William H. Dennis (1832-1909)

Northcote Mayor 1884-85 & 1902-3

In May 1853 William Dennis arrived in Melbourne aboard the Earl Grey with his wife Mary. Later the same year they bought land in the first land sales of Northcote Township.  These were lots 12 and 13 in Walker Street just east of High Street. They lived however in Collingwood and Carlton until the mid 1860s. By 1865 they were living in Walker Street, where Dennis’s occupation was described as contractor. 

In 1871 Preston and Northcote left the Epping District Road Board to form the Shire of Jika Jika. In the following year Dennis was elected to Council for the first time, joining other Northcote stalwarts, Edwin Bastings and George Plant. In 1878-89 Dennis was the Shire President.

In 1880 the Northcote Health League was formed in protest at the large number of toxic smelling industries in Northcote and Gowerville. The League attempted to close down the large number of butchers and abattoirs operating in High Street and immediate area. The Shire of Jika Jika was lacklustre in its attempts to stop the trade, no doubt due to the strong pro butcher presence of George Plant and others. In desperation the League proposed that Northcote leave the Shire and form its own township. 

William Dennis was a strong supporter of separation and with local teacher Robin Tobin taking a leading role in the push, Northcote became a township in 1883. In the elections held in July of that year William Dennis polled 291 votes, second only to the “grand old man” of Northcote politics, Edwin Bastings.

In 1884 the Bellevue Park estate on Rucker’s Hill was offered for sale. Recognising the value of the estate, Dennis, with Councillors Bastings, Wallis and Verso and former Councillor George Plant, formed a syndicate to purchase a block from the estate on the corner of High Street and Westbourne Grove. This site was secured by the syndicate for £715, and then subsequently passed onto Council as the site for a town hall.

In the same year William Dennis became Northcote’s second Mayor. He was to serve a second term as Mayor in 1902-3. He left Council in 1905 after 32 years of serving the people of Northcote.

Dennis’s contributions to Northcote did not rest solely with his Council contributions, a staunch Methodist; he played a strong role in the Northcote Methodist Church and Sunday school including 32 years as superintendent of the Sunday school. He was a founding member of the Star of Northcote, I.O.R (International Order of the Rechabites).

After Dennis’s death of heart failure in 1909 his role as Councillor, Mayor and membership in the Methodist Church and I.O.R. were ably filled by his son Samuel.

Dennis Street and Dennis railway station reflect the contributions of the Dennis family to the growth and development of Northcote.

Lemon, Andrew (1983). The Northcote Side of the River. North Melbourne: Hargreen.

Northcote Leader (Northcote, Vic. : 1882 - )

Swift, William George (1928). The history of Northcote: From its first settlement to a city. Northcote, Vic: Leader Publishing.

Ward, Andrew (2001). Darebin Heritage Review 2000. Burwood, Vic: City Of Darebin.