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A cottage donated for the son of a highway robber

April 26, 2019

Elizabeth Spencer Wills built The Wills Cottage in Coppin Avenue in memory of her husband, Horatio. Horatio, born in Sydney, was the sixth son of a man transported for highway robbery.

Both Elizabeth and Horatio were children of convicts transported to Sydney in the very early days of the colony. He worked on Sydney’s waterfront and had little formal education.

Horatio, who became a printer, entrepreneurial settler and early colonial politician, was a colourful character.

Horatio was 21 and Elizabeth just 16 when they married in 1833. She nursed her first-born baby as they travelled NSW on horseback and bullock wagons with thousands of cattle and hundreds of sheep, camping on the way. They had farms in Lexington near the Grampians and then Belle Vue, near Geelong. There he set up a model farm and was active in the church, agriculture, immigration and charitable affairs.

Horatio was elected to the Victorian Legislative Council in 1855 and then the Legislative Assembly the following year. He had strong opinions on land reform, penal reform and defence.

He and Elizabeth had at least nine children over 26 years. She was known to be religious and loving in a rather formal and severe way with her family.

Horatio was killed in 1861 during a notorious massacre of would-be white settlers by Aboriginal people, aged 50. He was leading a large party of people, sheep and cattle to set up a farm at Cullin-La-Ringo near Rockhampton. Eighteen men, women and children in his group were killed by local Aboriginal landowners in the surprise raid using traditional weapons. Retaliatory action by troopers and settlers resulted in estimates of 370 deaths of Aboriginal men, women and children.

Elizabeth died in Geelong more than 45 years later, aged 91 in 1907.

Their son, Tom Wills, and his cousin Henry Harrison are credited with inventing Australian Rules football. There is a statue of Tom Wills at the MCG.

Elizabeth included her husband’s name on the cottage marker stone when it was built in 1898.

Main source: ‘Currency Lad, a Biography of Horatio Spencer Howe Wills’ by Terry Wills-Cooke.

Caption: A miniature likeness of Elizabeth painted for her wedding to Horatio on 2 December 1833.

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