Seminary until the Victorian Government acquired it in 1973 and is now managed as a tourist attraction by Parks Victoria.

The Bacchus Marsh Express, Vic, Saturday 14th October 1876, page 2.

“The mansion for Messrs. T. and A. Chirnside, which has been in course of erection for them upon their Werribee park estate, Wyndham, since February, 1874, is now nearly completed, the only work remaining to be done being the fixing of a few mantelpieces, a portion of the grand staircase, and some flagging of the arcade fronting the ground floor of the building. We have given occasional notices of this mansion during the course of its erection, and our readers may probably recollect that it is built of Barrabool freestone principally, so far as the ornamental work is concerned, and of bluestone in the rear portions. The quantity of dressed stonework is immense, an has added very much to the cost of the building and the time occupied in erecting it, and in this stonework lies the great beauty of the building, for nothing can equal the rich grandeur of cut stone, unless it be polished marble. The style of architecture adopted is Ionic, and the general appearance of he building is, so far as one word can convey an idea of it, stately. It will be a pity if an illustration of it is not given in one of the Melbourne illustrated papers, for, in our opinion, it is one of the few buildings in the colony which an architect can look upon with pleasure, especially one who prefers the solid beauties of the old orders of architecture to the more foreign-looking adaptions of the present day, known as Venetian-Gothic, &c. The house consists of a main building, facing the east, with about 100 feet frontage, by the same depth, and two stories high, with a basement beneath and a tower 80 feet high at the main entrance. All round the building and arcade is carried, composed of beautifully-proportioned freestone arches supporting a balcony fronted with the usual Ionic balustrade and cornices, and giving a promenade of 300 feet by 11 feet wide, a promenade of the same dimensions existing below, of course, in the arcade. The balcony is laid with Minton’s encaustic tiles, of elaborate pattern, showing seven colours. Ample and very ingenious provision is made for carrying off the rain water, which flows into a filter in the courtyard, whence it is taken to an immense 40,000 gallons tank, from which it can b pumped to five cisterns placed somewhere in the various roofs of the mansion, and possessing altogether a capacity of 5,000 gallons. Each cistern is provided with a gauge showing its contents, and visible from the central courtyard between the two wings which flank the main building. This courtyard is 40 feet by 80 feet, and could be used for a ballroom by laying down a floor in sections and covering it with an awning. The wings are about 80 feet by 30 feet, and in addition to these, and the main building, there are a billiard room 30 feet by 22 feet and a conservatory 30 feet by 14 feet, besides a number of substantial out-buildings. Returning to the arcade and balcony, it should be mentioned that the ceiling of the arcade is beautifully panelled and painted, and the floor or promenade is laid with Malmsbury rubbed flagging down the centre, with dove and white marble slabs at each side. The tower is of useful proportions, being 14 feet square as high as the roof of the mansion, and the two stories above are 12 feet square. This tower is a work of sculpture more than of masonry, and reflects very great credit indeed upon the artist (Mr. Samuel Peters) who has put so much beautiful work into it. One feature is specially noticeable – namely, the bunches of grapes and vine leave, which stand out from the stone as naturally as though hanging pendent from a vine. Over the main entrance the escutcheon of the Chirnsides is cut out, showing a hawk upon a shield, and the motto “Facaut Morere” (Do or Die!) beneath. This device also appears on each side of the entrance hall, in a portion of the cornice, and upon the centre of the very handsome white marble mantelpiece in the drawing room. From the principal doorway a hall 15 feet by 30 feet and 17 feet high is entered, profusely ornamented with cement work executed by Mr. Mackennal, and to be further embellished with stags’ heads, statues, and hall furniture. The whole of this hall, with a staircase hall beyond, 30 feet by 19 feet, is floored with Minton’s tiles of elaborate and handsomely illuminated pattern, which contrasts well with the snowy whiteness of the cement work of the walls. The doorways hereabout are all massively panelled in polished blackwood, with what are known as pyramid headings, supported on trusses. The staircase hall contains, of course, the grand staircase, which is of polished blackwood, 6 feet 6 inches wide in the central portion, and turning to the right and left to the first floor in 6 feet wide portions. The handrail, and iron-work beneath, are, as may be conjectured, a prominent feature in this part of he house. At the end of the staircase hall there is an immense window, for which Messrs. Fergusson [sic] & Urie are making a quantity of embossed glass, portions of which will contain large figures of St. Andrew and St. George. The portions of the building upon the first floor corresponding with the two halls below will form a picture gallery and museum, and are beautifully ornamented in cement work. In fact wherever the eye rests costly and yet severely chaste decorations are to be seen, and among them some exquisite Corinthian pillars and cornices. Niches have been left for statues, and nothing seems to have been overlooked to add a stately elegance to the general effect, without anything obtrusively gaudy, the embossed glass, for instance, being extremely rich, and freely employed. The domed ceiling to the tower at this floor is beautifully proportioned and embellished. Double doors from it give access to the balcony. To describe the 50 or 60 rooms in the house, exclusive of the basement cellars, would make these remarks too lengthy, although a description of each would show that all contain some special feature reflecting credit upon those who had the designing of them, and here we may say that the contractor for the building 0 Mr. P. Colquhoun – has been the chief designer, assisted by Mr. Fox, architect, and by the Messrs. Chirnside themselves. The dining room and the drawing room are both on the ground floor, and are each 30 feet by 22 feet, exclusive of bay windows 6 feet deep, and of grand proportions and decorations. These rooms have elaborately moulded cornices, and marble mantelpieces of special design. Next to the dining room, and forming part of it if need be, is the breakfast room, 24 feet by 18 feet 6 inches. The passages connecting these rooms with the butler’s department are very conveniently arranged, and several folding doors are provided to shut off the series of kitchen apartments (which are on a lower level) from the principal ground floor. In the same way separate suites of apartments are provided up-stairs for night and day nurseries. All the floors below stairs are laid with 3 inch Oregon boards, forming an exceedingly smooth and firm flooring. Upstairs 2 ½ inch Kauri boards have been used. In several of the principal rooms a 20 inch border has been laid down in polished rosewood and oak parquetry work, which has a noble appearance. All the passages in the house are 6 feet wide and 12 feet high, so that abundant ventilation is given even by this means and there is an appearance of roominess everywhere which is most gratifying, none of the rooms being less than 11 feet high, and the principal ones are 18 feet high. The baths in various parts of the house are most complete, and very numerous, the servants being provided with two. The principal baths are fitted with electric bells, of which there are thirty four altogether, and two speaking tubes. In one of the storeys of the tower there is a smoking room, and upon the top of the tower a 25 feet kauri pine flagstaff is erected, sheathed with copper, to act as a lightening conductor. The staircase in the tower, and the provision made for closing in the head of the stairway, are details which have been attended to with more than ordinary care for the comfort of persons ascending the tower, and for the protection of the building. From the top of the tower a fine view of Melbourne can be obtained, also of the bay, and the various ranges to the west and north. The grounds surrounding the building are at present being brought into cultivation as ornamental shrubbery, &c., by Mr. Webley, the gardener, who has a difficult task, as the soil is poor and the surface is almost dead level. Thirty acres have been laid off for present operations, and the design includes a small lake in the south-eastern corner. A sunk fence will divide the ornamental grounds from the rest of the estate, and a handsome lodge will be erected at the end of the principal carriage drive. Provision has been made for lighting the whole house with gas, which will have to be made somewhere adjacent. The cost of the building alone is estimated at £40,000, and of course a very large sum will be required for properly furnishing it, and improving the grounds surrounding it. We think the Messrs. Chirnside deserve commendation for having spent so much money and time in erecting a building which has given profitable employment for a long time to nearly every branch of he building industry in the colony, and the maintenance of which cannot fail to cause a large annual expenditure. They are frequently abused for being wealthy, as though it were a crime, but they have shown in a variety of ways that they desire to make their wealth of considerable benefit to individuals other than themselves, and to the colony at large, and especially to the neighbourhood in which they have made for themselves a home of such princely proportions”.

Conservation work:

Both sidelights to the front entry door at the mansion are the reproduction artwork of Bruce Hutton of Almond Glass based on the original  designs from the smashed originals in 2012 (The hydrofluoric immersion was conducted in Sydney).
(re: email, Bruce Hutton & Ray Brown 10th April 2013)

Related posts:

1875: Rupertswood Mansion, Sunbury, Victoria.
31-10-1878: Mandeville Hall, Toorak, Victoria.
23-05-1896: Presbyterian Church, Werribee, Victoria.

Other related links:

An album of my recent sepia photos of Werribee Mansion.


[1] Biography: Andrew Spencer Chirnside (1818-1890) & Thomas Chirnside (1815-1887).

[2] London born and Hamilton based architect and designer, James Henry Fox. He also designed Holy Trinity Church at Coleraine which also has F&U windows.


3 comments on “1876: Werribee Park Mansion, Werribee, Victoria.

    • Hi Neil, the Werribee mansion etched windows are amazing craftsmanship. I think that there is probably a lot more of it around but would mainly be in private homes/mansions which means that it is harder to find.


    • Although this is a late reply/inclusion, I have evidence that the acid etched stairwell windows at Government House in Melbourne were also by F&U. I do have some photos of a lot of the acid etched windows at Govt House but not the stairwell windows unfortunately. It’s my belief that all the acid etched windows in Govt House were by Ferguson and Urie and were all made in the same year (1876) as the windows at the Chirnside’s Werribee Park Mansion and the ones in the back rooms and Billiard room at William Clarke’s “Rupertswood” at Sunbury.

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