FORTUNA VILLA

Bendigo Victoria


1855 to 1880

In 1855, JTC Ballerstedt erected one of the first quartz crushing mills on the Bendigo gold fields. By early 1856 he had erected an eight room, double-fronted, semi-basement, two-storey house of red brick with stucco dressings to the window and door openings. This building was called Fortuna Villa.  A detached kitchen to the south of the house and a store to the north, between the house and quartz mill, had also been erected. In 1857, Ballerstedt purchased from the Crown Allotment 1 of section 33B, on which his house and mill had been erected.

Ballerstedt's house was situated beside the New Chum line of reef and astride the probable extension of the Nell Gwynne line of reef, the lower floor penetrating the reef. The grey green stone is still visible at many points around the lower foundation of the mansion.

Between 1858 and 1869, substantial construction work was carried out on the surrounds and to the crushing mill. A lookout tower was erected above the detached kitchen, a billiard room and adjoining stables were added adjacent to the store and quartz battery, and a tailings treatment plant was also constructed. The Villa was accessed from gained from a private road to Alley Street (now Marong Road), to the north-west, providing a direct route to Ballerstedt's claims and workings on Victoria Hill.

On 1 March 1869, the local architects, Vahland and Getzsehmann, called tenders for a two storied addition to the house. This gabled wing to the south of the house added a further three rooms and was representative of the architects' romantic classical work, similar in appearance to their treatment of the Echuca Town Hall (1867) and Waranga Shire Hall (1858). The whole of the villa was surrounded by a large masonry and brick wall with an impressive arched gateway leading to the main entrance on the eastern face, overlooking the mining operations of the Bendigo gold fields.

On 6 May 1871, Theodore Ballerstedt sold the villa to George Lansell for the sum of 20,000 pounds, an extraordinary sum for that time. As a comparison, in the same year the squatter Thomas Austin's 42 room mansion, stables and offices at `Barwon Park', Winchelsea, were built for the total sum of 12,300 pounds. Lansell immediately commissioned several architects to draw up plans for the further development of his newly-acquired villa, however nothing of note evolved from these grandiose conceptions.

Other work continued, with alterations to the quartz mill in 1871 and the excavation of a dam at the newly named 'Fortuna Crushing' Works', and in 1874 the foundation stone was laid for the construction of a new 30 head stamper battery. On November 16 that year, part of the chimney stack associated with the new crushing battery blew over in a storm, damaging the walls to the tailing treatment works. In the subsequent rebuilding, the height of the walls on the northern side of the tailing treatment works was increased.

In 1875, Vahland and Gretzschmann prepared drawings for a new principal entrance on the western side of the building and a verandah on the eastern side. The elaborate cast-iron lacework for the verandah, supplied by G.C. Scott of Melbourne, included a panel positioned above the original entrance-way with the words `Fortuna Villa' worked into the lacework. Romantic classical facades were added to the northern elevation of the house and also to the southern elevation of the billiard room. Statues were positioned on the parapets and in the garden with aeroteria on the bargeboards.

In 1876, Lansell returned to England for the first time, and travelled extensively throughout Europe. Following his return, the work continued with the previously exposed red brick external walls being cement rendered.

In 1879, construction began on the Pompeii Fountain, fashioned after the one in the 'House of the Great Fountain' in Pompeii; Lansell returned from Italy with lantern slides of the excavations. These slides are now believed to be in private ownership in Bendigo. The creation, in 1880, of the elaborately-glazed conservatory on the lower level of the lookout parallels that at `Mandeville Hall', Toorak, by Charles Webb in 1878 and at Frederick Sargood's `Ripponlea' at Elsternwick. Coach houses adjoining the stables were constructed and the main access drive to the villa changed to a wide avenue opening from Chum Street to the south. During this period Lansell also converted the tailing treatment plant into an outdoor swimming bath.

A flume ran from the quartz mill to a pyrites works on the west boundary of the property. Four dams were constructed and landscaping of the area outside the walled garden surrounding the house began. The two Sequoia Gigantes were planted either side of the axis to the front of the house, the driveway from Chum Street fenced and planted with an avenue of eucalypts, and trees were planted to screen to poppet heads of Lansell's '222' and 'Fortuna' mines near the Chum Street entrance, and the elevated tramway from the '222' to the quartz mill.

1880 to 1907

Bedelia Lansell died childless in September 1880, and Lansell left Sandhurst and the Bendigo gold fields to return to England, leaving his business associate E.I. Dyason to manage his interests and live in Fortuna during his absence.

In 1887, Lansell returned to Sandhurst with a new wife and three children. Over the next twenty years, Fortuna was to expand along with the Lansell family. No cost was spared to beautify the building and surrounding gardens in a manner `befitting a Prince'. Beginning in 1888, Lansell added a three storey extension to the north side of the house, including a master bedroom with adjoining dressing room and the first of the indoor bathrooms and toilets. These rooms adjoined the original billiard room, linking the main house to the stables and crushing battery. However the great feature of these extensions was the Picture Gallery on the third floor. Measuring 37 feet by 21 feet and 22 feet high, this unique room with its curved ceiling crowned with a lantern light, highly enriched cornices and other embellishments was Lansell's showpiece, displaying his acquired wealth as well as catering for his obsession with the game of billiards. A fully imported billiard table occupied the centre of this gallery, the whole extension being heated by central heating. With the installation of this heating Fortuna was considered to be the first private residence in the colony so heated.

Lansell continued expansion at Fortuna. In 1890 the architect Emil Maurmann designed the mansard attic bedroom addition, which was constructed over the original part of the house and adjacent to the great Billiard Room, providing bedrooms and sitting rooms for the staff. In the surrounds, the overhead flume to the pyrites works was removed, the rose garden established on the tailing dump to the south of the main lake, the lookout tower atop the conservatory relocated to the rose garden and numerous statues positioned around the garden. In 1893, the last of the three billiard rooms constructed at Fortuna was added to the south of the house at ground level, designed by William Beebe - another local architect. The upstairs Billiard Room and Picture Gallery was converted to a ballroom.

Between 1893 and 1895, a new Entrance Hall replaced the earlier hall and a bay window was added to the first bedroom at the front of the house. The music room was extended onto the eastern porch, enclosing the earlier open colonnades, and a hipped roof replaced the lookout tower on the conservatory.

In 1900, the whole of the eastern front of the house had been extended by 4 feet and by 1904 the intricately decorated plaster arches and metal ceiling had been added to the Reception Room, as well as an Aesthetic style mantelpiece and mirror in the study. A Shadehouse had also been erected beside the fountain. Lansell also had the quartz crushing battery extended. The addition of a spacious hall to the lower level of the main house, principally a statuary, allowed the music room above it to be further extended. In remodelling the building, the distinctive cupola and stairwell were introduced, replacing the previous curved stairwell. Above the music room an attic was added complementing the previous mansard addition of 1890.

In March 1906, George Lansell died at the age of 82, however Fortuna was still to reach its peak. In 1907 Edith Lansell completed the work began by her husband some thirty six years before. In what appears to be a frenzy of activity Edith supervised the final additions and alterations to Fortuna including:

  • The conversion of the original billiard room at the north end of the house into an office complete with bay window and dressing rooms;
  • The addition of a gymnasium above the office with large folding doors opening into the upstairs ballroom;
  • Bay windows added to other windows on the western facade along with a full length balcony with access to both the upstairs gymnasium and ballroom;
  • Extensions to rooms adjoining the east side of the ballroom and the verandah with a walkway on top extended across the full length of eastern elevation;
  • A new shade house was erected at the south end of the billiard room and the timber garage, summer house and detached laundry were also built at this time; and
  • Many internal rooms were re-modelled at this time with new plaster ceilings or pressed metal ceilings being added and the fine marble bath and basin combinations added to the bathrooms adjoining the main bedrooms.

'Fortuna Villa' was finally complete and complimented with extensive landscaping which included thirteen acres of spacious grounds containing five lakes, gazebos, boat shed and jetties, tennis court and pavilion, garden seats, a small fountain adjacent to the conservatory, new entrance gates and gravel paths and drives. The original garden wall had been reduced in height at the front of the house and finished with an iron palisade.

History of the owners of Fortuna

Historically, Fortuna is significant for the record it provides from 1855 to 1871 of Christopher and Theodore Ballerstedt, Australia's first mining magnates, and from 1871 to 1935 of the Lansell family. George Lansell (The Quartz King) was one of Australia's most successful and adventurous nineteenth-century gold mine owners and speculators.

Gold was officially discovered in October 1851 at a place called 'The Rocks', near the present-day Golden Square along Bendigo Creek. Where sheep had grazed quietly in the 1840s, the cry of "Gold!! Gold!!" in late 1851 turned the tranquil valley into a turbulent scene of human activity.

The gold rushes followed and thousands of miners swarmed into the Bendigo valley to seek their fortune. A government camp was established at Golden Square but moved to Camp Hill (now part of Rosalind Park) in 1852. By 1855, the small bustling shanty town had given way to the township of Sandhurst, based on a plan by R.W. Larritt.

By 1856, with the decline of alluvial gold on the Bendigo fields, the diggers were required to turn to something other than alluvial sinking and their attention was directed, by newspapers and old experienced miners, to the quartz reefs, of which huge outcroppings were so often observed on every side.

On Victoria Hill, to the northwest of Sandhurst town above New Chum Gully, gold was discovered in 1854 on the New Chum or Victoria Reef. This was the first reef worked in the Bendigo area and one of two principal lines of reef on the Bendigo gold fields.

The eccentric German Johann Gottfried Tobias (JGT) Christopher Ballerstedt, who had begun working systematically in an open cut mine in 1855 on the Victoria Reef, was laying the foundations of a handsome fortune from a claim allegedly bought from a couple of schoolboys who had opened it up successfully.

The Ballerstedts had come to Bendigo in the early 1850s from the California Gold Rush of 1849. JCT Christopher Ballerstedt was born in Russia in 1796 and fought in the battle of Waterloo as a soldier in Bluchers Army.

Ballerstedt and his son Theodore were possibly the first to prove that gold yields were not inversely proportional to the depth below ground.

Interest in reef mining grew from the mid 1850s as the alluvial deposits dwindled. However, progress was hampered due to the difficulty of extracting the gold from the quartz. Soon steam crushing plants replaced hand dollies and Chilean Mills and, as the shafts went deeper, windlasses were replaced by stem winding plants. With the introduction of this equipment, the need for capital resulted in the formation of mining companies in Sandhurst as early as 1857.

Another who was firmly convinced of the future of the reefs was a young Englishman, George Lansell, who had been lured to the Bendigo gold fields by reports sent to him from Australia by his younger brother, Wooten. Born in Margate, Kent, England, on 24 August 1823, George Lansell was the eldest son of Thomas Lansell, a grocer and tallow chandler. At the age of 14, George left school to assist his father in the family business.

When Lansell received letters from his brother, a ship's officer who had travelled widely and visited Australia several times, he decided to emigrate and try his luck on the Australian gold fields. Sailing aboard the `Virginia' bound for South Australia, George was accompanied by his brother, William. Landing at Port Adelaide in 1853, the Lansell brothers headed for the diggings at 'Echunga' where they prospected unsuccessfully for gold.

After a time, they returned to Adelaide and fell to their old trade of tallow merchants. Shortly after, they decided to move to the Victorian gold fields, where news of fantastic finds was now thrilling the Colony. The two young men sailed to Melbourne and, on arrival, made directly for the Bendigo valley, where they were re-united with their brother. Realising that few of the thousands of diggers had made any real fortune, the brothers formed a partnership, setting up a butchery and soap/candle factory at View Point, the very heart of the small community of Sandhurst.

The business prospered, but not without problems. In November 1857 the Municipal Council received a number of complaints about the smells emanating from the tallow works of G & W Lansell, View Point. There followed a flurry of correspondence to the editor of the Bendigo Advertiser, both for and against the Lansell brothers. Eventually, public opinion forced the Lansells to remove their business from the sensitive noses around View Point.

While the Lansells were struggling to find their feet in the new country, the Ballerstedts had already accumulated great wealth. In 1857, Theodore Ballerstedt purchased from the Crown the site of 'Fortuna' (allotment 1 of section 33B) above New Chum Gully, adjacent to the New Chum Reef. He had already established a substantial house on the allotment, along with a small crushing mill, detached kitchen and storehouse, to house his wife and four surviving children.

Between 1855 and 1861, Ballerstedt and Son made the extraordinary profit of 243,000 pounds and subsequently became Australia's first mining magnates. As evidence of their standing in the community, the Ballerstedts hosted a dinner for the Governor, Sir Henry Barkly, during his visit to Sandhurst in 1857.

Lansell's lust for gold heightened and he took a keen interest in all around him, observing the diggers in the various gullies and the men prospecting on the reefs. Deciding to try his luck again, George dissolved the partnership with his brothers, invested all his savings into some of the more primitive sorts of quartz endeavours and succeeded only in losing everything.

Again, after a time, he invested all he had in claims and again he lost the lot. Going back into business with his brother, Lansell was determined to win, buying into various companies and parties over the next few years though few of these returned him any profit at all. Then he purchased a large interest in the Advance Company, on the Victoria Reef.

During the first three of four years of the 1860s, the Advance had been working with fair returns. The midldle of the decade saw the bulk of Bendigo's quartz claims in a depressed state. The Advance Company and three or four others alone yielded well. In the years up to 1866, 7600 tons of quartz had been crushed from the mine from which 10,640 ounces of gold were obtained. The working expenses had been 8,571 pounds and the dividends paid were for 31,080 pounds. In September 1866, 792 tons were crushed for 1048 ounces of gold. The mine was finally paying dividends to Lansell. He had also previously made a substantial investment in the Cinderella Mine on Johnson's line of reef and the returns on it too were splendid. The Advance and Cinderella mines were the cornerstone of the Lansell's fortune.

In time he became interested in almost every reef in the district and his sound judgement proved most useful in their development. He rose head and shoulders above the other quartz reefers. He was appointed Director on the boards of over thirty-four mines and his influence over the destiny of Bendigo mining grew year by year.

From this time forward the history of George Lansell is practically the history of Bendigo quartz reefing. He made a careful study of quartz reefing and never hesitated to sink deeper and deeper in his search for gold, this in spite of the contrary opinion of many of his associates. Financially, it was a potentially hazardous business. He stood to lose all, as well as win much. A major win saw him profit by 14,000 lbs in one fortnight and, though he was successful overall, he did lose thousands over the years through bad investments.

Fortuna is regarded in Bendigo today as an outstanding symbol of the town's early growth on the wealth of gold, much of it attributed to Lansell's intuition for finding and exploiting reef deposits.

Fortuna is also historically significant for its association with the Survey Corps, later the Survey Regiment, of the Australian Army. The site was acquired in 1942 as the Land Headquarters (LHQ) Cartographic Company, a base for the mapping activities of the Survey Corps during World War 2. Two corrugated iron buildings, known as buildings 10 (Reame Store) and 12 (Clothing Store) are the earliest remnants of the army's presence at Fortuna. In 2008, Fortuna was still operated of the Army Survey Regiment, with the mansion being used for accommodation and administration, and the former crushing works being used for the storage and printing of military maps.


*Ghost of George Lansell appears as a bearded figure.

*Fortuna at night can sometimes smell of roses.

*Ghost of a teenage girl appears as a spectre asking people to leave.

*Footsteps at night, the tapping of a cane, and in some rooms cold spots can be felt.

*In 1986, a witness saw a dark shape, a head and torso without legs, passing through the bannister of the main staicase.

*the voice of a woman, supposed to be Bedilia, his first wife, who died in uncertain circumstances.

*Mysteriously, locked doors are found open.

*A boy in a sailor suit revealed himself to a female soldier, disappearing when she called out for help.



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