‘Quiet’ philanthropists leave their stamp on Rushall Park

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‘Quiet’ philanthropists leave their stamp on Rushall Park

May 7, 2019

Theodotus Sumner and his wife, Sarah, were two of the Association’s most generous philanthropists, with a deep interest in Rushall Park.

Their interest in the Old Colonists’ began well before Theodotus’ death in 1884, however his extraordinary philanthropy was not realised until he died. He left a portion of his estate with Old Colonists being one of the charities being named. As trustee, his wife Sarah Sumner endowed Sumner Hospital, also Sumner Hall and Sumner Lodge 1890.[1]

Theodotus and Sarah were born in England. Sarah came to Victoria in 1837, surviving the shipwreck of the Isabella off the coast of Portland[2], then a small fishing village. The Isabella, carrying a cargo of sheep, and 25 passengers, had been en route to Gulf of St.Vincent. Four years later, Theodotus emigrated to Tasmania.

The couple met and married in 1852 in Melbourne, and lived at Stony Park, Glenlyon Road, Brunswick. The two-storey mansion had been built by Theodotus in 1845, and was described as a ‘magnificent’ estate of 120 acres, partly used for grazing and ornamental grounds. He also established a model farm Anniesleigh at Snapper Point, near Mornington, stocked with the first and finest Alderny dairy cattle in Victoria.

In 1852, Theodotus was admitted into a business partnership with Richard Grice, also a patron to the Old Colonists.   The company became the foremost mercantile house in the Colonies.

Aged 63, Theodotus died quietly at home in 1884. His obituary described him as ‘…a Victorian Colonist of 40 years standing… Mr Sumner always manifested an active interest in charitable and religious institutions. He was one of those useful members of the community who go about doing good without letting other people hear of their actions…[3]  Although not a frequent speaker, nor accustomed to talking for any length of time, he took part in the debates on important measures brought before the Victorian Legislative Council. He held moderate views on all questions…”

After his death, the redoubtable Sarah endowed Sumner Hall in 1890, Sumner Cottage in 1899; Sumner Hospital, in 1914 with Sarah laying the foundation stone in March where she received a bouquet from Caroline Gladstone. The hospital consisting of three wards for 13 patients and living quarters for two nurses was opened later that year.

Sarah was a regular visitor to Rushall Park until her death in March 1929. She died, aged 100, at her Brunswick home, and was interred at the Melbourne General Cemetery alongside her husband, father, mother and brother Edward.

Her daughter, Lady Maie Casey, was keenly involved too with the Old Colonists, becoming a life governor in 1926.

Sarah was described by her daughter as having eyes which ‘were brown and brilliant behind gold-rimmed spectacles. She had a long upper lip which closed on a determined mouth tinged with humour.[4]

[1]Argus12/3/1929
[2]Victorian Heritage data base, and many similar.
[3]Argus21 apr 1884 (Obituaries)
[4]Maie Casey, An Australian Story 1837-1907, London, Michael Joseph, 1962, pp 50 – 1.

“Our home has always been a place where family and friends are welcome.  Our cottage at Rushall Park is no different and the community of friends here is important to us and that’s why their work is part of my art box,” Jennifer Barden said.

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