This lonely but isolated red-brick portico, which stands beside the Midland Highway at Somercotes just south of Ross, is all that remains of one of colonial Australia’s most prestigious educational institutions. The ruin now provides shade for occasional grazing sheep, but in its day it was the main entry to Horton College, a high-achieving boys’ school from Tasmania’s early days.
The original school was a huge two-storey building with a grand, ornate tower surmounting its main entry. It was built by Samuel Horton, a sea captain in the merchant service, who came to Van Diemen’s Land in 1823 and was given a sizeable land grant “near the Ross Bridge”, which he named Somercotes, after the area in Lincolnshire where he grew up.
A devout Methodist, Horton was a noted philanthropist and in 1850 he offered 20 acres and £1350 to the Wesleyan Church to establish a boys’ college at Somercotes. At the time, schools were mostly built and run by churches, rather than by the Government, but Governor George Arthur and his successor Sir John Franklin were both pushing for a government-run boys’ college to be built that could at least unite a few denominations under the one roof. Rivalry between churches was making this difficult, so Horton’s proposal gained traction as a favourable alternative.
The foundation stone for Horton College was laid on January 6, 1852, but in the first of a long series of unfortunate developments, the start of construction coincided with the Victorian gold rush, which drew large numbers of people out of the southern colony, causing construction work to slow to a crawl because of the lack of available workers. The school was completed in 1855, with convict-made bricks and sandstone quarried from Ross. The first student was enrolled on October 3 and by the end of 1855 there were seven students enrolled in the boarding school. By 1863, the average enrolment was 50 students and about 770 boys passed through its halls by the time it closed.
The scholastic achievements of the students were admirable – between 1879 and 1887 they had obtained four Tasmanian Scholarships, 15 Associates of Arts degrees, three Dry Scholarships and many gold medals and other prizes. Horton College soon earned a reputation as one of the best boys’ colleges in the colonies, its rural isolation being touted as one of the reasons for its success, as the boys boarding there were less distracted by their surroundings and had more time to study.
Capt Horton died in 1867 and, possibly due to a minor depression around the same time, admissions to the college dropped considerably during the following years. But as economic conditions improved again, so did the college’s fortunes, with several expansions and upgrades added on, including the tower.
However, trouble followed after headmaster William Fox’s death in 1889. At the same time, depression hit Tasmania and parents started sending their children to schools closer to the main cities and towns. By 1892, the school was broke. It earned a short reprieve by leasing its premises to another private school for a year, but the situation continued to deteriorate. College trustees had the property transferred into the ownership of the Horton Estate, under Horton’s nephew Thomas Riggall, so he could absorb and pay the debts.
The residential portion of the school was then occupied by Mr Riggall’s son, but in 1917 he had the building pulled down and about 1920 the bricks and other building materials were sold off, leaving only the portico that stands today.
Some of the bricks went into building a small homestead on the same property and some were taken to Launceston and used in the Mary Pox wing of the Methodist Ladies’ College on Elphin Rd in 1935. The college bell was relocated to the Hutchins School.
The church of St John the Baptist is a simple and modest sandstone church surrounded by a churchyard which contains many graves and monuments of the early settlers from the district. It presents an interesting and dominant silhouette. The church is in a dramatic and picturesque setting, on top of the knoll between the township of Ouse, and the Ouse River. Together with the nearby Bridge Hotel and the gardens by the River Ouse, it presents a nineteenth century precinct of rare quality.
In 1840 land was granted by W A Bethune of 'Dunrobin', for the erection of a church at Ouse Bridge. Unlike most Anglican Churches constructed after the Church Act, 1837, no financial assistance was received from government sources. Construction of the church was funded and undertaken with the assistance of local parishioners. Construction was undertaken during the incumbency of the Reverend E J Pogson (July 1831 to September 1844), and is understood to have commenced in 1842, and to have been completed in 1843.
'The Mercury', 1 July 1943 reported that the centenary celebrations were held on Sunday 27 June 1943, which was the first Sunday after the feast day of St John the Baptist (24 June). A stained glass window which portrays the Patronal Saint, performing the baptism of Christ, and which commemorates the centenary of the building was installed at this time.
Following the eventual transfer of deeds to the church on 30 August 1866, a request for consecration was made to the diocesan authorities. The church and burial ground were consecrated by Bishop Bromby on Thursday 9 May 1867. St John's was always part of the Hamilton Parish, and in early synod reports was referred to as the 'chapel' at Ouse Bridge. The reasoning behind this was due to the fact that church authorities were unable to consecrate the church until they had clear title to the land on which the church stood.
The construction date of the small porch is not known, though it is possibly the work of Hobart architect, A C Walker, and is similar to other work undertaken by his practice during the late 1890s (C.F. St Stephen's, Sandy Bay; St Raphael's, Fern Tree; and St Alban's, Claremont.) In 1929 extensive work was undertaken in an attempt to stabilize deteriorating masonry. Like so much 'restoration' work of this period, this work largely exacerbated the problems.
In 1982 a comprehensive conservation programme was initiated as the building was visibly falling apart. 140 years after the construction of the church, the parishioners once again rose to the task. Sandstone was quarried out of a landslip on a hill at a nearby local property and then transported to the church where blocks were cut and matched to the existing stones. A new internal wall was installed and one of the stained glass windows was restored during this period. Interestingly, no services were missed during this period.
The renovation continues and is an on going project. Truly a labour of love for the community. A beautiful country church!
Main Text & Information Sources –
Australian Heritage Database.
“From Black Snake To Bronte” – Audrey Holiday & John Trigg
This lovely two storey townhouse was originally the home of John Ross, who constructed his Patent Slip shipbuilding facility at Battery Point in 1856. The house was subsequently occupied by Andrew Inglis Clark following his marriage to Ross’ daughter, Grace, in 1878. Andrew Inglis Clark was born in Hobart on 24 February 1848 and, due to ill health, was at first educated by his mother. Eventually he qualified as a mechanical engineer and worked in his family's business before studying law and being admitted to the Tasmanian Bar in January 1877. In 1878 he was first elected unopposed to the House of Assembly to represent Norfolk Plains (1878-82), later South Hobart (1887-97), and finally Hobart (1897-98).
However after winning his first election he failed at his next three attempts. Perhaps it was these failures which spurred him on to co-found, in 1884-85, the Southern Tasmanian Political Reform Association, which aimed to win manhood suffrage and three-year parliaments. Nevertheless, when re-elected in 1887 he was immediately made Attorney-General in Premier Sir Phillip Fysh's new Cabinet. Because Fysh was in the Legislative Council, Clark was the most senior government member in the House of Assembly.
Clark visited the USA in 1890 and became a committed republican and 'friend of America', that is, of its citizens and of its political institutions. This bias led him to be a force in the movement towards the Federation of the Australian States, for which he prepared a draft which formed the basis of the Australian Constitution and later a textbook, published in 1901.
In 1896, after several failed attempts, Clark was able to get a system of proportional representation adopted by the Tasmanian Parliament, but it was to be only on a trial basis for both Hobart (to elect 6 MPs) and Launceston (to elect 4 MPs). The provision described as Clark's own was to transfer all votes to 'next order of preference', rather than a random sample. This first 'Hare-Clark system', as it was immediately known, was renewed annually until suspended in 1902 and then finally re-introduced for the whole State in 1907.
Clark, never in robust health, died at his home 'Rosebank' in Battery Point on 14 November 1907, just as permanent proportional representation struggled through Parliament and over a year before it was used for the first time throughout Tasmania at the general election in April 1909. The system still bears his name, which is a monument to his enduring advocacy of proportional representation. His own words, in an Australian Senate paper in 1901, were that the 'Clark-Hare system ... enables every section of political opinion which can command the requisite quota of votes to secure a number of representatives proportionate to its numerical strength'
He had been appointed a judge of the Supreme Court in 1901; assisted in the foundation of the University of Tasmania in 1889 and was its Vice-Chancellor from 1901 to 1903. He was a staunch republican and advocate of women's rights, and the first public figure to advocate elections on the basis of universal adult suffrage, or the right of all adults to an equal vote. The property remains a private residence to this day.
This nomadic old doorway has been moved twice in its long life. Once, when it was removed from the gaol and re-erected outside the school on the main road, and a second time when it was returned to its original place. The Oatlands Gaol was built in 1835 and was the largest regional gaol in Tasmania, capable of holding up to 200 prisoners and the only regional gaol attached to a Supreme Court House. The main entry was originally right next door to the gaoler’s residence in the wall facing Barrack St. The arch is 6m high and flanked by two columns, and originally had two heavy wooden doors. The Oatlands Gaol was closed in 1937 and a substantial amount of the building was demolished, despite objections from Oatlands residents who wanted it to remain intact.
In the end, some parts of the site were retained. The gaoler’s residence remained intact, along with the lower portion of the perimeter walls. The archway was taken down and re-erected in front of the Oatlands State School on High St in 1939. It was never quite the same, though. The small segments of prison wall on each side of the gate were reshaped to look more visually appealing at the new site, the wooden gates were lost completely and the bottom three courses of stone were removed to shorten the wall by nearly a metre. The inscribed stone at the top of the arch, which initially read “Erected AD 1836”, was re-inscribed with the details of its 1939 relocation.
While the arch became a prominent part of the Oatlands streetscape for more than 70 years, it steadily fell into a bad state of disrepair and became structurally quite dangerous. In 2011, a large capstone dislodged and fell on High St. Rising damp was further eroding the sandstone’s integrity and it was determined that extensive work would need to be done to ensure its survival. The gaol itself became a sorry site, with the gaoler’s residence derelict and decaying. The old prison yard was converted into the town’s swimming pool in the 1950s, with seeping chlorinated water slowly damaging the old sandstone walls surrounding it.
But in 2009, the Southern Midlands Council endorsed a master plan for restoring and preserving the historic site. Part of that plan involved moving the archway from the Main Rd back to its original position at the gaol. Ironically, this created a heritage debate of its own, over whether it was more important to restore the 1835 heritage of the gaol, or to preserve the 1939 heritage value of the arch in its new location. Eventually it was determined the arch should be returned to its original position at the gaol. It has now been rebuilt on its old foundations and to its original specifications.
Main Text & Information & Relocated Archway Photo –