Tuesday, 9 April 2013


Located 134 km from Hobart, 133 km from Launceston and 67 km from Campbell Town, Swansea sits on Great Oyster Bay and gazes across at the rugged mountains of the Freycinet National Park. It is a pretty setting and it boasts a very substantial number of historic homes and buildings which give this fishing and holiday destination a distinctive charm. Swansea is a classified Historic Town and the only historic town in Tasmania situated by the sea. This provides an ambience and relaxed feel to the town. 

The first European to explore the Swansea area was a Captain Cox sailing the brig Mercury from England to Sydney Town. He sailed up the eastern coast of Tasmania and, having heard rumour of vast colonies of seals, on 3 July 1789 sailed along the western shore of Maria Island and into a stretch of water he named Oyster Bay. He described the bay as 'being quite landlocked and sheltered from the wind in every direction.’ Cox noted that the area was already inhabited by Aborigines who, from the evidence of their middens, were obviously living off the oysters and shellfish. They disappeared into the hinterland but Cox observed smoke from their fires. Numerous sailors passed through the bay over the next twenty years but it wasn't until the 1820s that Europeans settled in the district.

Swansea was settled in 1821 when George Meredith obtained a grant from Lieutenant Governer Sorell to farm around Oyster Bay. The land was developed and made suitable for seasonal crops and grazing stock and a tannery and flour mill were established by the Meredith River. Whaling stations were also set up on nearby islands to enable the export of whale oil. It wasn't until 1827 that any sort of substantial community was established in the area. It was in that year that Captain George Hibbert of the 40th Foot Regiment established a military outpost at Waterloo Point (near the present site of the Swansea Golf Club). It was a typical military post with accommodation for the soldiers, a guard house and a commissariat. By 1830 there were 150 free residents and 170 convicts and assigned servants. The most common access from Hobart at this time was via Campbell Town. Between 1835-45, convicts worked on a road north through the mountains to Avoca and on a road south to Hobart

In 1831 the post office was established and in the late 1830s a number of substantial buildings - Morris's Store, Schouten House and the Black Swan Inn were all built showing an increasing prosperity. In 1850 the military garrison ( a small contingent of the 40th regiment of Foot) were withdrawn and Swansea became a police district. It remained so until 23rd January 1860 when it became the first rural municipality in Tasmania. Schools began in 1858 with 53 children in 2 schools in the area. By 1864, there were 152 pupils enrolled in state schools as well as children tutored at home. Coaches transported people and as the rough roads gradually improved people were able to move more freely. Cars gradually replaced the coaches and boat transport.

Schouten House (formerly the Swansea Inn), was built in 1844 in the traditional grand Georgian style, by William Champion of Hobart, as a wedding gift for his daughter Theresa, who married Samuel Wellard. From this point on the building has etched its place in the history of Swansea in both a tragic and a magnificent way. Several years after their marriage Theresa Wellard died and arrangements were made for a Mr. Large of Hobart to take on the inn and develop a brewery. In 1850, Mr. Large, his wife and six children aged from 2 - 12 years travelled from Hobart aboard the vessel named the Resolution. Laden with supplies and the makings of the Brewery, the family arrived in The Great Oyster Bay when disaster struck.

The following is an extract from the newspaper of the time: "Wrecks: we regret to announce a melancholy occurrence, which took place on Monday week at Oyster Bay, near Swansea. The wind was blowing high at the time: and the cutter Resolution, hence from Swan Port, with Mr and Mrs Large and the 6 children, varying in age from 2 - 12 years, and a cargo comprising articles for establishing a brewery at Swansea, on board, was totally wrecked. The whole of the goods and the lives of the six children falling a sacrifice to the elements. 

We hear that, so sudden was the catastrophe, the poor father, who was formerly a publican in Hobart Town, and has now lost all, had barely time to escape himself, and that he was insensible for several hours after being thrown on shore by surf. How Mrs.Large escaped has not correctly transpired, but a four-oared whaleboat went from town on Monday morning to the scene of the disaster". Of the Large children, all but the body of 8 year old William were recovered and buried in the town's cemetery. Stricken with grief, the parents returned to Hobart Town without taking up residency at Swansea Inn, and Mr.Wellard continued on to develop the brewery. In the mid 1850's, Swansea Inn was sold to an Alexander Graham and became a Grammar School for boys. This venture failed after 5 years and sold again, this time to a doctor, the house then became a private residence for some 80 years. The owners included the Mitchell sisters from 1897 to the 1940's and then a Bernard Hawkin. 

During this time the house was renamed Schouten House. In the early 1950's, Dominic College of Hobart purchased the house as a weekend retreat for its boys. During this time the house fell into disrepair and was finally sold in the late 1970's. After a decade of successive owners, the house was purchased by the Fiddler family and restored into a B&B and Restaurant, thus opening another chapter on the history of the building.

Meredith House was built in 1853 by J. A. Graham on land purchased from Charles Meredith, husband of noted colonial artist and poet, Louisa Anne Meredith. The first occupier was Gordon Burgess who named it Laughton House after Laughton in Essex England, from where he came. Subsequently he married a Miss Cope, a cousin of Louisa Meredith who ran it as a Girls Grammar School... and for a period it was a maternity hospital. Meredith House about 1910 - known at the time as Laughton House. 

In 1870, James Morris, the owner of Morris Store, purchased the house and in 1892 his daughter Sarah Morris started taking in paying guests. Later Sarah's niece, Maude, married Frank Morey and changed the name to Canberra Guest House. This was its heyday - a large dining room was added and it became a very popular place for holidays and honeymoons. After a marvelous dinner the rugs were rolled back and the dancing began! Stories also abound of ladies of the night entertaining the transient fishing fleet and large functions, including Christmases, with as many as 100 for lunch. Roast duck was a specialty of the House, harvested from the local flock. It was simply known as The Guest House.

The town has continued to grow and has become the most important service centre on the lower east coast as well as establishing itself as a popular holiday destination.