Sunbury's historic Rupertswood Mansion will be converted into a world-class hospitality venue and Australia's most exclusive hotel under a proposed multimillion-dollar redevelopment.
An international hunt will start next month for an operator to renovate the 50-room manor, its gardens and outbuildings - and then run the estate, which was the birthplace of cricket's Ashes trophy, as a business venture.
The development would be the latest chapter in Rupertswood's tumultuous history. Completed in 1876 for Australia's first baronet Sir William Clarke as a home able to accommodate royalty, Rupertswood sold to the Salesian order in 1927.
From about 1929 it was used as a school and boarding house where multiple cases of indecent assaults are claimed to have occurred. Rupertswood has been dubbed "The Hell House" for its victims.
The Salesians first sought a hospitality operator for the historic estate when it vacated in the 1990s, creating a transferable long-term lease that charges only a "peppercorn" rent.
Food author Margaret Mclelland, the second operator to run Rupertswood as a reception centre and hotel since then, now wants someone else to take the lease over.
Ms Mclelland said Rupertswood is so big it requires a larger team to get the best out of it. The conference, reception and hotel areas, renovated in the 1990s, are now looking tired.
Raine & Horne agent Steve Makris, acting for Ms Mclelland, said the first ad for the leasehold would run in The Times in London next month.
Mr Makris expects the Rupertswood estate will make for Australia's best hotel and maybe a Michelin-star restaurant. He said Rupertswood's fixtures and fittings are more elaborate than the Werribee mansion in the west, or Raheen in Kew.
"Most Victorians won't have seen anything like it," he said.
About 40 kilometres north-west of Melbourne, Rupertswood was a social hub for the world's upper class. King George V, Queen Mary, the Duke and Duchess of York and Dame Nellie Melba are reported to have stayed at the mansion, which at one stage had its own militia.
Sir William's government influence was such he had the Mount Alexander train line route detoured to stop at Rupertswood from the city, where he later built another historic property, Cliveden, in East Melbourne (which was mostly demolished to make way for the Hilton Hotel).
After a social cricket match on Rupertswood's grounds that included members of the English team in 1882, Lady Janet Clarke burnt a bail and presented the ashes in an urn to the victorious English captain, Ivo Bligh - creating one of the most celebrated competitions in international sport.
Clarke family descendants sold Rupertswood in 1922 to Hugh Victor McKay, owner of the Sunshine Harvester works, who apparently had wanted to buy it for years. When he died just four years later, Rupertswood sold to its current owners.
Tony Eldred, a hospitality consultant, said Rupertswood is a beautiful property and an ideal hospitality venue.
The director of Eldred Hospitality said operators shouldn't have difficulty marketing Rupertswood for all the reasons it became a significant state property. He added that, in the hospitality game, some operators would see the dark history as a valuable point of difference.