Poor old Henry Dendy. In 1840, and still in England, he purchased 5,120 acres on the shores of Port Phillip. The land cost him £1 ($2) per acre and, a few months after his arrival in the colony in 1841, a town was surveyed and allotments put on the market. Despite the area being called “Waterville” water was in short supply. Land sales were slow, a depression hit the colony in 1843, and in 1845 Dendy was bankrupted.
His town, however, thrived, and the town that Dendy surveyed remains an enduring mark upon the map. The three crescents and neighbouring grid of streets (Church St among them) sit in defiant offset from the rest of Melbourne’s grid. This navigational challenge for the unwary visitor is, to locals, just one of Brighton’s endearing features.
The depression passed, land sales improved, and by 1846 Brighton was the third most populous town in Port Phillip. Only Melbourne and Portland were bigger. Large building sites and nearby sea bathing attracted wealthy residents and stately homes soon graced the town. One of the most accessible remaining examples is Billilla Mansion, built in 1878 and now owned by Bayside Council.
Right from the start, the spiritual needs of the local populace were well-catered for. St Andrew’s Anglican Church was founded in 1842, making it one of Victoria’s oldest. Catholic, Wesleyan and Methodist churches soon followed and by 1855 most churches had established schools in the area.
Spirituous needs were also catered for, with hotels springing up from the 1840s. The railway arrived a little later, making it to North Brighton in 1859 before being extended to Middle Brighton and Brighton Beach in 1861.
All this Henry Dendy lived to see and we can only imagine how he felt witnessing what he might have reaped. Unfortunately, when it came to business, luck was not on his side. All of his business ventures failed and Dendy died a pauper, in 1881, at Walhalla.