Sunday, 8 December 2013


Stowell is a large town residence and garden of the 1830s which displays the gracious life style of the wealthy Colonial families of eastern Australia. The original residence was erected for Captain John Montagu, a leading official in the administrations of both of Governor Arthur and his successor, Governor Franklin. Captain John Montagu and his wife, Jessy, erected Stowell in 1833 on land granted to them by Lieutenant Governor George Arthur. Their house was a two storey building, in fashionable Regency style. The early residence was set in extensive gardens, with graperies heated by hot air, greenhouses and other garden features.

Montagu lived in the house until his fall from favour with Governor Sir John Franklin and Lady Franklin in the late 1830s. In 1840, Stowell was purchased by Gamaliel Butler, founder of the early legal firm, Butler, Mcintyre and Butler. Butler owned many Tasmanian properties including the rural estate of Shene near Bagdad. The Stowell house and its extensive outbuildings accommodated Gamaliel and Sarah Butler, their six children and servants. The outbuildings were set around extensive cobbled stone yards, and included coach houses, servant quarters and stables.

The main stone-paved courtyard was enclosed by the early house, kitchen and offices, workshops originally for the convict tradesmen, and conservatories. The fine gardens established by Montagu were carefully maintained and added to by Gamaliel Butler and his architect son, Francis, who imported fruit trees for the garden from England. Stowell remained in the Butler family until 1885, when Henry Butler, surgeon and politician, the youngest son of Sarah and Gamaliel, died there. Part of the original grant had already been sold out of the family. The residence and some 4 acres remaining were sold to William George Gibson, wealthy flour merchant and from 1901 a member of the Tasmanian Legislative Council. Stowell was an appropriate setting for the successful businessman and his large family.

In the late Victorian manner, William Gibson and his wife Lucy set about changing their house into a grand residence. They added an upper level to the front verandah, with ornate cast iron lacework, and an upper storey to the kitchen wing including the imposing Italianate tower, which provided views of the Derwent River. The western facade of the house was modified to form an enlarged entrance lobby and a smaller tower was added.

In 1917, Stowell, including the Stowell Avenue right-of-way from Hampden Road, was purchased by Edinburgh Hospitals Limited. A two storey wing was added on the southern side of the courtyard, attached to the kitchen wing; a sunroom was erected above the entrance and gate house; the operating theatre was built on the site of the early conservatory; and the upper verandah was partially enclosed as a flat for the matron. Many internal alterations were also made to suit hospital requirements. Stowell served as a training school for general nurses, housed in a new two storey wing adjoining the old stables, at the eastern end of the rear courtyard.

The large area of land at the back of Stowell, towards Hampden Road, continued to be used during the hospital phase as an extensive vegetable garden. Despite the several phases of additions and alterations, in 1945, the Department of Health advised that the facilities at Stowell would need substantial upgrading if the hospital were to continue to operate. In the event, and despite public protest at the loss of a homely and comfortable institution, the hospital closed its doors that year.

The Stowell property was purchased by the Commonwealth government as a home for the Tasmanian regional laboratory of CSIRO. By the 1960s, research into fish processing was carried out at Stowell. However, with the establishment of marine science laboratories at Castray Esplanade and other facilities at the University of Tasmania, CSIRO activities at Stowell had diminished. The site had witnessed a remarkable continuum of horticultural activities, from Montagu's early experiments with grape planting to the extensive vegetable gardens maintained by Stowell Hospital and the technological food research conducted by the CSIRO 150 years later.  CSIRO moved out of Stowell with the opening of its new purpose built facilites in Castray Esplanade in 1993/94.

When the CSIRO left Stowell House, they left behind more than just a stately Sandstone Georgian home. Since World War 2, a ghost known as the Grey Lady has also shared the building. Retired C.S.I.R.O. scientist Dr Don Martin, 79, says the ghost has appeared to him twice, in 1957 and 1958. On both occasions he was working at night in his second floor office, directly under the old building's tower. "The figure of a woman, wearing a grey crinoline hooped dress, appeared at the open doorway. She seemed quite benign, but I couldn't make out her face Dr Martin said. It was blurred, kind of misty. Then she just went away". Legend has it that the Grey Lady is the ghost of a young woman who, in the 1850's, was thrown down the tower stairs by her stepfather after he found out she was pregnant to a former convict.

The Stowell site is now a series of private residences but still retains a lot of its former charm.

Information Source: Australian Heritage Database

I received a very interesting email from a blog visitor named Phil who shared his story of Stowell.
Phil has very kindly consented to allow me to share his story with our blog visitors.
Here it is -

"I enjoy your blogspot and have learnt much - despite being a generation Tasmanian with my family arriving in 1804. It was with interest I read recently of the ghost of Stowell House in Battery Point.
In my younger days I was a security control room operator looking after security patrols across Tasmania under the Chubb and Wormald security companies.
On this particular night a patrol man went to check in at Stowell House which had recently been vacated by CSIRO as they moved to the wharf area - hence patrols were required to prevent vandalism.
On checking and exiting the building, the patrol man, a staunch Salvation Army member, rang me to say he was clear of Stowell House. Suddenly he said, "bloody hell - she is upstairs. I will have to go and check," before hanging up. Some minutes later he rang back and I asked whether the staff member had left, thinking someone was there still packing.
The patrolman responded with "no - there's no staff member. It is the ghost!" What he had seen was the girl watching from the upstairs window as he walked down the drive. Where she was standing was a large laboratory bench which ran the length of the room and she would have been standing in the middle of it!
The patrolman told me he saw her quite often and wasn't concerned at all - he was more concerned that a staff member was back in the building!
I also have a strong connection with Anglesea Barracks and over the years, I have worked in the sandstone headquarters at times at night by myself. Lots of footsteps throughout that place- but no real ghost sightings.
Anyway - thought you may be interested in this little story."


Thank you for sharing your fantastic memories of Stowell, Phil
Updated 4/5/14