Freeman on Ford, the former Oriental Bank (1866-1884)
The history of the former Oriental Bank and Brigidine Convent
Freeman on Ford a former Oriental Bank and Brigidine Convent, circa 1876. The Bank was built in 1876 and later became the Brigidine Convent of Mt. St. Joseph.
At a glance:
The land was granted to The Oriental Bank on 25 August 1857. The building constructed in 1866 to a design by architect Leonard Terry. (Architect of The Melbourne Club, Lazars, Trinity Chapel-Melbourne University and various other distinguished buildings in and around the city of Melbourne.) It remained the Oriental Bank until 1884. Around 1886 it was purchased by the Rev Dean Tierney of St Joseph’s Church for use as a convent and school by the Brigidine nuns. Dean Tierney paid 1000 pounds for the building.
The Oriental Bank was suspended in 1884 for a number of reasons as per this article in the the local Ovens and Murray Advertiser page 2.
Norman Lawrence, former bank manager of The Oriental Bank until it was suspended in 1884. The photo is dated 1881.
Beechworth back then
On 1st October 1886, four Brigidine nuns left Abbeyleix, Ireland to sail to Australia. After arriving at Williamstown on November 14, 1886, they finally arrived in Beechworth by train on Saturday November 17 1886 to a very enthusiastic public welcome. The sisters immediately set about establishing a convent in the Oriental Bank building. This was the second Brigidine Convent to be established in Australia! (The first being at Echuca, slightly earlier.)
Reverend Mother, Mary Vincent Cummins, found that she was expected to repay the money of 1000 pounds. In December 1886, the Mother Superior began to convert the bank into a convent and school, improvising to the extent that she made an altar out of a luggage case.
Ford Street undated about 1859 with the temporary office of the Oriental Bank (timber one storey building) (Construction work also in Left foreground with workman blurred by movement) State Library of Victoria
The Bank Chamber, the front lower part of the building facing the main street, was fitted with desks and benches in January 1887. Three of the upstairs rooms were furnished as dormitories and the large garden ran through to Loch Street. In February the boarding and day school for girls opened, but the building’s inadequacies soon become apparent. Mother Superior herself appealed to the parishioners for assistance to build a new convent. Hence, the Sisters took over the permanent charge of St. Joseph’s school in Priory Lane on the 17 January 1887, still in operation today. In the same year they purchased ten acres of land adjacent to the school and stage one of the new convent and secondary school began in 1887.
Norman Lawrence, former Bank Manager of the Oriental Bank and his wife Emma Blanche Debby married 1883
By 1906 the building became the premises of the State Savings Bank of Victoria and remained so until they relocated in 1988. The building was then privately purchased and became a family residence in its entirety.
In February 2002 the building was purchased by the current owners who have restored this majestic building to its former glory with great detail to its Victorian era. Many original features such as the fireplaces, stair case and ornate cornices have been retained. The building has been sympathetically restored with great attention to detail.
Consequently, the owners have been awarded four heritage awards from Indigo Shire for the many years restoring and adapting the historical building to the highest level and repurposing it to quality accommodation