Goulburn Heritage Group member DAPHNE PENALVER continues her research of some of the city's more significant buildings, designed by EC Manfred. Here she explores 'Ravensworth', later the Marys Mount Monastery, and the rather interesting character who commissioned its construction.
RAVENSWORTH is a delightful, rather whimsical drawing by EC Manfred in his private sketch book.
It shows steeply pitched roofing in rather Gothic form, broken at the gutter line with small decorative window gables. The front doorway and side verandah proportions have a distinctly ecclesiastical flavour. The off-set gable has a massive ground floor bay window that does not carry its own roofing but forms a quaint Juliet balcony.
Although the spirit of this design is still clearly visible in the present Marys Mount building complex, its original construction has been lost.
In 1884 Francis Tait commissioned EC Manfred to design a country residence. Tenders were called in December 1884, and the successful builders were: Thomas & Burgess, brickwork, 1185/7/-; George Dalton, finishing trades 1910/1/10; Edwin Quartly, painting 539/15/-, in total 3635/3/10.
Tait required a Dry Closet System installed: an internal toilet in the 1880s! In 1885 Manfred also designed the gate lodge, manager's cottage and engine shed.
Missionary, financier, politician, conman
FRANCIS Tait was born in Thornley, Durham, England in January, 1838 the son of Edward and Jane (nee Briggs). From 1856-58, he worked in Newcastle-on-Tyne before undertaking two years' theological training at the Wesley Missionary College in Surrey. In 1860 Tait married Eleanor Saint and the couple left for the Fiji mission field.
"The Men of Mark account of Tait's time in Fiji is colourful, but is not an accurate description of his postings. He served in four centres between 1861-70. All these places were very safe with a considerable number of European settlers, including traders and planters.
The world of 'heathendom', as Tait referred to it, would not have been as close to him as he describes. During his time on the chiefly island of Bau he tutored the son of the great chief Epenisa (Seru) Cakabau and sons of other chiefs. It is very likely Tait preached the sermon when Cakobau (high chief) crowned himself 'King of Fiji'.
In 1869 a special investigation was held into missionary trading activity in Fiji during the 1860s, something missionaries were not meant to do. Although no evidence has yet been found that Tait took to trading, there is the question of his vast wealth in evidence from 1882." (ref: Dr Andrew Thornley).
RETURNING to NSW, in 1872 Tait was appointed to the Armidale circuit of the Methodist Church; in 1875 he was transferred to Chippendale, followed three years later by transfer to Goulburn.
Tait was a skilled orator and during his time in Goulburn he increased the size of the regular Sunday congregations considerably. The gallery in the Wesleyan Church was erected to accommodate worshipers.
By 1881 Tait was experiencing difficulty using his voice. He proposed to the Church authorities that he take a year's leave to travel to England to consult a medical specialist. The Wesleyan Church membership gave Rev and Mrs Tait a right-royal valedictory tea meeting on March 18, 1882. Gifts of a Moroccan leather travel case containing everything required for a comfortable journey, and a purse of 65 sovereigns was presented.
Tait is reported to have consulted Dr Morell Mackenzie, an eminent laryngologist, about his voice/throat problem. He was advised not to strain his voice further, which led to him seeking to retire from active Wesleyan ministry on his return to NSW.
The question of money comes to mind: travel from Sydney to England, consultation with a top medical specialist, and touring to childhood haunts was far from a regular event for even the most astute of businessmen in 1882.
Tait had been in the 'regular' workforce for only two years, from age 18, out of the previous 24. Missionaries and clergy earned very little, often not sufficient to care for a wife and several children. How did he fund this trip, and his subsequent foray into the financial business world?
FRANCIS and Eleanor Tait had five children in Fiji, three of whom returned to Sydney: John, Edward and Francis jnr. A boy and girl were buried in Fiji. In 1877 Nellie was born in Sydney and died shortly after; the following year, Francis jnr died in Sydney. John George and Edward Wales outlived their parents.
In 1882 John was in partnership with Joseph Clarke, Clarke & Tait, having taken over Furner's Cash Store on the corner of Clifford and Cowper streets Goulburn. This partnership didn't last long: what happened to John is a mystery. By late 1886, younger son Edward, aged 20, had taken over the management of Kadwell's Kent Grove Orchard & Nursery as his father had purchased the business. Sometime later, Edward joined the police force and in 1906 was stationed at Crookwell. Edward Wales Tait died in 1952 at Dubbo.
With the death of her husband, Eleanor found herself without funds; no will, and debits probably greater than assets: from Lady Mayoress to pauper. In 1891 she married Charles Edward Belcher in Sydney, returning to live in Cowper St, Goulburn.
She died suddenly on Thursday, March 23, 1893, aged 54 years. Her obituary included the description of a kind, sympathetic natured person, always ready to assist in the cause of charity.
Ravensworth, Kenmore Estate
NOVEMBER 20, 1885 saw the grand opening of Ravensworth and the celebration of 25 years of marriage for Francis and Eleanor Tait. A temporary booth was erected in the courtyard where tables were set for 120 invited guests. During the meal a number of toasts were proposed, including one by Tait to his architect Edmund Cooper Manfred. He expressed himself perfectly satisfied with the architect’s efforts on his behalf.
THE Australian Mutual Building & Investment (AMB&I) Company of Sydney was formed in January 1883 with a nominal capital of Â£100,000 in Â£1 shares. There were seven shareholders in the initial float, with Tait the major investor with 5376 of the 8000 shares offered. Tait was the board chairman, and manager of the Goulburn branch from 1883.
The 1885 Goulburn Rate book shows five vacant lots owned by AMB&I Co. By 1890 the Goulburn Rate Books show extensive holdings in the city, Garfield, West Goulburn and Eastgrove.
On October 2, 1891 payments by the company were suspended. The Estate of Francis Tait still held the majority of shares, now increased to 6470. A letter included in Tait’s deceased estate papers states that the company had no record of some moneys claimed to have been deposited by investors in the Society. Did Tait invest in his own name?
THE March 12, 1885 edition of the Goulburn Herald includes mention of the newly formed Goulburn Olympic Ground Company, with Francis Tait as board chairman.
In January 1886, Tait applied for a gold and silver mining lease near Marulan in the name of New Carrington Gold and Silver Mining Company Ltd.
The list of Tait’s assets included shares in mining interests; 16 parcels might be sold while 24 parcels were listed as ‘unsaleable’.
FRANCIS Tait was also involved in local politics, being a councillor for the Centre Ward in the Goulburn Council from 1884; in 1887/1888 he was elected Mayor. In this position, Tait laid the foundation stone for the Town Hall in December 1887 in the presence of the NSW Governor.
In 1885, Tait was elected to represent the voters of Argyle in the NSW Legislative Assembly, a position he retained until January 26, 1887.
FRANCIS Tait was one of the first directors of Goulburn Foundry & Engineering Company.
Being director of a company carried with it responsibility for the good governance of the business. Considering how many businesses were associated with Tait, it begs the question: how much time did he devote to his business responsibilities?
He wasn’t the only business man associated with many ventures, but given his political responsibilities, did he overstretch himself?
His apparent wealth was money borrowed from banks, business associates, small investors or friends.
Local business and tradesmen made claims against the estate for debts incurred from 1887.
An unexpected end
FRANCIS Tait died suddenly on April 22, 1888 at the age of 49.
His cortege left from Ravensworth and travelled to the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Goldsmith St. His funeral was attended by a large number of Goulburn people as he had touched the lives of many through his work in the church, as the manager of ‘Tait’s Bank’ (AMB&I Co), and his place in local and state politics.
Strangely, for someone so prominent in Goulburn, and with such apparent wealth, there is no headstone for Tait, but there are several fenced double graves with no evidence of fallen headstones. Perhaps his distraught wife was unable to instruct a monumental mason; or there were insufficient funds to provide a suitable headstone.
The Administrators of his Estate offered rural properties Ravensworth, Little Gundary and Kent Grove for sale on October 20, 1888.
The Ravensworth house was withdrawn from the auction. It was finally purchased by the Passionist Order c1890 and renamed Marys Mount. In May 1891, EC Manfred was commissioned to extend the buildings to suit the new use as a monastery. The finished building was another example of EC Manfred’s skill in making pleasing additions to an existing structure.
A longer version of Francis Tait’s story has been deposited in the Archives of the Goulburn & District Historical Society. References: NSW Births, Deaths, Marriages; Free BMD UK; Family Search.org; Men of Mark; History of Goulburn, Ransome Wyatt; Goulburn & Sydney newspapers; Goulburn & District Historical Society Inc archives; personal correspondence.