Historical information

The grave of Thomas Sweeney, former convict turned respectable citizen. The Murray and Sweeney families were both early settlers of the Eltham district and connected by marriage. Their family plots are located side by side in the Catholic section of the Eltham Cemetery.

Irish-born Thomas Sweeney is regarded as the first settler in Eltham. He was transported to Sydney in 1823 after being convicted of arson. He was granted his freedom in 1838 and married Margaret Meehan in the same year. They moved to Melbourne and in 1842 Thomas purchased 110 acres beside the Yarra River in the vicinity of present-day Sweeneys Lane. He called the property ‘Culla Hill’ and built a small slab hut (reputedly with Wurundjeri help; Margaret is said to have run an informal hospital for them in return). This was followed in 1846 by more substantial buildings consisting of a three-roomed Irish-style ‘longhouse’ and a barn made of stone and handmade bricks, with doors large enough to accommodate a fully loaded wagon. When the gold rush came, Thomas prospered by selling meat and potatoes to the prospectors, enabling him to purchase a further 308 acres in 1856.

He promoted the construction of a bridge over the Plenty River and the establishment of a school at Eltham. Roman Catholic Church services were held at Culla Hill in the early years. When he died in 1867, he was regarded as a respected member of the community. Thomas and Margaret are buried in Eltham Cemetery with many of their descendants.

Their first son John continued to farm Culla Hill until his death in 1909. Culla Hill passed out of the Sweeneys' possession in 1939. The house and barn remain today, though lesser outbuildings have gone. The facade of the house is much the same as it was in the 1840s.

To the memory of
Thomas Sweeney
Who died Sep 6th
Aged 65 years
May his soul res in peace
Also his wife
Died Oct 3rd 1884 aged 73 years
And their daughters
Died Aug 22nd 1860 aged 21 years
Died Aug 19th 1872 aged 22 years
Died 7th Sep 1913 aged 72 years


In Memory Of
John Sweeney
Died 24th May 1909
Aged 65 years
Also of his wife
Died 8th March 1910
Aged 64 years


In Memory Of
Infant daughter of
John & Ellen

Published: Nillumbik Now and Then /​ Marguerite Marshall 2008; photographs Alan King with Marguerite Marshall.; p55


This collection of almost 130 photos about places and people within the Shire of Nillumbik, an urban and rural municipality in Melbourne's north, contributes to an understanding of the history of the Shire. Published in 2008 immediately prior to the Black Saturday bushfires of February 7, 2009, it documents sites that were impacted, and in some cases destroyed by the fires. It includes photographs taken especially for the publication, creating a unique time capsule representing the Shire in the early 21st century. It remains the most recent comprehenesive publication devoted to the Shire's history connecting local residents to the past.

Physical description

Born digital image file