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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Merlin House, Corner Langhorne and Wilson streets, Dandenong, undated

Merlin was built for Miss Matilda Louisa Shaw in 1884 as a residence and private school. Born in Derbyshire, Shaw was 16 when she arrived at Port Phillip in June 1857 with her father John Frederick Shaw, mother Jane 35 and her brothers and sisters. It is believed that Matilda was employed as a governess to the Keys family at Keysborough before she ventured into the business of setting up her own school in 1869.

Shaw rented the newly constructed building at 51 Langhorne Street known as Laurel Lodge, the house was named by either Miss Shaw or its builder and owner, Robert Huckson. Miss Shaw’s curriculum aimed to cultivate young ladies accomplished in the ‘gentle arts’ of English, French, German, music, singing, drawing, painting, and needlework. The small school was one of many such private establishments to flourish in the colony during this period.

The Dandenong township began to grow and the little school thrived. In 1880, Miss Shaw purchased a property on the corner of Langhorne and Wilson Streets, from W. H. Jones who had owned the block since 1856. Some time during her rental of Laurel Lodge, ownership of the building transferred to James Lecky, who died in 1884.This event seems to have triggered some changes for Shaw, as that same year she had a new house built further down the street on her land on the corner of Wilson Street.

Upon its completion she transferred her school there, naming the house Merlin. In November of that year she placed an advertisement for ‘a good plain cook and laundress able to milk, wages 12/-’, indicating that she must have kept at least one cow on the property. Matilda conducted her school until 1889, when she was about 50 years old.

That year she married Mr James Facey, they resided at Merlin until Matilda died at the age of 72, on 4 October 1912. She is buried in the Dandenong Cemetery, in the same grave as an unknown identity, Susan Adams, who was interred there 30 years previously at the age of 75. Nearby lies her brother, Henry Sanders Shaw, who died in 1923.

One of her pupils was the celebrated actor, Mr Oscar Asche. In the early 1870’s as Miss Matilda Shaw kept the Ladies Seminar, ‘Laurel Lodge’, next to the Church of England, and was in charge of some 20 lady boarders. Later Miss Shaw gave up the school and sold the property (she did not own the property), An ardent supporter of St James Church of England and Sunday School.

A son from James Facey’s previous marriage came to look after him, when, blindness in his latter years confined him to the top floor of Merlin. He died in 1914. A blacksmith by trade, he had initially come to the district in the mid-1860s, buying the Springhurst property at Cranbourne.

By 1917, Merlin was a private hospital operating under the supervision of Sister (Miss) M. A. Ahern. The Ahern family were district pioneers, with Daniel Ahern farming land on the fringe of the Dandenong township. Sister Ahern, of Merlin Private Hospital died in May 1944, and her grave can be found in the Catholic section of the Dandenong Cemetery.

The house ceased functioning as a hospital in the 1940s and was subsequently converted into apartments. Undergoing renovations in 1970s, and in the early 1990s, then in 1998 it was sold. "The Age" 7th March 1998, Real Estate section advertised it for sale as Merlin House, built in 1884, covering 42 squares, with 4 bedrooms and ‘lovingly restored’ in 1991.

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