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

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

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Portsea Terrace, Battery Point

The parcel of land where Portsea Terrace is built was one of several that were sold at auction on 3 December 1849.  Notices in the newspaper described them as ‘valuable building sites’ that were ‘remarkably convenient for parties connected with the New Wharf, Ship Building Yards, Docks etc.

Thomas Fisher purchased the block on the north-east corner of the Montpelier Retreat / Hampden Road intersection for £152.  There was strong demand for good quality accommodation in such close proximity to the harbour and Fisher built a terrace of four two-storey brick townhouses (on today’s Montpelier Retreat) which he rented out to various tenants.  Each of the townhouses had 6 rooms and newspaper adverts described them as ‘well-finished’ and enjoying ‘a healthy and respectable situation’.

One of the tenants was Phineas Moss who had emigrated to Van Diemen’s Land from Portsea, Hampshire, England and that may be the origin of the property’s name.  The townhouses were originally called Portsea Place but became known as Portsea Terrace in the 1890s.

The four townhouses were purchased for £1,550 by James Robertson in 1890 and he continued to rent them out to various tenants.  Robertson built today’s 62 Montpelier Retreat in 1894, endeavouring to match its appearance with the adjoining four townhouses.

Portsea Terrace has survived in excellent condition and is an outstanding example of an elegant row of two-storey Georgian style townhouses.

Main Information Source – Australian Heritage Database

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Roseneath House

Early in the 19th century a grand inn stood on the corner of Harbinger Lane and Austin’s Ferry Road. In its heyday it was a favorite resort for “holidaying folk” from Hobart Town and it was renowned for its magnificent gardens professed to be unsurpassed in Van Diemen’s Land.

In 1815 Austin and Earle built their first ferryboat and cattle punt but it is 1816 that is recognized as the year this, the first trans Derwent ferry service, began. It was not until 1818, however, that the ferry between Austin's and Old Beach was officially licensed and became part of the Hobart / Launceston road. An inn had now been built to accommodate travelers overnight, not far from Austin's Cottage - it was later to become known as the Roseneath Inn. James Austin and his cousin John Earle were the first proprietors of this inn which is thought to have been built in early 1819, from local stone. Newspaper records show that in July of that year Austin and Earl were granted a publican’s license for the “Barley Mow” in the Black Snake District.

Though some writers suggest this inn may have been a little further up river, it is most probably the inn that stood on Austin’s property, built specifically to cater for the lucrative ferry trade - Austin’s Ferry being the main crossing on the North/South Road. A painting of this inn, thought to have been done around 1822, shows a well developed garden around the two-story, sandstone building suggesting that it had been built, at the very least, three years earlier.

Nine miles from Hobart Town was considered some distance in the early days of travel in the colony and it was nothing unusual for travelers to stay the night at the inn before crossing the river and continuing their arduous journey into the “Interior”. The inn quickly became a flourishing establishment where travelers could obtain a comfortable bed, a good meal and the “kindest attentions” of the hosts. The inn became known as the “Baltonsborough” - the name of Austin’s farm which he had named after his home village in Somerset, England. It was more often than not, however, referred to merely as “Austin’s”.

The ferry and Austin’s inn and farm were renamed “Roseneath” by Governor Macquarie on his tour of Van Diemen’s Land in 1821 who visited Austin’s three times, staying at the inn overnight. It was in June 1821 that he recorded the following in his journal: ”Previous to leaving Austin’s Mrs. Macquarie and myself (after obtaining the sanction of Austin and his partner Earl) named their place Roseneath on account of the great beauty and very picturesque scenery of this place and its similarity to the place of the same name in Scotland.” By this time Austin was the sole proprietor of the inn – Earle having opened the Northampton Arms on the other side of the river. By the late 1820’s Lieutenant Governor George Arthur had arranged the work to start on the construction of the Bridgewater causeway.

Austin was sure that the opening of the causeway would inevitably reduce the amount of traffic using his ferry and hence his Inn but the traffic would still have to pass along the nearby section of the main road. Austin’s existing pub, the original Roseneath Inn was too far from the main road so he started building a new pub on the western side of the road near the turnoff to the ferry. In March 1830, the Colonial Times newspaper reported that Austin was building a “Handsome Inn”.

James Austin died in December 1831. At the time of his death the new Roseneath Inn had been almost completed - a large eighteen roomed sandstone building on the Main Road. He had not married but his housekeeper, Hannah Garrett had lived with him for many years. Austin’s will allowed Hannah to stay at the Roseneath Inn until she died, when it was to pass to his nephews, Solomon & Josiah Austin. The nephew’s began leasing the Roseneath Inn from Hannah but by July 1835 they had had enough and sought to sell the lease. However there were no takers and the closed the Inn in September 1835. In the meantime, Hannah had married George Madden, a former convict, who received his pardon in February 1836. In October 1838, he relicensed the “Roseneath Inn” as the “Young Queen”. When Hannah died in 1841, the property passed back to Solomon & Josiah and the “Young Queen” was closed down.

Rooms in the original inn were leased for a short period of time to a Mr. A Davies. It is not known how successful the Austin’s were in obtaining ongoing tenants for the original Inn over the next ten plus years. However, the boys advertised the lease for the entire estate which included both buildings that had served as pubs and extensive stables, barns & granaries. The estate was rented by John Brent for many years and at some stage during this time, the second Roseneath Inn, better known as Roseneath House, became the family home for the subsequent owners of the Roseneath Estate. In 1899, it was purchased by Louis Shoobridge for 3,825 pounds. He subdivided the property in October 1911 at which time Roseneath House was described as “one of the most extensive and up to date suburban houses in the district”

The old inn by the late 1880s was in a state of disrepair. The roof at the front of the building had started to collapse. Photos in the Tasmanian Mail in 1905 and 1912 show the inn rapidly falling into a state of ruin. By the 1920s it had totally collapsed and much of its remaining stone work was used to form the foundations of homes that were beginning to appear in the area. Today, all that remains of what was once an eighteen room; two story sandstone building is a very small section of the back wall.

Roseneath House remained a desirable residence and was subsequently owned at one point by Henry & Florence Oldmeadow. Florence was the daughter of John Brent and had grown up in the house. Sadly Roseneath House and its extensive outbuildings were destroyed in the 1967 bushfires.

Roseneath Park has been developed on the site. Some stone work, including steps, walls, entry gate pillars etc belonging to the house and stables can still be seen in the picturesque park.

Main Text & Information Source
History of Austins Ferry & Claremont PDF Pamphlet