Etienne L’Ontrose was a French-descended prospector whose genius plan, upon arriving in Melbourne in 1853, was to search for gold where other people had not – although he was not so foolish as to think that just anywhere would suffice. After having given the matter some thought, he decided to investigate some of the tributaries of the Yarra, upstream of the known gold deposits at Warrandyte. Tracing these creeks, streams and rills back up into the mountains, he found himself ascending the Dandenongs from their northern end, the first European to do so.

Ontrose was conscious of the necessity for accurate mapping, and was paid a small stipend by a consortium of property developers who were interested to see what he might find. For a gold hound, money mattered little to Ontrose – he was in it for the glory, and for the hand of a maiden fair, one Catherine Darvall (who appears to have regarded the Frenchman’s affections as at best an embarassment). Ontrose dutifully mapped his travels, recording watercourses and other geographical features – including the continued absence of gold or any other precious resource – with an attention to detail that increasingly verged on the psychotic as the weeks went by with nothing to show for them but the maps.

Unfortunately for posterity, Ontrose was not as good at recording his discoveries. He was, however, good at destroying them. It is estimated that he was responsible for the extinction of three separate species of native rose, a rarely seen lichen and a unique species of sugar glider. None of these extinctions were important enough to Ontrose to record in his frequent letters, which he would post by placing into watertight containers and dropping into whichever stream he was currently investigating for collection downstream at Warrandyte. Many of these did not make it all the way down, getting hung up in various cul-de-sacs on their respective watercourses, although a great number of the latter were freed by the flood on 1934, which washed them downriver as far as Alphington, all signed, as was his wont, “M. Ontrose”.

Suburbs near Montrose:

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