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The Davilak Estate

Davilak, now part of Manning Park, was one of Cockburn’s only large and wealthy family estates. The land was bought up in the 1840s by British entrepreneur Henry Manning, patriarch of a successful building and merchandising company, and would become a home for Manning family descendants for the next century.

The Manning family origins

Though Henry Manning was responsible for bringing the Manning name to Western Australia, he never reached its shores himself. Instead, he sent his younger brother Charles to be the family representative in the Swan River Colony, expanding the Manning empire across the globe.

Charles had spent many years running the family business in Peru, and had married and buried two wives there. Following the death of his second wife, Charles sent his children back to England and came to the Swan River Colony in 1854. He quickly married again, to 17-year-old Matilda Birkett, who had arrived in the colony in 1853 with her mother and sisters. Matilda and Charles had seven more children.

Manning’s folly

He built a large and ostentatious house on the corner of Pakenham and Short Streets in Fremantle, with extravagant glass windows and an observatory on the top floor. According to legend, it became known as Manning’s Folly, being entirely too grand for colonial Fremantle’s tastes.

Buying the land

Henry and Charles Manning’s land purchases were made through a Fremantle land and shipping agent, J.W. Davey. It is likely that Davey himself was responsible for bringing the Mannings into the Fremantle real estate game, as he owned Cockburn Sound Location 3 which was a large square of land centred on what we now know as Manning Lake. 

When he arrived in 1854, Charles Manning bought up dozens of smaller parcels of land surrounding Davey’s holding, and as Davey had died in 1852 in a fall from his horse, at some point they took over his lease as
Charles Alexander Manning of the Manning Estate 1858
well, though maps continued to use Davey’s name on Location 3 for many years.

Building Davilak

The earliest building on the Manning’s Fremantle land was built in the mid-1850s, soon after Charles arrived in the colony to live. A map from 1861 shows a couple of buildings on the north-western side of the lake, one of which was apparently a 10-room house, though not intended for the Manning family to live in. 

It was run as a farm to supply the main house in Fremantle, and later rented to the government along with the surrounding land, to house a camp for convicts building the Rockingham Road. This house reportedly burned down sometime in the early 1860s.

In 1866, three years before his death, Charles Manning had a new house built on the southern side of the lake. This house had 14 rooms and several outbuildings all built of the local limestone, and it was at this time that the collection of land parcels around the lake came to be known collectively as ‘the Davilak Estate’.  The name was likely derived from the area's first landholder, J.W. Davey (see more about the naming of Davilak here).

Charles Manning’s death, 1869

Upon Charles Manning’s death in 1869, most of his considerable landholdings in the colony were offered for auction over a period of months. Davilak was left in trust to his eldest Australian son, Henry, under the care of Matilda. By January 1870 Matilda had put it up for sale, when ‘the well-known estate of Davilak’ was comprised of 
Cockburn Sound Locations Nos. 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 87, 98, 99, 101, 102, 109, 112, 113, 114, and 133, containing 541 acres... considerable portion of this property is under cultivation. There is a commodious dwelling house and out-buildings, and a large vineyard thereon. The property is now in the occupation of Mr. A. Armstrong.
Charles' brother, Henry, the original investor in Fremantle land, purchased Davilak from Matilda for £400. A son by one of Charles' first wives, Lucius Alexander, had followed Charles to Fremantle in 1857, and married a local woman, Florence Bickley, in 1869. Henry left Davilak to Lucius after his death in 1871. By 1875 Florence gave birth to a daughter, Olivia Davilia, at Davilak. In 1876, Lucius, Florence and the children went to England so Azelia and Alfred could have treatment for polio, and the estate, including the house, was once again offered for lease.

They returned from England in 1878, together with Arthur Manning, Lucius' half-brother, and lived at Davilak. By 1886, Lucius and Florence had seven children. Lucius Alexander expanded the Davilak estate, planting vineyards and breeding cattle and horses in connection with his expanding business ventures in the newly-explored Kimberley area.

Lucius Manning’s death, 1888

Lucius Alexander died in 1888 at the young age of 45, leaving the estate in trust to his wife Florence, and their children who ranged in age from 18 (Alfred) to 2 years old (Xanthorina). Alfred went on to run his father’s businesses and took over the house at Davilak, while his mother continued to live on the property.

In 1891 Alfred put the whole estate up for lease, and advertisements ran in the newspapers for over four months. By this time the estate was over 700 acres including the house, stables, farm buildings, servant’s lodge, paddocks, vineyards, lime kilns, a well and windmill to pump water to the house, and a private road. 
Davilak with hills behind

Florence Manning remained on the estate throughout the 1890s, during which time a camel quarantine station was set up in what was called ‘Davilak Paddock’. This was likely the land to the north of the family house, and closer to the coastline, as the camels were landed at Robb Jetty and walked to the quarantine enclosures from there.

Trustees of the estate

It was evident that, due to the immense number of landholdings and other business ventures left in trust by Lucius to his wife and children, what would become known as ‘the estate of the late L.A. Manning’ was a full-time income provider. 

Using their considerable capital, the trustees of this estate bought and sold land, built houses, shops and commercial buildings, created new farming estates, and donated money to worthy causes. The children of Lucius and Florence likely lived very well off the income.

Florence remarried in 1897 to Charles Strode-Hall, who had been an agent for the Manning family business. Strode-Hall had business connections in Malaysia and Singapore, and the newlyweds left Western Australia to live overseas for the next decade.

Lucius’ children

At the time of Lucius Alexander Manning's death in 1888, all of his seven children were alive and it appears that they were all given shares in the Davilak Estate. The youngest child, Xanthorina, died in 1908 at the age of 22, and her estate was valued at almost £20,000 (mostly town lots in Perth and Fremantle) to be shared between her six siblings.

Of the remaining Manning children, Azelia and Olivia both married in 1900, with Olivia leaving to live in Melbourne. Florence Manning married a Mr. Holmes and went to live in England. Alfred Manning went on to run the Davilak estate, Victor Manning was sent to school in England and later joined the military and served in India, where he met his wife, and Lucius Charles Manning married Eileen Tickell, a friend of the family, and lived the high life in Peppermint Grove.

Dividing the Davilak land

Florence returned to Western Australia in 1911, and the land at Davilak began to be divided into smaller lots. In 1914 local newspapers reported that ‘surveyors are in Manning’s paddock’, and that the land would be divided into ten lots, some of which would be split up again into small-scale farming lots of two to ten acres.  
A year later in 1915, the remaining segments of the Davilak Estate were divided among the children. Azelia Ley was given 152 acres in this transfer. She built Manningtree House in the early 1920s.

This dividing up of the enormous property in the Cockburn district was seen as a great benefit: for too long large swathes of land had been held by wealthy agriculturalists who wanted to use it only for grazing their livestock. The subdivision of Davilak, like the Spearwood Estate before it, would create new opportunities for the area to develop its potential as a market gardening district near to Fremantle. 

Alfred Manning’s death, 1924

Alfred Manning was still living at Davilak during this period of subdivision: on each electoral roll until his death in 1924, his occupation is given as ‘gentleman’. His obituary spoke of his extensive travelling, his famous orchid collection, and his as-yet-unpublished literary work. 

Also living at Davilak in the 1920s was Arthur Nelson Manning, one of Charles Alexander’s children from his marriage to Matilda. He died
Gladys and Eileen Tickell
in 1928 at Davilak, ‘his old home’, at the age of 68 after having spent 40 years in the north-west.  He was most likely acting as caretaker to the property, and his death prompted Azelia to move permanently onto the Davilak Estate.

As Alfred never married and had no children, his ownership of Davilak passed to his brother Victor Manning. Neither Victor nor their third brother Lucius Charles lived at Davilak, with Lucius a well-off businessman with a home in Peppermint Grove and a busy social schedule, and Victor an ex-army major who had spent much of his adult life in England and India, and divided his time between a home in Claremont and a rural property at Mingenew.

Nevertheless, it seems that Victor eventually took on the house at Davilak, as he was living there in retirement with his mother upon his death in 1935 at the age of 52. His eldest son Colin inherited the house and land and decided to sell it, having no connection with the place himself.

Davilak’s decline

After Victor’s death, it seems Davilak remained a home for Florence Strode-Hall (often called Florence Hall in official documents). She died in 1946 at the age of 96, having outlived three of her seven children as well as two husbands. After this, the house at Davilak was no longer occupied.

Victor’s two sons and their mother lived in England, and did not consider Davilak home. Azelia had no children, Olivia’s family was established in Melbourne, and Florence had moved to England after her marriage.

Lucius Charles, the last remaining Manning son, died in 1975 at the age of 94, but he had never lived at his childhood home after his marriage in 1911. He was still considered to have an interest in the estate, however, and there are several photographs of him amongst the ruins of the Davilak house in the 1970s.

Disrepair and destruction

In late 1960 the abandoned Davilak house was burned catastrophically in a fire. The house, according to news reports, had been reduced to a derelict state by vandals over the previous years, and the fire gutted the building so that only its limestone walls remained standing. By this time the estate was owned by a Mr. Sebastian Galati, whose limestone quarrying company had interests in the quarries that came as part of the estate's landholdings.

Over the following decades even those limestone walls were not preserved, and all that is left today are the low-lying outlines of the house and its rooms. The land is owned by the Department of Planning, and set aside by the government for parks and public recreation, but no
Lucius Manning sitting on wall at the ruins of Davilak House
heritage or preservation work has been done to keep the ruins from disappearing entirely.

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