Francis Parer was one of the first Australian Parer’s after an adventurous beginning, he set the Parer’s in the hotel, bar and restaurant game, was a formation member of well known Parer Bros and became exceedingly wealth and extremely generous. He was always a rural man at heart though and spent the bulk of his 80 years in Box Hill working his vegetable and orchard gardens.
Francis, born in Alella, 11 October 1835 as Francisco Joseph Anton (Francis) Parer y Xicola, he was the first born of Pau’s second wife Ignacia Xicola y Pujol. Along with his elder brother Joseph, Francis was the first Parer to Australia when he arrived in Sydney on 29 May 1855 while “working” their way home on the Greek vessel the ‘Telemarcho‘ from Monte Video, Uruguay. He had left his home town at the age of 17 for Monte Video following Joseph’s lead of a year earlier. The journey from Monte Video to Sydney was unusual and long and the two brothers hopped out at Sydney having had enough and looking for a quicker way home.
They tried their luck with a poultry farm in Petersham, Sydney which fell foul of disease and so they ended up in Melbourne and began selling cakes to make ends meet.
Francis was an integral partner with the Parer Bros hotel business in Bourke Street, Melbourne, particularly with the Duke de la Victoria with brothers Joseph and Steven, but it wasn’t in his nature to work indoors.
Francis who had been working in the hotel business with his brothers, moved out to operate the gardens in Box Hill in 1870 to manage the produce for the hotels due to ill health, entering upon another partnership with his partner of the Spanish Restaurant in Elizabeth Street, Martin Arenas.
The Jubilee History of Victoria and Melbourne, published in 1888, states that Francis, in 1870, “purchased 40 acres of land at Box Hill, at £15 per acre. The property has since been transformed into a very valuable market garden, including orchards etc. Since the purchase of the property Mr Parer has resided upon it.”
Francis is believed to be the first person to grow tomatoes in Australia in his vegetable garden. Keynton Councillor John Paul Carolin, later Mayor of Bendigo, visited the market garden and was fascinated with this new vegetable crop—Spanish tomatoes. In the 1890s he visited Spain and brought out Manel Borrell to grow tomatoes commercially in Bendigo. There is a family legend involving tomato sauce, but that is for another time.
When the railway was built the Lilydale railway line acquired some of Francis’ land in the vicinity of Bishop street.
Early Box Hill
Ann Wrights paper The Parers of Catalonia An Australian Pioneering Family, June 1983 describes Box Hill as:
10 years before Francis arrived Box Hill was formed… The early settlers had cleared their blocks and sold the wood to the inhabitants of Melbourne. Many of the settlers who came to the area in the 1860s settled there under Section 42 of the Grant Act, which provided for leases of small allotments of 20 acres within 10 miles of any gold digging. The idea was to settle ex-miners and to encourage them to improve their block. They could then be given permission to buy it under a government scheme of gradual purchase. Most of the small farmers who settled in the area were experienced and they established mixed farms with poultry, pigs, fruit and vegetables. They were remarkably successful considering the quality of the land. The Parer block seems to have been subdivided from a larger block owned in 1864 by A. Murphy.
Box Hill had grown up along one of the stock routes out of Melbourne. At first called Three Chain Road and later White Horse Road after the first hotel established in the area. With the gold rushes it became the road to Lilydale and a Cobb and Co coach ran along the road from 1853. The single fare to Box Hill then was 2/6d. By 1882, when the railway finally reached Box Hill the train fare was 6d and 9d. The price of land rose slowly, from 3/4d an acre in 1843 to £4 an acre in 1855, (Brennan, p.28) to £15 an acre in 1870 when Francis Parer bought his land, to £250 for an allotment barely big enough for a small house and garden in 1888 after the railway made the area more accessible from Melbourne.
After the railway came Box Hill prospered. New schools, banks and churches were built. The council borrowed money to provide electric light, gas, mail deliveries, night soil collection and a new Shire Hall. By the collapse of the boom at the end of the 1880s they were in debt to the bank for £24,000.
Francis home life
Francis’ younger sister Eulalia’s husband Marcos Clota recently arrived in Australia and working as a chef at Parer’s Hotel. They had a boy Antonio. Marcos was relieved for a few days from work as he was behaving strangely, when in a hysterical episode attacked Eulalia with an axe striking her head. It was a vicious wound, but Eulalia survived. Antonio ran for his uncle’s help at Eulalia’s insistence dodging his father as he left the room. Marcos was committed to mental care and died a year later. Francis was a confirmed bachelor, reasonably well off and so his sister and Antonio came to live and care for him in his house in Box Hill.
Francis had several big gatherings out at his property in Box hill including on the 13 November, 1898, Francis Parer had a family gathering for his 63rd birthday celebration with over 100 guests invited to celebrate. The Melbourne Punch described it as:
“…a sumptuous repast provided, and the post-prandial congratulatory speech was well delivered by Mr M Fletcher and responded to in feeling terms by Mr Parer. Numerous sports were indulged in on the grounds and a grand concert and dance took place in the newly-erected hall. Classic, operatic and comic music was rendered by Madame Rubira, Signor Coy, the Misses Cabus, Miss Coy, Mr A Clota, Mr Fletcher, Councillor Rawlings, Mr Charlie Fort and a violin solo by Mr Coy. Mr Fred Parer related his experiences as a war correspondent and Mr Fracis Parer jnr, supplied the latest legerdemain. The Fandango—the Spanish favourite—was danced to the accompaniment of the castanets. The party dispersed at a late hour, returning to town in drags.”
In 1971, M Webster wrote a history titled “The Parer Family“, which according to John Gartlan Parer may have been for the Box Hill historical society. The story is littered with factual errors surrounding the first Parer’s, but the information on Box Hill, Francis Parer and his sister Eulalia who married Marcos Clota and her family seems very well researched, containing fantastic insight into the land dealings of Francis. M Webster writes:
Francis Parer bought land on both sides of Whitehorse Road at a date after 1872. On the south side his land was near the cemetery and on the north side he bought a 10 acre block just east of the present site of the Church of St Francis Xavier, which of course, was not there then. His 10 acres in a narrow strip ran back to the rear of the property in Margaret Street. It was part of a subdivision of Crown Portion No.16 made in 1858. On this block he built a house and planted an orchard. He is described at the time as a market gardener…
Church of St Francis Xavier
Another Parer legend might have half fallen by the wayside with the Francis Parer and the church in Box Hill as Webster continues:
…it has been a family tradition in the Parer family that Francis gave the land on which the Church of St Francis Xavier is built, but I have been able to find proof of this. I will tell you the story as I have it from several sources which all confirm the facts as set out in this statement sent to me by Mr David O’Regan (a foundation member of the Church of St Francis Xavier:
About 1906 it was decided to build a church-school at Box Hill. The late Mr Francis Parer offered a block of land on the south side of Whitehorse Road. Mr Jim Curtin had selected a block in Williams Street. The Administrator of the Cathedral, Dean Phelan, inspected the two sites and rejected both of them. Looking across the road at the present site, he said, “that is the site I pick”.
It was known then as McClusky’s corner and a livery stable was on it, run by a Mr Peterson whose wife owned the land, having inherited it from her parents, the McCluskys. Father Gleeson, then the Paris Priest, asked me (Mr O’Regan) to make enquiries about purchasing the land for a church. Mrs Peterson agreed to sell only if it was to be used for a church.”
… up to that time Catholic residents of Box Hill had had to attend church either at St Brigid’s in Boroondara or in Mitcham, so they were naturally anxious to get a church built in Box Hill, but it was February, 1908, according to Mr O’Regan, before the first church-school was opened. The present church was built in 1912. Parer’s orchard was subdivided in that year also and part of it was purchased by the Catholic Church for the erection of the Presbytery. Many years later again, in 1952, the last remnant of the Parer estate on which the old house still stood was purchased fo the further expansion of the school, so the connection between the Church and the Parer land has always been close.
Barcelona Estate in Box Hill
In 1888, Francis, Stephen, and several of the other Parer brothers were involved in setting up The Barcelona Estate Co and conducted a bit of land speculation in the Box Hill area.
With the coming of the railway in 1882 land prices in the area spiked significantly. The Barcelona Estate Co speculated and divided a bit of land into 48 blocks some suitable for businesses premises and others residential dwellings, situated near the railway station, though not as close as the advertising flyer which takes creative license, it’s actually 500m away. All 48 blocks are within the area from the railway line to Whitehorse Road and Miller Street and Short Street. An auction for the properties occurred at 3pm on Saturday, 29 September 1888 conducted by Munro & Baillieu, auctioneers with prices for the lots ranged from £6 7s 6d to £12.
Francis died at the ripe old age of 80 in the afternoon of Friday, 12 November, 1912 having been a resident of Box Hill for 43 years. After a short service at St Francis Xavier Church he was buried in Box Hill Cemetery. Francis left most of his wealth to his sister Eulalia. Eulalia died in 21 September, 1916 and her boy Antonio “Tony” in turn inherited her wealth.
Tony, worked in the orchard in the later years of Francis; life until, in 1912 the land was subdivided and called it Parer’s Estate and sold it as allotments for businesses and residential premises. He seems to have approved and loaned money to many of those buying the property as he collected monthly receipts in a book now in Anne Richardson collection. It’s a substantial and detailed book with entries into the 1940s. With Antonio’s death in 1940 presumably the property was rationalised.
M Webster writes, “Clota Avenue was named then and ran right though the middle of it. After 1912, Antonio “Tony” Clota lived in Union Road, Surrey Hills. Later his son, Frank Clota, became an orchidist at Mitcham.”
Box Hill Cemetery
Francis Parer was a forming trustee member of the Box Hill Cemetery from 1873, representing the Catholic community and his place on the Board was taken successively by his nephew Antonio Clota and his great-nephew Frank Clota, both who grew up in Box Hill. It’s believed he donated some of the land to begin the cemetery itself.
Many dozens of the Parer family and relatives are buried at Box Hill Cemetery in the Catholic section
There are five rose beds at Box Hill Cemetery and one is Parer Rose Bed in honour of Francis Parer and his efforts over 32 years association.