Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Milton House, South Hobart

Milton is the name of the substantial two storey Georgian stone house near the Hobart Rivulet. The style of the house is consistent with it having been built in the 1830’s. Built on a one acre allotment which was originally granted to George Wilson soon after his arrival in Hobart Town 1831. George Wilson was born in England in 1801 and he was, by trade, a tobacconist and snuff maker in partnership with H.B.Tonkin. Wilson was on his way to Sydney in 1831 with his wife and two daughters, but during his stopover in Hobart he was so taken with the colony that he decided to settle in Hobart. A few years later his partner arrived from England and they set up the first tobacco and snuff shop in Tasmania.

Fifty odd years later the house was owned by William Saville – Kent who was involved in fisheries research in Tasmania which had commenced in 1884 with the appointment of Saville - Kent as Inspector of Fisheries. In order to better study the biology of both oysters and fish, the establishment of a saltwater hatchery and laboratory with aquaculture facilities was recommended in Saville – Kent’s report in 1884. He began work with a temporary facility constructed at his residence, Milton House, in Sth Hobart with salt water carried in the council water cart.

The property continues its life as a private residence to this day and it was up for sale as recently as 2010. The previous owners had undertaken a comprehensive renovation of the two storey, five bedroom, two bathroom residence, with a spacious attic studio. The sensitive renovation has created a timeless elegance for the interior, many rooms being multi-purpose, catering to the modern family. A library, theatrette, formal dining and family dining space adjacent to the Adelaide black granite kitchen allows family members to be independent.

The house is wonderfully authentic exuding character at every turn. Features of the era include the original Cast iron stove, 6 panelled doors and twelve pane windows, mantle pieces and high ceilings are enhanced by polished floor boards and quality wool carpet. The classic Georgian facade and beautiful fanlight over the front door are a highlight.  Set on an extensive 1200m allotment and full of seasonal colour, established trees and shrubs provide structure and prospective. The back verandah is a perfect spot for quiet reflection, the only interruption perhaps being the sound of the running water from the rivulet, virtually an extension of the garden. The house is still in fantastic condition, a credit to all its owners.

Main Text & information Sources –
“The Hobart Rivulet Historical Study” – City of Hobart 1988
Australian Dictionary of Biography - William Saville-Kent 

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Government Farm, Port Arthur

Port Arthur's agricultural heritage generally takes a back seat to its history of crime and punishment. But in the early 1870s Port Arthur was a productive agricultural settlement, with crops and livestock. That livestock included, for a few months in 1871, an elk!

One part of the site which often goes unnoticed is Government Farm.  The farm first appeared in official documentation on a plan of the settlement sent to London in January of 1854.  The map showed a farmyard and a piggery. The cottage was constructed in 1857 for the first Farm Overseer. This was done under Commandant James Boyd’s stewardship when he was intent on improving the inmate’s diets, especially those prisoners who were infirm.

By late 1859 dairy cattle were housed at the farm, their milk being supplied to patients in the hospital.  During the next ten years, farming operations grew to include a machine to thresh grain more effectively and a new dairy was built, all of this done in the hope of making Port Arthur a self-supporting settlement. The dairy was described as admirably fitted out with shelves on three sides for milk dishes and large cream pans. The most improved apparatus was used to turn the cream into butter. Excellent quality butter was produced and used in the hospital, lunatic & invalid establishments in the settlement.

By the close of 1869 in addition to the dairy, the farm was reported as having cowsheds which housed 140 cows, piggeries which consisted of 16 sties, stores for root crops, fowl houses and stables. The buildings had become dilapidated following the closure of the settlement and were offered for auction in 1884 with some remaining in use into the 20th century. Little remains of the farm today with only the Farm Overseers cottage and the dairy still in existence.  The cottage has been restored and its currently used for staff accommodation.

The interesting story of the elk - one of the largest species of deer in the world, native to North America and North East Asia began when the Tasmanian Acclimatization Society formed in 1862. Introduction, or acclimatization, of exotic animals and birds occurred from early settlement for economic, sporting and nostalgic motives. Lieutenant Legge, an ex-pat Tasmanian in Her Majesty’s Service based on the island of Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka, shipped three elk to Tasmania.  A pair were located at Richmond Park the property of Legislative Councilor John Lord, and the remaining Buck was sent to Slopen Island off the Tasman Peninsula.

From there, the elk, according to reports published in The Mercury in June 1871, swam across the channel to what is now the Coal Mines and from there moved around the Peninsula until it arrived at Port Arthur later that same month, where further Mercury reports indicate it was welcomed by Commandant A H Boyd.
It appears that its welcome did not last long. A further report in July 1871 describe a litany of damage to gardens and property around the settlement, including eating and trampling vegetable gardens and 'anterling' a priest's wheelbarrow into a creek.

The Reverend made representation to the Commandant in hope that he would use his authority “to prevent the recurrence of a similar intrusion from so unwelcome a stranger”. Records suggest that nearly two months passed before the elk was taken to the property of James Lord near Hobart on October 24th, 1871.  What happened to the elk after that date is unknown.

Main Text & Information Sources – 
Interpretive Signs at the site
Port Arthur Website


Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Horton College, Ross

This lonely but isolated red-brick portico, which stands beside the Midland Highway at Somercotes just south of Ross, is all that remains of one of colonial Australia’s most prestigious educational institutions. The ruin now provides shade for occasional grazing sheep, but in its day it was the main entry to Horton College, a high-achieving boys’ school from Tasmania’s early days.

The original school was a huge two-storey building with a grand, ornate tower surmounting its main entry. It was built by Samuel Horton, a sea captain in the merchant service, who came to Van Diemen’s Land in 1823 and was given a sizeable land grant “near the Ross Bridge”, which he named Somercotes, after the area in Lincolnshire where he grew up.

A devout Methodist, Horton was a noted philanthropist and in 1850 he offered 20 acres and £1350 to the Wesleyan Church to establish a boys’ college at Somercotes. At the time, schools were mostly built and run by churches, rather than by the Government, but Governor George Arthur and his successor Sir John Franklin were both pushing for a government-run boys’ college to be built that could at least unite a few denominations under the one roof. Rivalry between churches was making this difficult, so Horton’s proposal gained traction as a favourable alternative.

The foundation stone for Horton College was laid on January 6, 1852, but in the first of a long series of unfortunate developments, the start of construction coincided with the Victorian gold rush, which drew large numbers of people out of the southern colony, causing construction work to slow to a crawl because of the lack of available workers. The school was completed in 1855, with convict-made bricks and sandstone quarried from Ross. The first student was enrolled on October 3 and by the end of 1855 there were seven students enrolled in the boarding school. By 1863, the average enrolment was 50 students and about 770 boys passed through its halls by the time it closed.

The scholastic achievements of the students were admirable – between 1879 and 1887 they had obtained four Tasmanian Scholarships, 15 Associates of Arts degrees, three Dry Scholarships and many gold medals and other prizes. Horton College soon earned a reputation as one of the best boys’ colleges in the colonies, its rural isolation being touted as one of the reasons for its success, as the boys boarding there were less distracted by their surroundings and had more time to study.

Capt Horton died in 1867 and, possibly due to a minor depression around the same time, admissions to the college dropped considerably during the following years. But as economic conditions improved again, so did the college’s fortunes, with several expansions and upgrades added on, including the tower.

However, trouble followed after headmaster William Fox’s death in 1889. At the same time, depression hit Tasmania and parents started sending their children to schools closer to the main cities and towns. By 1892, the school was broke. It earned a short reprieve by leasing its premises to another private school for a year, but the situation continued to deteriorate. College trustees had the property transferred into the ownership of the Horton Estate, under Horton’s nephew Thomas Riggall, so he could absorb and pay the debts.

The residential portion of the school was then occupied by Mr Riggall’s son, but in 1917 he had the building pulled down and about 1920 the bricks and other building materials were sold off, leaving only the portico that stands today.

Some of the bricks went into building a small homestead on the same property and some were taken to Launceston and used in the Mary Pox wing of the Methodist Ladies’ College on Elphin Rd in 1935. The college bell was relocated to the Hutchins School.

Main Text & Information Source

Historical Photos –
Australian Heritage Database

Sunday, 12 April 2015

St John The Baptist Church, Ouse

The church of St John the Baptist is a simple and modest sandstone church surrounded by a churchyard which contains many graves and monuments of the early settlers from the district. It presents an interesting and dominant silhouette. The church is in a dramatic and picturesque setting, on top of the knoll between the township of Ouse, and the Ouse River. Together with the nearby Bridge Hotel and the gardens by the River Ouse, it presents a nineteenth century precinct of rare quality.

In 1840 land was granted by W A Bethune of 'Dunrobin', for the erection of a church at Ouse Bridge. Unlike most Anglican Churches constructed after the Church Act, 1837, no financial assistance was received from government sources. Construction of the church was funded and undertaken with the assistance of local parishioners. Construction was undertaken during the incumbency of the Reverend E J Pogson (July 1831 to September 1844), and is understood to have commenced in 1842, and to have been completed in 1843.

'The Mercury', 1 July 1943 reported that the centenary celebrations were held on Sunday 27 June 1943, which was the first Sunday after the feast day of St John the Baptist (24 June). A stained glass window which portrays the Patronal Saint, performing the baptism of Christ, and which commemorates the centenary of the building was installed at this time.

Following the eventual transfer of deeds to the church on 30 August 1866, a request for consecration was made to the diocesan authorities. The church and burial ground were consecrated by Bishop Bromby on Thursday 9 May 1867. St John's was always part of the Hamilton Parish, and in early synod reports was referred to as the 'chapel' at Ouse Bridge. The reasoning behind this was due to the fact that church authorities were unable to consecrate the church until they had clear title to the land on which the church stood.

The construction date of the small porch is not known, though it is possibly the work of Hobart architect, A C Walker, and is similar to other work undertaken by his practice during the late 1890s (C.F. St Stephen's, Sandy Bay; St Raphael's, Fern Tree; and St Alban's, Claremont.)  In 1929 extensive work was undertaken in an attempt to stabilize deteriorating masonry. Like so much 'restoration' work of this period, this work largely exacerbated the problems.

In 1982 a comprehensive conservation programme was initiated as the building was visibly falling apart. 140 years after the construction of the church, the parishioners once again rose to the task. Sandstone was quarried out of a landslip on a hill at a nearby local  property and then transported to the church where blocks were cut and matched to the existing stones. A new internal wall was installed and one of the stained glass windows was restored during this period. Interestingly, no services were missed during this period.

The renovation continues and is an on going project. Truly a labour of love for the community. A beautiful country church!

Main Text & Information Sources –
Australian Heritage Database.
“From Black Snake To Bronte” – Audrey Holiday & John Trigg