Monday, 30 December 2013

Methodist Church, Nicholls Rivulet

The former Methodist church at Nicholls Rivulet has a direct association with the Tasmanian Aboriginal race through its very strong association with its principal benefactor, Fanny Cochrane Smith. It also provides some physical evidence of the influence of the Methodist home missions in late nineteenth century rural Tasmania.

Early Methodist services in the district of Nicholls Rivulet (formerly Irish Town) were held in the home of William and Fanny Smith. Fanny Cochrane Smith (1834-1905) was recognized by the Tasmanian government as 'the last survivor' of the Tasmanian Aboriginal race, and was granted 305 acres of land at Nicholls Rivulet in 1889. The Smith family became leading members of the Methodist community. One of the sons, William, became a lay preacher. Fanny, in particular, was regarded as a tireless worker, and in late 1895 or early 1896 she gave half an acre of land for the purposes of building a church. It was intended 'to hold the land until the necessity arises for us to erect a church'.

Within five years the Methodist congregation had outgrown the accommodation afforded by Fanny's kitchen, and the foundation stone of the church was laid on 6 November 1900. The construction of the church took six months, and the first services were held in the new church on Sunday 5 May 1901, when the Reverend CW Atkinson preached in both the morning and afternoon.

The building is a small rectangular timber structure (8.5 x 5m), set on rubble footings with weatherboards to external walls. The building has minimal decoration, the most obvious embellishment being the elaborately decorative barge board to the north end of the gabled corrugated iron roof. The entrance doors are framed and sheeted, and consist of two leaves within a pointed arch frame.

Each side of the building has two timber framed multi-paned windows, with pointed arch heads. The wall lining above consists of horizontal boards, to a height of 2250mm. There is no evidence of any lining having existed above this level, suggesting that the interior lining may have been left partly finished. The exposed roof framing includes rafters. There is a raised platform or dais at the southern end, with a rail supported by three turned timber posts (partly damaged).

It is not known when the Methodist church ceased to be used for worship. In recent times, as of 1990, the building was used for the storage of hay. The building is now used as The Living History Museum of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage & Gardens of the South East Nation and run by the South East Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation.

Main Text & Information Source
Australian Heritage Database

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

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Risdon Bridge

Here is a real hidden gem from the convict era. A beautifully preserved reminder of those who toiled to establish the roads that opened up the countryside inland from the Derwent River. A reminder that can still be seen today.
Beginning on the East Derwent Highway  at the original Tasmanian settlement site at Risdon Cove on the eastern bank of the Derwent, you can follow the road through Risdonvale along Grass Tree Hill Rd and onwards into Richmond.

Just after reaching the park area and memorial commemorating the landing of 1803 at Risdon Cove, you cross between the stone walls of a little convict built stone bridge that crosses over the Risdon Creek. A few paces up or down stream provides a vantage point from which to view this pretty little structure made from mellowed sandstone with a single arch springing right out of the water of the creek and a comparatively high parapet above it.

The wedge shaped sections of the arch are made of cut and gauged stone and the keystones bear the date 1838 in an ornate carved shield. This is more clearly preserved on the up stream side of the bridge.
The bridge is a single arched miniature model of the more famous triple arched vaulted bridge at Ross. The construction of the bridge was completed after Lieutenant Governor Arthur’s tenure had finished in Tasmania.

Until a few years ago, the bridge was picturesquely set amid light foliage but since the area has developed as a suburb and the provision of engineering services connected with the suburbs growth has brought about the overgrowing of the foliage around the vicinity of the bridge and the fitting of large pipes, supported by concrete posts that cut across the line of the bridges arch.

Also a building constructed by the Southern Regional Water Supply organization right next to the western end of the bridge tends to take away from the visual impact of the bridge from the travelling public.

Still the bridge is in good condition and serves as a silent monument to the convicts whose blood, sweat & tears went into the construction of the initial infrastructure which ultimately opened up the country side of the young Tasmanian colony for the ever expanding numbers of colonists. The bridge is listed on the Tasmanian & Australian Heritage Databases.

Main Text & Information Sources:
“Convicts & Carriageways – L. Hewitt
“Early Tasmanian Bridges” – Roy Smith

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The Old Government Farm

In March 1804, Governor Collins announced in his general orders that a Government Farm was to be established at what he called “Farm Bay” but what is now called Cornelian Bay. The Cornelian Bay site became the Government Farm, to be manned by convicts with overseers and tasked with supplying fresh vegetables and other produce for the first residents of Hobart Town. By 1805, Collins was able to report that a good crop of wheat was expected at the farm. The farm was manned by 30 convicts who had the particular agricultural skills to make the most of the new farm area and as such the farm was to become the central agricultural enterprise in the colony for a number of years. There was a larger area under cultivation than at any of the settler’s farms at the time.

By 1807 the Government had 23 acres under wheat and 13 acres under barley. Most of the livestock in the colony at this time was held by the Government which had 153 head of cattle and 301 sheep. The colonial government had decreed there was to be no unauthorized communication between the farm and the camp at Sullivans Cove or between the farm and settlers in the nearby New Town area. The settlers were particularly cautioned against hiring any of the prisoners from the Government Farm to work on their own properties under the threat of a 5 pound fine.

The area seems not to have been farmed after Collin’s death and by 1813 the land had been granted to Andrew Whitehead who had previously been the farm manager. In the early years, over a thousand acres of the land was granted to Andrew Whitehead, who grew crops and raised stock. His original farm homestead was probably located on the site of the present Jewish Cemetery.

At about the same time, the northern part of the site became a popular recreational destination as a racecourse and picnic spot. This would appear to be the site of the racecourse as described in Rev Robert Knopwood’s diaries.

In 1818, Governor Sorell bought Whitehead’s farm including a house and outbuildings for 1000 pounds, together with grants totaling 600 acres and worth 300 pounds. The property was then leased back to Whitehead. However, attempts to further cultivate the land failed.

In 1843 the farm was advertised for rental. It comprised of 120 acres including 60 acres under crop. Buildings on the site consisted of a good dwelling house, barn, cow house, piggery, fowl & pigeon houses, a blacksmith’s shop, two stalled stables and men’s huts, the whole property being fenced.  In 1848, Bishop Nixon, who was the first Anglican Bishop of Tasmania, tried to purchase the Government farm area. However, he was informed that the property was under a seven year lease already and as such was not available. He ultimately purchased the property “Runnymede” in New Town in 1850. In November 1858, the farm was subdivided and partly auctioned off by the agents Worley & Frodsham. It seems that the remainder of the farm may still have been leased from the Government.

By 1843, the four original cemeteries around Hobart Town had become public health hazards – the sites were too close to the city and the soil was often so rocky that the graves could not be dug deeply enough. But although the population of Hobart continued to grow, a report on the health risks was ignored. The Cornelian Bay site was suggested as a suitable location for a new cemetery, but action was not taken for nearly two decades – one of the reasons was that the site was thought to be too far from the city for poorer people to visit.

Finally, after much argument, procrastination and the passing of several Government bills required for its formation, the Cornelian Bay Cemetery was opened in 1872, with clearing and fencing done by convict labour. Twelve year-old Bridget Ryan, who died from typhoid fever in that year, was the first person to be buried there. Her grave can still be seen. The farmhouse became the cemetery caretaker’s residence.

The first new building on the Cemetery site was the mortuary chapel, designed and built by colonial architect Henry Hunter in 1872. The chapel’s original Huon pine and iron gates were only recently found in the undergrowth where they once stood. Surviving buildings that have been classified by the National Trust include the sandstone blacksmith’s shop, which dates back to 1822, during the Government Farm years, a whimsical Henry Hunter-designed shelter in the style of a garden gazebo and the superintendent’s residence.

It is highly likely that the vast majority of Tasmanians don’t realize the important past that the area has, going right back to the birth of the colony and not just as the main Hobart cemetery. A very important site for the establishment of the new colony in 1804 and the survival of the colonists and convicts.

Text & Information Sources
The New Town Rivulet Historical Study - Lindy Scripps 1993

Millington's Website

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

St Mary the Virgin Church, Gretna

In June 1846, Bishop Nixon suggested to the government that the recently arrived missionary chaplain, the Reverend William Tancred, be appointed as minister to the district of Macquarie Plains. On 5 December 1846, two acres of land were donated to the church by Edward Terry of 'Askrigg'.

Within eighteen months, Tancred had supervised the construction of the church at Gretna. The church of St Mary the Virgin was consecrated by Bishop Nixon on Ascension Day, 1 June 1848, (the same day that the Buckland church was licensed). The Church is built of stone with cedar furnishing and was financed by donations from the congregation. It represents an early expression of the Victorian Gothic style of building, not only for churches but also for residential buildings.

The church was popularly known as the 'Woolpack church', the name being derived from the former Woolpack Inn, located nearby. Reminiscent of a small medieval chapel in the early English style, the church of St Mary the Virgin at Gretna is a simple rectangular stone building (17 x 7 metres), with a timber vestry added at a later date. The design was probably adapted by the first incumbent, the Reverend William Tancred, from an English model.

The church is a prominent Gretna landmark in a stark hillside setting. It was one of the earliest ecclesiastical buildings in Australia to be influenced by English design trends, in which buildings were closely modeled on medieval designs. The church is surrounded by an extensive churchyard which contains the graves of many early pioneering families and thus has important associations for the history of the local community, and is held in high esteem

By 1918 one of the end walls had started to collapse and the church was extensively repaired. Additional repairs were undertaken in the 1930s, when the present roofing was added. The building exhibits evidence of structural failure. The walls and roof are tied and braced by several means, in an effort to stabilize the structure. It would seem that the church is still actively used and is part of the Hamilton parish and provides a valuable resource for research into the development of the Victorian Gothic style of building and how it was translated into colonial Australia.

This church and accompanying graveyard in the south central region of Tasmania is rather typical of several other churches in the area. All are quite old and all are beginning to crumble and much in need of repair or restoration. Typically none have a large enough congregation to attract funds. That said, the architecture and construction, particularly the internal fitout and stained glass windows are worth seeing.

Main Information Source: Australian Heritage Database