Saturday, 24 February 2018

Donald Stuart Bain, founder of Merlynston

Donald Stuart Bain, c1935. Courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

Donald Stuart Bain was born at Berwick in 1880 and his early military training was undertaken as a member of the Berwick Cadet Corps. As a 20 year old he enlisted in the Boer War and served as a Trooper in the Kaffrarian Rifles then as a Lieutenant in Kitchener’s Fighting Scouts (2nd Battalion).

Members of the 2nd Kitchener's Fighting Scouts, from the Anglo Boer War website but taken from the supplement to the Auckland Weekly News, 13 February 1902, p2.

In 1910 Bain married Lillian Nathan, daughter of Simeon Nathan, furniture merchant and local government councillor. The Nathans were a well connected family. Lillian’s brother Harold was the managing director of Patersons Pty Ltd. (and his son Sir Maurice Nathan served as Lord Mayor of Melbourne from 1961 to 1963.) So his marriage into the Nathan family brought with it links to the business world, to local government and to a world of privilege.

In 1911, the Bain’s only child Merlyn was born at Malvern. Three years later, 34 year old Donald Bain, veteran of the Boer War then working as a stock and station agent based in Collins Street, enlisted in the 5th Battalian AIF. He embarked as part of the first convoy on 21 October 1914 on board its flagship, HMAT A3 Orvieto.

Orvieto at Alexandria, courtesy Australian War Memorial. Image PS0368.

You can read about some of the others who were on board the Orvieto here. 

Bain served briefly on the Gallipoli Peninsula, but by October 1915 he was in hospital in Egypt suffering from nervous debility. He was there for two months, by which time the Anzacs had withdrawn from the Peninsula. He made his way to France with the Australian troops in March 1916 but by June he was in hospital in Belgium with shell shock and neurasthenia after being blown up by a shell. A month later he was moved to London and then sent home to Australia where he was admitted to the 11th Australian General Hospital (Caulfield Military Hospital) for further treatment. Later still he was a resident of what the newspapers of 1923 referred to as a ‘mental home’ in Burwood. It is likely that this was ‘Hethersett’ Convalescent Hospital, run by Dr Ramsay Mailer, another man with connections to Coburg. You can read more about ‘Hethersett’ here.

You might also be interested to read Marina Larsson’s excellent book, Shattered Anzacs and Janet Lynch’s interesting article ‘The families of World War I veterans, mental illness and the campaigns for admission to Mont Park Military Hospital’ in Provenance: The Journal of Public Record Office Victoria, issue no. 14, 2015. You can read it online here.

By October 1917, Bain had recovered sufficiently to begin work at the Domain Camp in St Kilda Road, where we are told he was appointed to the command of the Guard.

By July 1919 it was clear that his marriage was in trouble. His wife left him, taking their 8 year old daughter with her. In the same year he bought the 80 acre Station Heights Estate in what was then called North Coburg. He subdivided it into 200  blocks and began to sell land and build ‘spec’ houses, firstly from his home in Boundary Road and then from his newly built residence in Orvieto Street. 

Age, 8 May 1920

Herald, 8 October 1920

Herald, 13 October 1920

Argus, 23 November 1920

He called the area Merlynston after his daughter.

Argus, 29 November 1920

Merlyn Stuart Bain, aged 12, in her aunt’s wedding party. Table Talk, 31 May 1923. 

Merlyn Stuart Bain, aged 18 years, about to go on an extended trip abroad with her mother. During this trip to England, she was presented at Court. Table Talk, 28 March 1929.

Merlynston Estate looking south, c1925. Courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

From 1921 to 1924 Bain served as a Coburg Councillor. Protracted divorce proceedings began in June 1923 and the Bain’s private lives hit the news stands. Both parties aired their grievances. He wrote to his father-in-law: ‘Give her plenty of money, take her to the races, allow her to gamble until the early hours of the morning, give her no housework to do, let her have breakfast in bed, and let her rise at 10 or 11 o’clock, then she may be a fairly contended woman.’ His wife accused him of drunkenness and ‘brutal conduct towards her’. Both claimed they had been deserted. He wanted to reconcile. She wouldn’t take the risk. Their petition was denied and they went to the High Court where their petition was denied again. They remained married but lived separately.

Bain moved to 21 Orvieto Street, Merlynston in the mid-1920s. He had named the street after the ship he sailed in in 1914. Despite his unhappy war experience, he called the house ‘The Dug Out’ and some of the streets in the area bear the names of ships or places that featured in his WW1 experience, for example, Marama Street, after the hospital ship in which he returned to Australia.

On the last day of the year in 1924, Bain returned home to find his housekeeper had set herself alight, presumably accidentally with a cigarette. The housekeeper, 62 year old widow Mary Wight, died in the Melbourne Hospital. No more is known of Mrs Wight or how long she had worked for Bain, just what is told in the newspapers.

Age, 15 January 1925

Now a major investor in the area, a valuer of war service homes and a Justice of the Peace, Bain served again on the Coburg Council in 1932-33. Around this time, his daughter Merlyn married John Osboldstone at St John’s, Toorak but it appears that neither her father, who had named an entire suburb in her name, nor members of his family, attended.

His estranged wife Lillian died in March 1935 and was buried at Brighton Cemetery.

Lillian Bain, from Who’s Who in the World of Women, Vol 2., 1934, reproduced on the People Australia website.

Bain died in January 1937 aged 57 and his cremation took place at Fawkner Memorial Park on 25 January. Members of the 5th Battalion Association attended and Coburg Councillor Stnaley Cole read ‘The Soldiers’ Ritual’. The chief mourner was his son-in-law John Osboldstone, so perhaps he and his daughter were in contact after all.

Eighteen months later, Bain’s ‘Dug Out’ in Orvieto Street had transformed into the ‘Strathaven’ Private Hospital. But more of this in a later blog entry.

Victorian electoral rolls (accessed via Ancestry)
Victorian Birth, Death, Marriage indexes
National Archives of Australia (WW1 attestation papers)
Australian War Memorial
Richard Broome, Coburg between two creeks
Argus, 5 Nov 1901
South Bourke and Mornington Journal, 22 Jan 1902
Punch, 24 Feb 1910
Table Talk, 31 May 1923
West Australian, 29 June 1923
Age, 29 June 1923
Age, 3 July 1923
Argus, 1 August 1923
Argus, 10 Nov 1923
Age, 30 Nov 1928
Table Talk, 28 March 1929
Argus, 18 March 1935
Argus, 16 March 1936
Argus, 17 Aug 1936
Argus, 25 Jan 1937
Age, 25 Jan 1937
Argus, 26 Jan 1937
Coburg Courier, 6 July 1938
Argus, 17 July 1943
Anglo Boer War website

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