Christopher William Crawley [1841-1910] acquired land locally in January 1876 under provisions of the Robertson Act of 1861. Initially holding two parcels of land on conditional purchase, one of 400 acres, another 120 acres. After years of struggle farming and many privations of regional life in a primitive slab hut his fortunes changed when the Great Southern Railway Line opened in 1878, perhaps tipped off the year before he acquired a license and built the Railway Hotel opposite the soon to be bustling railway station.
At the time the colonial government routed the railway through the village it consisted of Mr. Crawley's hotel, the adjoining Railway Store run by George Dobbyns with a few scattered slab houses and bark huts. The township soon began benefiting tremendously from the influx of travelers and agricultural trade which resulted in the regions explosive growth, Crawley wealth soon increased dramatically as did his land holdings, acquiring almost the entire area of present day Junee at his landed peak.
Mr Crawley soon became a force to be reckoned with, more than a pillar of society he became a town founder. His natural generosity and sense of civic responsibility resulted in him being held in high regard by all segments of the community. A devout Roman Catholic he donated a parcel of land to the church and helped finance the construction of St Joseph's Church and other important civic projects, at a time when government funding wasn't really available.
His hard earned wealth and new found social status needed an omni present symbol, so Monte Cristo (literally Mount of Christ) came into being. Prior to the construction of the new house in 1884/85 the Crawley's lived in a small brick cottage now called the Original Homestead, it was built in 1876 and became the kitchen and servants quarters. Which itself was part of a trend as their original onsite home, a slab hut, had become servants quarters when finances improved and a grander brick replacement was constructed. The slab hut made way for Stables to house Mr Crawley's prized race horses, which coincided with the construction of the Dairy and preceded a wood Ballroom which stood directly behind the Old Homestead and was connected to a carbide gas supply illuminating the main house in 1902.
The original building of Monte Cristo can still be seen today
Envisioned the grandest home of the regions landed gentry Monte Cristo succeeded to become the ultimate status symbol, like a castle in feudal Europe it was the center of local power and sat perched high on a hill so its lord could survey his realm from the second floor balcony. However it was still a farming property, the nucleus of Crawley family agricultural pursuits, and Mr Crawley wasn't above getting his hands dirty.
No price was spared in its construction, built of sandstock bricks fired on site and laid on a drystone foundation, in over a century not a single crack has appeared. Downstairs walls are 18" thick, the upper 9" and both made of solid brick, the ceilings are 12 feet high, upstairs constructed of cypress pine, milled locally, and downstairs lath and plaster.
The interior plan of the house is simple with rooms opening off a central hallway which runs through the house and contains a staircase.
A late Victorian house of pleasing line and proportion, it retains much of the symmetry of an earlier period, with only the applied decoration of plaster work and cast iron lattice adding the necessary touch of opulence so loved by the Victorians. Its charm was in the balance of design and, in this, it demonstrates a style of building unchanged since early colonial days.
In its day the homestead was renowned as one of the regions' social centers, a place where balls were held and local gentry idled away the day in country pursuits, played tennis and golf on the regions first course. In between which the Crawleys raised seven children, all of whom went on to live happy, productive lives: Helen Ann (Lillian) - Lydia Blanch - Florence Agnes - Angela Christina (Pidge) and their brothers Mervyn Marmaduke - Aubrey Clarence and Alphonse Hilary. All of them were musically talented.
As a result of the Crawley's new wealth the children were sent away to be educated at the best schools they could afford, the girls at the Dominican Convent in Maintland and St Vincent's Potts Point. All were taught music and painting. Lillian (Mrs. Lawliss) was the great beauty of the family with striking violet eyes, she was an accomplished pianist and composer. She composed the "Scotia Schottische" in 1895 for a ball at Government House and dedicated it to Lady Dunbar. She also taught at the first Junee School known as the Railway Station School. The girls were extremely careful of their English rose complexions and never ventured out in the sun without being completely covered, and carrying a green-lined parasol for added protection.
Angela Christina was a talented artist and enjoyed sketching and would do pen drawings on envelopes containing letters to friends, samples of which still exist.
The boys were educated at Riverview and St Joseph's, Sydney and St Patrick's, Goulburn, Mervyn, nicknamed "The Pioneer of Queensland", owned and operated extensive pastoral holdings in the state. Aubrey, who played the violin became a doctor and Alphonse, noted as the finest pianist of a very musical family became a solicitor and broke the Australian record by practicing for 62 years.
Mrs Crawley is remembered as being very like Queen Victoria and usually wore a black lace dress, lace cap with a stand-up beaded collar and lace cap. She ruled the house with a rod of iron and with her husband appeared to be the quintessential Victorian couple, but as was often the case perceptions were misleading. Staff would later recount stories of harsh mistreatment by their employers, which spawned many ominous legends persisting today. William Christopher Crawley died at Monte Cristo on 14th December 1910 at the age of 69 from heart failure, secondary to blood poisoning caused by a carbuncle on his neck becoming infected from rubbing up against a starched collar.
It is believed his widow only left the house on two occasions in the remaining 23 years of her life, turning an upstairs Box (storage) Room into a chapel, she immersed herself in the Bible. Mrs Crawley herself died at Monte Cristo on 12th August 1933 at the age of 92 of heart failure, secondary to a ruptured appendix. The homesteads' glory days were now over, but Monte Cristo would remain a Crawley family home until 1948 when the last members of the family vacated, after which no one would live there again until it was acquired by the author more then a decade later. By which time its furnishings had been auctioned off and stately grandeur faded by time, vandalism and neglect of a generation which had ceased to care about its pioneering past.