Sunday, 22 December 2013

Poplarville (The Pines)

This fantastic Georgian house has had two names in its long and dignified history, It was first known officially as Poplarville due to the number of poplar trees planted around it, and then unofficially it became known as The Pines, after the two fantastic Norfolk Island pines that frame the front of the house.

The house was built by Henry Pearce (1813 - 1901) in approx 1844 on land that had been originally granted to Thomas Issel in 1804. Henry Pearce was a convict who arrived in Hobart Town in the Surrey 2 on December 14, 1829. he went on to become a merchant, trustee of estates, owner of 5 or 6 warehouses in Salamanca Place, alderman of Hobart 1861 - 1867 and 1869 - 1874, co-owner, with Captain William Crosby, of a number ships including the barque, Countess of Seafield, and an insurer from 1875 to 1899.
Although the stone used to construct the house was sourced locally the finely faced stone used in the front of the house was fashioned in the “home country” then brought out here from England along with a great deal of English timber for the construction of the inside of the house. It is almost certain that these materials would have been brought out on one of Captain Crosby’s ships either the Jane Francis or the Wellington. From 1842, Crosby (1805-85) was a regular trader between London and Hobart Town. Crosby was Henry Pearce’s closest friend and, following Crosby’s relocation to Hobart Town in 1853, they occupied adjoining warehouses on Salamanca Place for some 30 years.

The photograph above was taken c1905 and shows Charles Stevenson Pearce (1849-1916), his second wife Sarah Langley, née Williams, (1854-1942) and the children from Charles first marriage to Jennie, née Jackson (1866-1903) being M. Bessie, Winnie (1896-1988) and Connie (1899-1989). The fireplaces, paneling and doors in the seven downstairs rooms are all made from cedar. From the large hall, a cedar balustraded staircase sweeps upwards. On its way up, it partially masks the top of a large door leading out of the hall. This oddity of construction leads to the suggestion that the staircase was very much an afterthought and constructed later in the life of the house. Charles S. Pearce was very proud of the fact that as a young lad he was allowed the honour of carrying into the house the curved rail for the staircase which was shaped from the one piece of timber. This would suggest that the staircase was added around 1860.

There are four smaller rooms upstairs which nestle comfortably under the high roof. The ceilings of these rooms can be touched easily by an outstretched arm whereas the ceilings downstairs are more than 3 metres high. It would seem that someone, perhaps even Pearce himself, decided that the enormous attic would be better served as four extra rooms.

The bells that summoned the various servants are still in existence in the rear of the house. There is a row of 4 with a larger bell of different tone separate from the others. This one announced that someone was at the front door. It is understood that the operating wire for the bells are still in place but are not in a good state of repair so the bells are silent today. Probably just as well because they would only summon the ghosts of maids, servants and grooms from a bygone era.

The property also has the original coach house still on site and this is as large as many 20th century houses. There is also evidence that a grand circular driveway once existed to allow coaches to bring visitors to the front door and the wear that is evident on the hard, black stone front steps indicates that there have been many visitors into this beautiful house.

While many of the poplars have been removed over the years, no one would want to see the end of the pine trees that give the property its unofficial name. These magnificent trees, now over 2 metres thick at the base were planted by Henry Pearce to celebrate the end of the Crimean War in 1856. Over a century and a half on from their planting, they are nearly 100ft high and form an imposing part of the current day streetscape along Risdon Rd.

After the death of Pearce’s widow in 1904, the house was bought at auction by Henry’s third son Charles S. Pearce. He bequeathed it to his eldest daughter M. Bessie (1894-1951) who married Frank Hobart Johnstone, B. Sc. in 1918. The house remained in the Johnstone family until 1957.
A truly beautiful building that is currently a private residence, the house and grounds are classified by the National Trust and are on the Australian Heritage Database.

Main Text & Information source:
A very special thank you to Graham Pearce and his sister, Annette Macquarie who very generously provided corrected & updated information regarding their ancestor, Henry Pearce, and the history of the Poplarville property. Gratefully appreciated.

Information Updated - 27/4/14