About

Schwerkolt Cottage is a 19th century stone settler cottage set within a historic museum complex and surrounded by 2.25 hectares of bushland. Established in 1884, the historical buildings, walking tracks, cottage garden, barbecue area and family playground are the perfect place to explore history in Whitehorse. The cottage adjoins the Yarran Dheran creek lands in the heart of Mitcham. 

Take a virtual tour of Schwerkolt Cottage & Museum Complex


Aerial image of Schwerkolt Cottage site in Mitcham


Events

Please be aware that Schwerkolt Cottage & Museum Complex and surrounding gardens are Council-owned and cannot be booked for exclusive use.

The surrounding gardens can be used by members of the public for events or wedding photos with a permit. Please email arts@awhitehorse.vic.gov.au to enquire. 

History of Schwerkolt

August and Paulina Schwerkolt migrated to Victoria from Germany as newlyweds in 1849 and lived for a time in Northcote. In 1861, seeking more land to provide for a growing family, they purchased 63 acres in Mitcham including what is now the Schwerkolt Cottage. 

The Schwerkolt Family 

Paulina and August Schwerkolt had eight sons and one daughter, although only five sons survived infancy. 

In 1884, Paulina died, leaving behind a grown family. The following year August, now 62, married Wilhelmina Oppel, a German widow with three daughters. 

Together, August and Wilhelmina had three children: twins Johan (John) and Bertha in 1885 and later a daughter, Mary, in 1887. Tragically, Bertha died at two weeks of age. 

The industrious August carried out charcoal burning on his property and transformed the cleared land into a farm with fruit trees, vines, dairying, poultry, beehives, wine-making and a stone quarry, generating income for the family. 

The Cottage 

August built the stone cottage from materials mostly on site. The stones came from a nearby quarry while the rafters and verandah posts were cut from young trees on the property. The doors and window frames were adzed from logs and slabs that were later replaced by sawn timber fittings. 

The cottage has a kitchen and living room and two bedrooms, surrounded by a verandah. The fireplace was made from stone, clay and mud and used for cooking, heating and boiling water. There are no interior doors and the original earthen floor has been replaced with tiles. The general plan and appearance of the cottage is similar to houses built by German settlers in the Barossa Valley, South Australia. 

An outside well was lined with stone and fitted with a hand pump. Water supply was from a well located north of the cottage that was later fitted with pipes and taps. 

Changing Hands 

August died in 1887 with an estate valued at £956. His will specified that his widow and children be left the stone cottage, the 5.5 acres surrounding it, a property in Northcote, half his cow herd, beehives, quarried stone and all the contents of the wine cellar. August left 82.5 acres of land to his eldest son Louis on the condition that he paid Wilhelmina 10 shillings a week for life. 

Wilhelmina continued to live in the stone cottage with her children John and Mary as well as her mother, Dorothea Kruse. In 1900, after the death of her mother, Wilhelmina left Melbourne with her children to join her brother John Kruse in the United States. 

Louis Schwerkolt and his wife Cissie continued to manage the property. When Louis died in 1935 the sole responsibility for the property passed to Cissie who remained living in the timber cottage. Cissie died in 1946. The stone cottage was rented for many years and gradually fell into disrepair. 

Restoration Works 

By the early 1960s the stone cottage was threatened with a demolition order issued by the Housing Commission. Due to a lack of appropriate toilet and washing facilities, the premises were declared unfit for habitation. The roof of August’s wine cellar had collapsed, and various additions made to the cottage over the years had become dilapidated as a result of neglect. 

In 1963, following considerable community interest, the former City of Nunawading obtained a stay of proceedings while negotiations took place with August and Wilhelmina’s daughter Mary Schwerkolt Jackschowsky to purchase the now 5.5 acre property. 

Once purchased, the Council – with a working party of local residents – restored the building to its original condition. The cottage was officially opened by the Governor of Victoria, Sir Rohan Delacombe, on 17 November 1965 and stands as a reminder of the pioneers in the district. 

Historical Museum and Surrounds 

After the cottage was restored, work then began on restoring the various outbuildings that once stood on site as well as a new museum to house the local historical society. 

Built in 1977 and extended in 2011, the museum holds the Whitehorse Historical Society’s collection of documents, photographs and artefacts that record the development of the area from early settlement to the present day.  

After watching a visual display depicting local history, visitors can view the extensive collection including a range of domestic, agricultural and industrial artefacts, some of which date back to the 1800s. 

Antique costumes, jewellery, lace and needlework provide a valuable insight into the changing fashion and use of leisure time, while methods of washing, mending and pressing clothes reveal how arduous domestic life could be. 

The collection includes a wide range of locally-made clay and tile products manufactured by the many brick and tile works that were established in the area in the early 1900s. These can be seen inside the museum and in the outdoor display area. 

Whitehorse Historical Society

The Whitehorse Historical operates out of Schwerkolt Cottage. View the Whitehorse Historical Society website to find out more information.

Group Tours

Schwerkolt Cottage Group Tours and Education 

Group tours are available for all age groups, from school-aged children right through to senior citizens. Tours are held from Monday to Friday between 9.30am and 4.30pm and are tailored to the interests of the group.  

Type of tour Cost Group size Duration
Recreation $7.00 per person Min. 12 – Max. 30 each day 1.5–2 hours
Education $5.00 per student Min. 12 – Max. 50 each day 2+ hours

Teachers and carers are free. There must be a ratio of one teacher/adult for every ten primary school students, and one teacher/adult for every 15 secondary school students. 

Up to 50 students can be given a tour per day in groups of no more than 17 students. 

Any amendments, including changes to participant numbers, must be made by email 14 days prior to the tour date. 

Please note that the minimum number of guests payable is 12. Groups smaller than 12 can still book a group tour, but the minimum cost will be for 12 people regardless of numbers. Booking requests are treated as an Expression of Interest and tentative until confirmed by the Arts and Heritage Officer. 

Cancellation Policy 

Notice for cancellations are a minimum of five business days. Cancellations made less than five days before the tour start time will be charged the full fee. 

On days of a Total Fire Ban, the Schwerkolt Cottage and Museum Complex will be closed. Any group tours that are cancelled due to a Total Fire Ban Day will be rescheduled at a time convenient to the client. 

Education Programs 

Schwerkolt Cottage provides an education program aimed at primary school-aged children and secondary school specialist groups such as students studying history or languages. 

The programs introduce students to local history with either a “travel back in time” or “meet the Schwerkolt family” theme. 

The tour includes the cottage and museum complex as well as optional activities such as old-fashioned games, a tour of the outbuildings and a walk to Yarran Dheran creeklands. 

Resources for Teachers 

For more information about the education programs and activities available, contact the Arts and Heritage Officer, kerrianne.stone@whitehorse.vic.gov.auor on 0403 247 038.  

Heritage and Artist’s Trail

As a community project to reinvigorate memory, federal funding provided from the Centenary of Federation Community Grants Program, enabled the Whitehorse Heritage Trail to be launched in 2001. The stories from the initial project resulted in the production of 36 panels and six brochures celebrating artistic and local heritage. The heritage trail is a significant addition to the interpretation of the municipality’s history, including first people and favourite locations, but it is not the final word and it continues to evolve through community contributions. 

The online map pins show the location of physical heritage signs which you may visit by walking or by car. Further places of historical interest have been added over time and are also indicated on the map. The trail is an invitation to explore the rich heritage of Whitehorse. 

View the Heritage and artist's trail

Heritage Week

Celebrated every September in Whitehorse.

Heritage Week 2024 – Whitehorse on Stage celebrates the history of performance and will take place from 15 to 22 September 2024. 

The Whitehorse Community is putting its glittering foot forward for Heritage Week 2024! This year we are showcasing the history of performing arts in our local area. Join us as we unveil new songs, captivating dances and inspiring exhibitions. Let's celebrate our shared heritage together and enjoy the show!

Explore the Heritage Week program

Heritage week 2023 text against a backdrop of an old black and white photo of men standing on and in an old tram

To find out more about Heritage Week and the Festivals in Whitehorse sign up to get Creative Whitehorse news and updates.