My journey in photos & words travelling through Tasmania exploring
convict & colonial sites and other sites of historical significance.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Officer College, Hobart

In the early nineteenth century basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills were imparted to children by their mothers or women in private homes. By the middle of the nineteenth century, teaching was evolving into a largely male profession with female assistants and pupil teachers supervised by educated men. Education was done in small private schools, often with subsidies from the colonial government, paid to the operators for each pupil. Denominational schools also had staff from religious orders. Affluent homes may have afforded a governess. In the middle of the nineteenth century a number of denominational and some non-denominational private schools also commenced. By the turn of the century the Tasmanian Government was active in establishing State schools for all denominations.

The Officer College for higher learning was founded in 1888 by the Presbyterian Church of Tasmania. It was named in memory of Sir Robert Officer, a medical officer and politician who was known for his benevolence for the poor and his piety. Officer was a Presbyterian who supported other Protestant denominations. He was active in supporting chapel funds in remote districts and as a lay office holder in many parishes. He was public in his praise for the Wesleyan missionaries for their work with convicts. Reflecting Officer's participation and worship in a range of Protestant churches, the school was non-denominational.

It was well located for residential students because it was in close proximity to the Queens Domain, the University, a cricket and football ground, swimming baths, rowing sheds, yacht moorings, railway station and tram terminus. Promotional material boasted that the building was situated on one of the "highest and healthiest" parts of Hobart. Elevated locations were considered healthier and being cleaner, more likely to uphold civic virtue. Such areas were usually the domain of the wealthier classes and the location of Officer College, as a church school can be understood within this context.

The College accommodated boarders but did not have a dormitory. Boarders were limited to fifteen and were accommodated within adjacent student accommodation. All teachers were resident and fully qualified. The College's curriculum was to prepare boys for senior and junior public examinations. The College also included a preparatory school based on a kindergarten model.

When the Tasmanian University was founded, the college undertook the University's teaching until lecturers and professors were selected. At the College's peak in the mid 1890s, it was ranked as the largest private secondary school in the State with over 150 pupils registered. The College was part of a complex that included a principal's residence and student accommodation. These buildings still exist on the corner of Scott and Bayley Streets, providing the College with its original context. The buildings are now two co-joined residences. The principal's residence is listed in the Register of the National Estate separately.

The Hobart City Council has described Officer College as a local landmark and it is located within the Council's Glebe Conservation Area. The college was renovated c1920 and c1950 and converted into a guest house. It was restored and further adapted by 1995 for use as a private residence.

Information & Text - Australian Heritage Database

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Friends Park, West Hobart

Friends Park is a small park in West Hobart that started life as a burial ground for the Society of Friends (Quakers). The land had orginally been granted to William Shoobridge in the early 1820's and he had set up a farming enterprise. Although Shoobridge was a practicing Methodist, he found himself supporting the work of a number of Quaker missionaries who had visited Van Diemens Land in the early 1830's. As a show of his support, he agreed to give the Society of Friends a half acre portion of his farm land in order for the Society to establish a burial grounds for themselves. As it turned out, following the establishment of the burial ground, Shoobridge himself became the first person to be buried there after he passed away in 1836.

The burial ground continued to provide for the Quakers into the 1900's. Even after the Cornellian Bay cemetery was opened in 1872 and many of Hobart's numerous suburban burial grounds were closed, the Society of Friends burial ground was able to continue operating because it fell outside the Hobart municipal boundary. Following the rezoning of the region into the new Greater Hobart municipality, the burial ground was finally closed in 1908.

It just remained as an unused burial ground until 1937 when the Hobart City Council negotiated with the Friends Society for the transfer of the land to the council so that it could be converted to a community  recreation space for the growing West Hobart community.

Under the terms of the transfer agreement, the park was to be renamed Friends Park and the headstones were to be repositioned and re-erected around the walls of the new park. This was subsequently completed and the newly named Friends Park has continued to provide the local community with a beautiful recreational space. One with a very interesting past.

Information source - "The Story Of West Hobart - Street By Street" - Donald Howatson 2014.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Royal Tennis Club, Hobart

One could be forgiven for being a little bit confused by the existence of a Royal Tennis facility in colonial Hobart. The game can be traced back to the 1470's where it became popular with European royals and was subsequently considered as the Game of Kings. English kings were keen players and Henry VIII had the Hampton Court Palace Royal Tennis court built in 1528 - now the oldest court still in continuous use. The Invention of new racquet sports such as lawn tennis saw the game decline in popularity during the early 1800's. In England & Australia, the game is now known as Real Tennis.

The Hobart club is the oldest Real tennis court in Australia. The game was introduced into Australia by Samuel Smith Travers in 1875 when he built the first court in Hobart.

Travers was a Tasmanian based businessman and pastoralist who built himself the court so he and his friends could play at their leisure. The site as originally an old brewery in Hobart's Davey St which allowed him to build his home next door.

In November of that year , the Hobart Mercury recorded that " the tennis court that is being erected in Davey Street for Mr S. S. Travers is an immense structure admirably built of brick and stone with a shingled roof. The owner is sparing no expense in making it a substantial building". The following year, local publishers released a book "A Treatise On Tennis" by Samuel Smith Travers who described his court as "excellent".

Judging from a print in the book that described the interiors of the building, the court is substantially unaltered from it's original construction, except that the roof is no longer shingled. Other major renovations which have been performed include the addition of a Trophy Room in 1987 and in the 1990's a new tennis viewing area, professional space and an entrance foyer were built.

The club continues to thrive and currently has a vibrant & active membership of around 150. The members are in fact the owners of the heritage listed sandstone building and it is actively maintained by the enthusiasm of the members.

It is a fine example of a unique colonial sporting facility. I was very lucky that the day I went to take some photos of the site, there were some matches being played and thus I was able to witness the great game of Real Tennis first hand. A great experience.

Hobart Real Tennis Club website -

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Acton, Taroona

This is a very interesting house which has a lot more to it than it seems at first glance. On rounding a bend in the Channel Highway about 1km south of the Shot Tower, the traveler catches his first glimpse of “Acton”, a three storied sandstone house built down the slopes of Bonnet Hill. On turning yet another bend and arriving directly in front of the main entrance, one is surprised to find what appears to be a typical little one level Georgian cottage. Viewed from the front, it’s hard to imagine that the house has not one, but four levels utilized for living space. The house was built with three storeys, one at highway level and two below the level of the road. The fourth level is contained in the roof space where two small rooms were constructed with recently installed dormer windows to overlook the river below.

There seems to be some doubt about the actual origins of this house as historical documents which record the exact date of construction of “Acton” have not been located and perhaps no longer exist but history seems to confirm that the house was initially constructed in 1842 to accommodate James Skene, Superintendant of the nearby Brown’s River Probation Station and he was followed by Mr J.B.Fraser. It was probably he who resided in “Acton” until the probation station was closed down around 1848.  The Brown’s River Probation Station was built on what is now known as Taronga Rd, off the Channel Highway about a kilometer from the equally historic Shot Tower. The station was established there in 1841 for the express purpose of housing the convicts who were tasked with constructing the Channel Highway. Supplies were brought in along the river and unloaded below the site of the station and then carried up a track to the station site. At times, 300 convicts would form a human chain to move the materials and supplies.
You can still see parts of the station to this day, including the ruins of the “Brickfields” which is where many of the bricks for the stations construction were made. However, it would appear that the most important part of the station is far from being in ruins. This is what is known as the Superintendants Cottage – The present “Acton” cottage.

This house, which looks so small from the street has, apart from a single bathroom, eleven rooms with traditional style open fire places in eight of them. In the back of the house, there are no less than one hundred and twenty panes of glass in the ten windows. Given the views that one can see from this side of the house, it’s not surprising.
The house and accompanying property has had numerous tenants in the century or so since the Probation Station closed down and the superintendant moved out but little is known about “Acton”, the Acton Estate or the tenants. In 1951, the property was sold to a local inhabitant for 475 Pounds. In 1978, Sander Moen Frith-Brown, a “student farmer” bought the property. Photographs taken a few years beforehand clearly showed the house was in an advanced state of disrepair. However, Mr Frith – Brown gave the old house the love and care that it craved and deserved, and with the assistance of some of the best tradesmen in the area, transformed it into a comfortable family home and more befitting of its glory days.

A Beautiful Illustration of Acton by 
Audrey Holiday - "Mansions Cottages & All Saints"

Even after restoration, it remains a house which arouses the curiosity of the passerby. “I wonder who lives there” or “I wonder what it looks like inside” are just some of the comments which are often overheard by the occupants. As to be expected, the traditional open fire places in eight of the rooms, the convict built bread oven in the kitchen, and the magnificent views across the site of the probation station and the Derwent through the antique Georgian windows enrich the home with the charm of a bygone era which is now difficult, if not impossible to match.

Main Text & Information source:
“Mansions, Cottages and All Saints” – Book by Audrey Holiday & Walter Eastman