Summers at The Kipsey
Many of the early houses in Torquay were built as seaside holiday cottages by people from inland Victoria, so it was no surprise when we set about finding out the story behind the” Kipsey” that the first owners were from Ballarat.
The Kipsey is a charming little cottage in Parker Street and work on it started in the early 1900’s.
James Albert Gear and his brother William Underhill Gear built the little house. The brothers were sons of William Edwin Gear an Englishman from Barnstaple in Devon and Kezia Underhill from Crediton who journeyed to start a new life in Australia with 6 children in in 1860’s.
The rate books show several blocks of land in the name of a third brother John Gear, but after he passed away in 1898 James Albert Gear and subsequently his wife Sarah Jane Foster are listed as the owners. The Gears join a substantial list of other early home owners in Torquay who came from Devon. Folklore tells us that James Follet (born South Petherton, Somerset in England) who had the Palace Hotel is said to have suggested calling the township Torquay after Torquay in Devonshire UK.
The Gear family would travel from Ballarat in the summer, on a horse and dray stopping at hotels along the way and taking several days to arrive in Torquay.
James Albert Gear employed the help of his brother William to build the house bringing up rocks from the
Zeally beach, which they then rendered. By 1909 the little house was ready for the family to spend the first of many summers by the beach at Torquay.
Above the front door they put in a stained glass window engraved with the name “The Kipsey” which is an old English word for –a place to sleep or shelter, the glass sign remains in place at the house today.
James Albert Gear, an herbalist, and Sarah Foster Gear had six sons and would holiday with the children most summers at Torquay. The little house had 3 tiny bedrooms and a kitchen. At the rear of the house was an under croft with a metal trellis and it was out here that the family would sit and eat, play cards and bathe in a large metal tub. The old Coolgardie safe hung from the roof. The Family had a bathing box also called “the Kipsey” on the front beach at the bottom of Price Street.
The metal trellis served the house well in 1940 when the fires came through as it offered good resistance to the flames that lapped up at it and burned down the neighbour’s house only meters away. In fact, when the family arrived to see the fire damage in March of 1940 they were amazed to find “Kipsey“ was the only house left standing in the street.
James and Sarah Gear lost 3 of their sons early in life including John Foster Gear who died serving his country. He died in Picardie in France in Oct 1918, was recommended for a Military medal and was awarded a Military Cross for bravery in battle, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, and Victory Medal. He rests in the Ramicourt cemetery in France and is remembered on the Avenue of Honour in Ballarat.
The remaining sons Albert James, Walter Compton Gear and Harold Victor Gear and their families continued the tradition of visiting Torquay in the summer and Easter holidays. After the death of James Albert Gear the house passed to his son Albert James and his wife Margaret but continued to be shared by the family for holidays.
Jan Drennan (b1937) the only daughter of Walter Compton Gear spent every summer at the Kipsey with her parents until 1965. Travelling down by car loaded up with everything they would need for the holiday including all sheets and towels.
Later as a teenager Jan recalls going to the pictures in the old theatre in the TIA hall and dances in the TIA hall or at St Lukes. A hamburger shop opened behind Mrs Wilson’s shop on The Esplanade (now the front beach café) and the family would walk down to enjoy a hamburger wedged between 2 slices of bread, then home for a game of cards.
In 1965, Margaret and her second husband Mick Frewin made the decision to sell “The Kipsey”. She offered the house to Jan’s mother but as Jan herself was then married and had moved to Sydney she declined and the house was sold to the Irwin Family.
Thus ended an almost sixty year ownership and connection with the house and the town but a lifetime of memories.