Following the death of Dame Eadith Walker in 1937 the Perpetual Trustee Company, the executors of Thomas Walker’s will, requested Lawson’s Auctioneers to offer the entire contents of Yaralla House and grounds for sale. It was deemed to have been the biggest auction ever held, taking 8 days to complete. The auction did not include Eadith’s furs, jewellery and some of her cars. These were later auctioned in London. Listed as Lot No. 2669 was an Italian Wishing Well.
According to a newspaper cutting dated 25 February 1938 this was purchased for 55 guineas (approximately $5,235 in today’s currency).
The successful bidders were John Flynn and his wife Jean, heiress to the Tattersall gambling fortune. It was installed at their home at 12 Ginahgulla Road, Bellevue Hill, where it remained until their son sold the property in 1983.
Following the sale it was crated by Kell & Rigby and transported by Grace Removals to Dr. Flynn’s storage warehouse in Queanbeyan, where it sat, crated, in the yard for many years.
In 2015 Dr Flynn purchased a home, “Westridge”, in Yarralumla, ACT and, after restoration in 2017, the well was installed on the property.
The metal top, which had been kept in the storage warehouse office, had become very rusty so was painted before being reattached, but the well itself was in good condition. It was located in a prominent central position in the front grounds of Westridge House in the front lawn where it was visible from Banks Street.
In 2014 Margaret Betteridge, an Australian Heritage Specialist, while undertaking research into garden ornaments came across the 1920 Herbert Fishwick’s photo of a woman standing next to a wishing well in the grounds of Yaralla. The photo surfaced again a few years later but, again, was not part of her research.
However, in 2017 while attending a symposium in Canberra, she joined participants on a bus tour of Canberra’s early 20th century architecture, where she stumbled across Westridge House. In the front garden stood a wishing well resembling the one in that 1920’s photograph.
Armed with detailed photographs of each façade of the well, Margaret returned home to study the Herbert Fishwick image in more details. Further research led her to believe that this was the wishing well sold at the Yaralla auction.
She contacted NSW Public Works to see if the wishing well could be acquired and returned to Yaralla. She also mentioned that the City of Canada Bay Heritage Society, which had coordinated and financed the reproduction and installation of the Four Winds Fountain in the grounds of Yaralla, might be interested in supporting the project.
These suggestions were conveyed to the Sydney Local Health District . . . and “Project Wishing Well Returns to Yaralla” began.
The SLHD approached Colin McWilliams of McWilliam & Associates Pty.Ltd. to visit Yarralumla to inspect the wishing well to assess its condition and value, which he did in February 2018 and reported as follows:
“We have examined the item described in this report and, in our opinion, the value stated $28,000 represents a fair market value.”
He also gave the following description:
“A NORTH ITALIAN ISTRAIN STONE WELL HEAD; Venetian, 18th century.
“The Istrian stone (pelmicritic stylolitised limestone) ornamental well head of capital form, carved with four reliefs within reserves bordered by acanthus leaves and with carved foliate decorated arches. The reliefs feature a lion, a vase, a griffin within an oval laurel wreath and a cloaked winged figure with a halo holding a shield bearing a coat of arms.
“With later, wrought iron overthrow and circular limestone interlinking base. The top surface of the well head has evidence of several iron fittings, which probably secured a metal cover on the well when not in use.
Well Head: Height 80cm; width 88cm; depth 88cm. Fair market value $xxxx
“Notes: In the 19th century following the construction of an aqueduct, water was no longer required to be supplied from Venice’s underground streams. In consequence, well heads became obsolete and many were removed and sold. It is likely that Thomas Walker purchased this object during a European tour. The well head was installed at Yaralla and, following the death of his daughter, Dame Eadith Walker, the ornamental well head/wishing well and other contents from the estate were sold at auction by Sydney-based auction house, Lawson’s, in 1939. The well head appeared in the sale catalogue as lot 2669.
Home at last
After several discussions and monetory offers SLHD was finally able to acquire the well.
By studying several old photographs in our society’s collection, using information from one of our members whose father was head gardener at Yaralla in Dame Eadith’s time, and with lots of visits to Yaralla the original site was finally ascertained.
Using a bequest to our society from the late Lynette Marie Forbes of Homebush, which stated that the money was to be used solely for restoration and maintenance on the grounds of the Yaralla Estate, we were able to reimburse the Sydney Local Health District the full cost of purchasing the well, bringing it back to Yaralla and returning it to its original site.
The City of Canada Bay Heritage Society is proud of what we have been able to accomplish over the past years in helping with restoration work on the Yaralla estate, including the restoration of the Four Winds Fountain which had suffered much damage over the years. We have been able to do this because of our wonderful volunteers who have worked with us on open days as well as undertaking physical restoration work.
We are also grateful to the many thousands of people who, through our tours, have been introduced to the history and heritage of the estate and the two families who have lived there – the Nichols and the Walkers. We are also grateful to those who have given us substantial donations and bequests to allow us to continue with this labour of love – the protection of the Walker legacy to the people of New South Wales.
The well will be unveiled at Carols at Yaralla on 7th December, 2018 at 6:15 pm.
City of Canada Bay Heritage Society