The Phillipps-Wolleys of Woodhall

The English gentleman immigrant Clive Phillipps-Wolley, later Sir Clive …

Phillipps-Wolley Clive

He settled his family in a grand hilltop estate on Oak Bay Avenue in 1891. They were likely the first residents on the avenue within the boundary of the future district of Oak Bay.

Woodhall cropped lo

The little people in the picture above are the Burrell children, at the gate of their home, Summerdyne. This view looks northeast across Oak Bay Avenue; see the header photos for a reverse view.

Seated on the brow of the hill that is today accessed via Clive Drive, that grand residence was called Woodhall. It was designed by William Ridgway Wilson.

Much of this account of Clive Phillipps-Wolley’s varied life and the fortunes of his family is taken from Home From The Hill: Three Gentlemen Adventurers by Peter Murray, published in 1994.

A description of Woodhall:

Wilson was told to create an Elizabethan Tudor home using brick and wood, without any North American influences. Phillipps-Wolley ordered gables and dormer windows, with leaded glass in the dining-room and cathedral-like, arched, stained-glass windows lighting the entrance hall. Set amid oaks well back from the ocean, the house provided total privacy. There were vistas of a formal garden in the foreground, meadows with wildflowers beyond, and a windmill to pull water from the well. Named “Woodhall” after the Wolley estate in Shropshire, the mansion was filled with Phillipps-Wolley’s mounted hunting trophies …

Home from the Hill, 84

Clive Phillipps was born in 1853 in Dorset, UK — a distant relative of Lord Robert Clive, conqueror of India. His father was born in India, his grandfather died there.

A tireless propagandist for the British Empire and the Royal Navy, Clive was ultimately knighted for writing a hymn for the coronation of King George V.

In his youth Clive studied the law and used it to acquire a large Shropshire estate named Woodhall after he discovered he was the lawful, albeit distantly related, male inheritor. That was how Clive Phillipps attached “Wolley” to his name. He sold off the Shropshire properties to fund his travels abroad and subsidize his writing career.

In 1879 he married Janie Renwick, daughter of a Royal Navy Rear Admiral. The missus:Phillipps-Wolley Lady

They had four children in England. Here they are:

Phillipps-Wolley children loL to R: Clive, Jr, Judith Gladys, Janie Alice Maude, and Margaret Eleanor.

Clive first came to Western Canada to hunt in 1882. The trip is memorialized in his book Trottings of a Tenderfoot. He returned with his wife — but not the children — in 1887. He promptly left Janie in Victoria and went hunting in the Similkameen.

Clive was a dead-keen big game hunter and wrote very popular hunting guides for his English publishers, notably Big Game Shooting, published in 1894. (After killing hundreds, maybe thousands, of magnificent creatures for sheer bloodlust, he renounced hunting, to his credit, I guess.)

He also wrote immensely successful adventure novels. Phillipps-Wolley was far the most successful writer in British Columbia in his day. His novel One of the Broken Brigade, published in 1897, is set partly in Oak Bay and was likely written at Woodhall.

They lived there for nine years. The property was for the children a paradise of Garry oak meadows and rockeries.

Clive spent little time at Woodhall. He was always dashing off to the Kootenays, or the Stikine, or Ottawa, or England.

Over the front door of Woodhall were carved words of the Latin poet Horace:

Coelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt

Those who cross the seas change their sky but not their spirit.


Wherever you go, there you are.

In 1900 the family moved to Piers Island and in 1907 to the Cowichan Valley, where they had Samuel Maclure design a magnificent country manor house. During that time Clive subdivided his property in Oak Bay and doubtless made a bundle there too.

Clive died in 1918 at age 67 and Janie died three years later at age 51.


Woodhall stood for nearly eighty years. For fifty years after World War I it was occupied by Dr. Hermann Melchior Robertson (1876-1953) and Mrs. Gertrude Jane Loewen Robertson (1875-1968). She was a concert pianist of the musical Loewen family. The Loewens were close friends of the Dunsmuirs. Gertrude accompanied her husband, a gifted singer, in recitals. Dr. Robertson was better known as Victoria’s medical health officer. He exposed the deplorable conditions of the Chinese leper colony on Darcy Island.

Gertrude Robertson lived out her long life in the Oak Bay home. Here is the house in its last days in 1968:

Woodhall 1968

After Gertrude died Woodhall was torn down.

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