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Town Hall, 333 Bay Street, Port Melbourne
Town Hall, 333 Bay Street, Port Melbourne

Stella Edwards 1883 – 1975

Stella Edwards

Sarah Stella Edwards, known as Stella at her preference, was born into a close-knit Sandridge pioneering family that was strong on talent and ability. Even so, she was notable among them as the independent, entrepreneurial and highly talented woman that she was. She was much admired.

Stella’s mother was Sarah Whiteman, one of the earliest settler children born in Victoria. Sarah had met Thomas Edwards when he worked as a blacksmith for the Whitemans in Collins Street. In 1863 Sarah and Thomas married, and moved to Sandridge with their first surviving son in 1868. Here Thomas trained as a farrier, and soon had his own forge.

They purchased a large property surrounding an 1854 gold rush pub at Bay and Rouse, now the Exchange. Living next door in a timber cottage, they built down the lane beside it the forge where Thomas and his sons would continue to service the horses of local firms into the 1950s.

The forge and the houses that were subsequently built at 183, 185 and 187 Rouse St provided a good income and were future investments for his sons. They would need to support wives and children, whereas a daughter was expected to marry and produce a family, or if remaining unmarried, to stay at home to care for ageing parents.

Edwards Family and Forge, 181 to 183 Rouse Street. Photographer unknown 1882 PMHPS collection

Stella was born in the house at far right, the first of three successively built but adjoining two-storey houses. As each was completed, the family moved to the newest one and rented out the others.

Stella Edwards never married. She returned home to live with and care for her mother after her father died in 1909.

Stella, two sisters and five brothers all attended Nott Street Primary, after which she took up the violin. She joined the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, was an Associate member of the London College of Music, sang in the Graham Street Methodist Church choir and played in the orchestras that accompanied popular silent films in those days. She loved playing the intricate Flight of the Bumblebee at concerts and at family gatherings with a sister or brother accompanying. Most of her siblings had inherited their father’s musical talent. Like him, several served as organists at various local churches.

The key interest of this active family was yachting. The men were founders of the Port Melbourne Yacht Club, and Stella spent happy hours sailing Port Phillip and Western Port on her brothers’ yachts, including Eli’s celebrated S.J.S. racer. Eli, also known as Dick Edwards, was noted as one of Australia’s greatest all time yachtsmen.

Stella invested in property, both in other suburbs and locally. At one such opposite Edwards Park, she lived herself for some years, letting out rooms. She also worked as a commercial artist, taught crafts, and painted in oils. Her house at Graham and Bay Streets was filled with her portraits and colourful painting of flowers and birds.

Having been a glove maker in the City, Stella was a fine needle worker who made her own clothes and hand made lace. Other interests were marquetry, woodcarving and decoupage.

Stella cared for Sarah in the original family cottage, replaced in red brick, until her death in 1937. Stella herself died at 92.


  • Karen MacDonald
    Posted March 23, 2021 4.37 pm 0Likes

    Re Stella/Edwards houses – were 181, 183,5 & 7 Rouse St. (not 81 etc)
    Have pictures of her paintings and many autographs, also College Diploma London School of Music…happy to forward copies of same upon request. Her niece, Nancy Morton (nee)Edwards, Eli/Dick’s youngest daughter and Grand-daughter Janice MacDonald cared for her in her later years, remaining at her home. I recall playing with my Sister and Brother while Mum visited many times to make sure she was looked after.

    • David Thompson
      Posted March 24, 2021 10.25 am 0Likes

      Thank you Karen,

      Your mother Janice, as a member of PMHPS, provided so much information about the Edwards family to us including the books she wrote. It is good to see the next generation continuing that interest. We will check our collection archives and get back to you regarding the kind offer of copies of Stella’s paintings, etc.

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Acknowledgement of Traditional Custodians

We respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet and work, the Bunurong Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung peoples of the Eastern Kulin Nation and pay respect to their Elders past, present and emerging.