Friday, 26 July 2013

Redlands Estate

Redlands was established in 1819 when the land was granted to George Frederick Read, the son of King George IV of England. George Frederick was not formally recognized by the crown because his mother was married to the King when he was still the Prince Regent. During their marriage, they amassed a huge debt due to a lavish lifestyle. The Prince’s father, George III, forced Prince George to divorce his wife and marry a Duchess whose large dowry helped cover the prince’s debts.

Young George Frederick was given the surname of his wet nurse, “Read” and was sent off to the merchant navy in the early 1800’s. He became very successful and eventually settled in Australia around 1815 and began acquiring properties across Tasmania including what became Redlands.

The oldest building on the site is the Bakery which was constructed in 1822 and is considered to be the oldest continuously used bake oven in Australia. Like all the other buildings at Redlands, the bricks were made on site and its likely the roof shingles were made from split timber removed to make way for the developing farmland. The bakehouse has been restored and is used to bake old style loaves of bread that can be purchased on site.

Many convicts lived and worked at Redlands from 1819 until the end of transportation in the 1850’s. Redland predates Port Arthur by around 12 years and in the early days of Van Diemens Land, convicts were assigned to land owners to help create buildings and farmland. Convict labour was used at Redlands to develop bushland into fertile farmland, make bricks for the buildings (over 500,000 convict bricks were fired in a kiln that was located near the weir on the nearby Plenty River

The convicts also hand dug over 5kms of canals throughout Redlands, which was the first farm in Tasmania to be fully irrigated using gravity. Some of the canals were lined with Huon Pine. Some of the canals can still be seen in the main yard of the estate.

The convicts were housed in tenement buildings which were constructed as two story rooms by convict made bricks. Once the convicts left the site, the tenement building was used to house seasonal hop pickers. According to reports, the convicts were also housed in a cellar at the end of the tenement building. This cellar was converted in the early 1900’s to house a wood heater used to dry tobacco when Redlands grew tobacco for a short time.

There was also a separate set of hop pickers huts which accommodated one to two people. These were situated on the other side of the main yard and were surrounded by towering poplar trees which formed a kind of “poplar cathedral” around the huts. This area really retains a mystical feel when you enter the area.

Built in 1867 is the Oast House which was one of three built at Redlands. This construction marked the start of Redlands 100 years as one of the country’s largest hop farms. At its peak Redlands grew hops on 50 acres and had over 250 workers and their families living and working on the site. The surviving Oast house was constructed with convict bricks and was one of three originally on the site. The others unfortunately fell into disrepair and were pulled down in the 70’s & 80s, coinciding with the downturn in the hops industry.

From the late 1860’s to the 1970’s, Redlands Estate was a large and productive hop farm and had its own cobblestone village which included a bakery, general store, butcher and belltower to service the workers and their families who lived on the farm during hop picking season. The general store was stocked with goods and merchandise for the workers to purchase and was serviced by businesses from New Norfolk. Permanent employees and hop pickers received meat supplies twice a week from cattle killed on the property. The bell in the belltower was rung to start and finish the work day and also in the case of emergencies.

Redlands House, the main manor house of the estate is a beautifully conserved family home and shows all the grandeur of the 1840s. It is in magnificent condition and is still used as a family home to this day. 

Amongst the beautiful English style gardens that surround the house, is an area that was known as the “Secret Garden”! This part of the garden was out of bounds to the hop pickers and was reserved for the family and managers of the estate. There was only one way to enter the “Secret Garden” and that was through a door in the manager’s office which opened directly into the garden. With over 400 people working on site during the heights of hops season, the need for privacy was understandable. The secret garden features a huge Magnolia Grandiflora which is one of the oldest magnolias in Tasmania. The gardens were not always private as in the early days the area contained a public bath. The exact site of the bath has yet to be located but is thought to be behind the tennis court towards the back of the tenement buildings.

An interesting sideline to the history of the Redlands occurred on a winters evening in August 1845 when the manor house was held up at gunpoint by the notorious bushranger, William Westwood aka Jacky Jacky! The lessee of Redlands at the time, Mr Harrison, was ill in bed upstairs while his wife and son in law were downstairs. Through the front door of the house, the armed bushranger burst in. Within half an hour, Jacky Jacky and his collegues had rounded up the convicts and workers and all the prisoners were tied up on the kitchen floor. More information regarding the hold up can be found on information signs at the front door of the house.

Redlands Estate is literally steeped in early colonial history and is a wonderfully preserved example of a colonial estate with manor house and out buildings. These days Redlands grows wheat and barley and is the home of the recently established Redlands Distillery. The Redlands Distillery is one of two “paddock to bottle” single malt whiskey distilleries in the world. There are great plans for the redevelopment of Redlands, including the refurbishing of the tenement buildings to provide colonial style accommodation. 

The ongoing works around Redlands are finding new things of historical significance regularly. Recently, during routine gravel maintenance of the yard, a sandstone road, most likely built by convicts between the 1820’s and 1840’s using sandstone from a quarry near the railway bridge on the nearby Derwent River, was discovered in front of the Oast house. Fantastic!!

I spent a good half day wandering the grounds and taking in the colonial atmosphere. A wonderful place to visit with plenty more to see than what has been mentioned in the text.

Website: Redlands Estate

Text & Information sourced from Redlands Estate website and information boards around the Redlands buildings.

Highly Recommended!!