Sunday, 11 October 2015

The Parsonage, Port Arthur

The Parsonage was originally a two storey building when constructed in 1842/43. It was the only two storey house to be built on the site which is probably reflective of the senior status shown to the ministers. The Reverend Durham and his family were the first occupants and lived here for 10 years. Irish born Durham, his wife and six children arrived at Port Arthur in 1843 and were the first long term occupants of the house.

Durham was said to be a difficult man to deal with. Durham became involved in frequent squabbles with other staff at Port Arthur. He clashed often with the Catholic chaplain and he loathed the Catholic convicts. Commandant Booth disliked his attitude and saw this as evidence that Durham was in fact, mad. But such differing of opinion between Catholics and the church of Ireland was not uncommon for the time. Letters from Durham to the Commandant that have survived from the time, however, reveal a reasonable man. He requested that the convicts be allowed to attend prayers under shelter, a plea for humane treatment that Booth denied. He reminded Booth that the chaplain should be responsible for running the school and the library. A later inquiry proved him right. That same inquiry, however, found that although he was hot headed and intolerant, Durham’s effort to improve the convict’s moral condition was beyond all praise. One former convict wrote that he had won the heart-felt respect of all those unfortunate people with whom he had come into contact.

By the early 1850’s, the Durham’s had returned to Ireland and the Reverend’s health had deteriorated to the point he was committed to an asylum. Maybe he actually was mad or his experiences at Port Arthur had proved too much for him.

After Durham, a number of parsons came and went before the Reverend George Eastman arrived with his wife, Louise and their large family in 1857. The Eastman’s would have 10 children in total and the older boys could often be seen running wild around the settlement, disrupting the farm operations and annoying the convicts in charge of it.  Eastman had served at other convict establishments across Tasmania and despite his popularity at Port Arthur, like his predecessor Durham, he experienced his share of clashes with authority. The superintendant of the Ross Female Factory had resigned rather than continue to work with Eastman who had sided with staff against him.

At Port Arthur, he was held in high esteem for his “kindly manner, genial and charitable disposal” and was known as the “Good Parson” by the prisoners. In 1870, when he rose from his own sick bed to minister to a dying convict, he caught a fatal chill. When he died, aged only 48, he left his wife & family in poverty. He was buried on the Isle of the Dead in Port Arthur harbor.  By the time the Reverend Haywood arrived with his wife in 1870, the settlement was in decline. Most of their flock was old, ill or insane. By all known reports, the Haywoods were the first  people to see ghosts in the parsonage cottage. Most of these sightings were from the 1870’s, at a time when there was a popular interest in spiritualism and many Christians saw this as a proof the soul existed and endured after death. The Haywood’s left Port Arthur when the settlement closed in 1877.

In July 1877, just a few months before the last convicts departed, the government began to subdivide the land in preparation for an auction. Although the uptake of land was initially slow, by 1879, people had begun to move in and make Port Arthur home. The burgeoning township began developing the infrastructure it was going to require, such as a school, stores, a hall and a post office.  The 1890’s saw the bushfires rage through the settlement and a number of buildings were lost or damaged. The Parsonage was one of the buildings to sustain damage when it lost its second storey. But the families were resilient and soon began the task of rebuilding.

In the early 1880’s Christina Annie Blackwood and her sister had arrived in Port Arthur to join their parents and before too long, Christina had set up as Postmistress in a small room at the rear of her family home (which was the former Junior Medical Officers House). After the Parsonage building was damaged in the 1895 bushfire, the building was refitted as a single storey building. Christina purchased the property and she relocated the Post office to her new home. She and her new husband, George Wellard, who was the local passenger coach proprietor, ran their businesses from the Parsonage with the help of family members for many years to come. Christina used to read & write letters for those who were unable to do so for themselves. The mail came from Hobart by boat to nearby Taranna each day and then by coach to Port Arthur. Many of the local people used to gather at the Post office awaiting the arrival of the mail, making this a central meeting place for the township.

The Wellard family was not the last to serve in the township post office. The Dickson family took over in the early 1960’s and remained until the late 1970’s when the Post office moved out of the settlement.
The building has hosted dozens of residents and several names throughout its existence. There have been many changes to its appearance and use over the years, from double storey to single storey, from home to……fleetingly, a wine bar.

The building has been the focus of a significant conservation program and is now presented basically as it would have been during the period when the Wellard family lived and worked here. The building has wonderful interpretation boards as well as furniture and artifacts etc including the original stables at the rear of the property.

Main Text & Information Sources
Interpretation Signs at the site.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Bluebell Inn, Sorell

The original hotel was a single storey timber structure built for William Currie in 1829. The Bluebell Inn became a an important meeting place in Sorell with a number of important public meetings taking place there up until it's destruction by fire in 1863. Following the fire, William Gard replaced the destroyed timber building with a substantial stone Georgian hotel comprising two levels that occupied a prominent location in what was originally the main street.

The building had high quality stonework with very fine stone detailing around the ground floor windows. The building has a deep pitched roof and also has a basement which is accessed by a cellar door at street level for ease of loading. The structure also included a ballroom.

The Inn remained a licenced premises until 1907 with John Dore holding the last licence. Subsequently, the property's ballroom was used as a drill hall during World War 1. By 1919, the property was in use as an influenza hospital. Nurse O'Brien operated a maternity hospital on the site from 1936 until 1945. By 1996, the property appears to have been operating as a tourist accommodation facility and more recently it has operated as a bed & breakfast.

This is a very significant building in Sorell because of its various uses over its long history relating to the development of the town and for its location at the centre of the major civic area of the early township of Sorell.

Main Text & Information - 
Sorell Heritage Study - Site Inventory Vol 6 - Sorell Municipal Council 1996

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Highfield House

The story of Highfield is one of colonial expansion, commercial opportunism and cultural arrogance. It is also about extraordinary human endeavour and courage in the face of the unknown. Highfield House can be regarded as the 'birthplace' of European settlement in Tasmania's north-west.

Built from 1832-35 as a residence for Edward Curr, chief agent of the Van Diemen's Land Company, the house represents an important part of Tasmanian historic heritage and became a virtual ‘Government House’ in the region. The history of the north-west region of Tasmania is inextricably bound up with the story of the Van Diemen's Land Company,  indeed, there are very few places in the region that have been unmarked by its presence.

A small band of Van Diemen's Land Company personnel arrived at Circular Head in October 1826 aboard the Tranmere, together with livestock, supplies and equipment. They were the first Europeans to attempt to settle the rugged and remote north-west corner of Tasmania.

The Van Diemen's Land Company had been formed two years previously by a group of London-based businessmen. Their proposal was to establish a successful wool growing venture on the island to supply the needs of the British textile industry. The company was granted royal permission to select 250 000 acres in the unexplored territory of the far north-west. Circular Head appeared to be the most promising place for the new settlement.

In June 1826 Adey, superintendent of company farms, wrote: “Here, instead of the dense unbroken forest further east were tracts of... 200 to 500 acres of clear and grassy lands and hills not so heavily timbered. There was also a good harbour and plenty of fresh water.”

Living conditions were primitive at first. Edward Curr, the chief agent, reported: “The cottages of the married people are built of turf and shingled; that of the unmarried men is temporarily constructed of some of the deals which came out in the 'Tranmere' and shingled. Five huts have been built of turf and thatched for the prisoners” Stables and a blacksmith's shop had also been erected. All the buildings were collected around the store (which was located near the corner of Church and Pearse Streets in modern Stanley).

Curr at this stage was based in Hobart, with Adey left in charge of the fledgling settlement. Poor conditions incited unrest amongst both the convict and free workers. The small encampment at Circular Head became the base for further exploration. Company surveyors Hellyer, Fossey and Lorymer set out in search of other suitable tracts of land to include in the company's grant. They were bitterly disappointed with the impenetrable forest and rugged terrain which they encountered.

Whilst the Hampshire Hills showed some initial promise and for a short time was the main focus of the company's activities, it too proved discouraging. An agreement was finally reached in the mid-1830s for the company to take up its grant in six separate blocks. Disputes with the colonial government over the boundaries of the grant, the lack of suitable land for sheep grazing, and labour difficulties all beset the company from the very beginning. Other settlers also resented special privileges being bestowed on a British company.

The press in 1831 condemned the government for allowing the company 'monopoly of so large a portion of the finest part of the island, and some two or three hundred assigned servants'. In the face of all these hardships some progress was made. Land was gradually cleared and cultivated, farm buildings erected and roads constructed at the various company establishments.

In 1831 it was decided that Circular Head would become the headquarters for the company's operations. Curr made plans for a more substantial homestead for himself and his family. Highfield homestead was ultimately built from 1832-35. A weatherboard cottage erected in 1827 had served as Curr's home prior to this, and the new residence was built adjoining it. Curr claimed in July 1832: “The wooden house I live in will not stand 15 years; the stone one which I am building will stand a century.” The new Highfield was completed in 1835 and the gardens laid out in a manner befitting a gentleman's residence.

In October 1838 the roof space of Highfield was converted into attic sleeping rooms for Curr's daughters. Further repairs were undertaken by James Gibson in 1844 following flooding in the cellar and attic rooms. New servants' rooms and a kitchen were also constructed at this time. The original weatherboard dwelling was demolished to make way for the alterations. Forty-five men, eleven women and twenty-five children were living at Circular Head in 1832. Indentured labourers brought out from Britain and assigned convicts made up the bulk of the company's workforce. The lure of higher wages elsewhere in the colony caused many indentured workers to abscond or nullify their contracts. Such occurrences prompted Curr to claim 'we owe everything we are and have to convict labour'.

With the withdrawal of assigned convicts in the 1840s the company turned its attention to attracting tenant farmers to the property. As a major wool producer the Van Diemen's Land Company was a failure. Between 1829 and 1852 no more than £20 000 was gained from this pursuit. The breeding of stud horses, grazing of cattle and creation of a deer park did little to alleviate the company's financial woes. English shareholders had lost heavily. Curr was dismissed in 1842 and replaced by James Gibson.

The Directors in London decided to sell or lease much of the company's holdings. The first sale of blocks in the company township of Stanley occurred in the late 1840s. In 1856 Highfield was leased to Dr William Story, and shortly after to Frederick Ford. The company's headquarters were transferred to Burnie.

After the Van Diemen's Land Company period of occupancy, only minor alterations were made to Highfield, which remains remarkably intact. The Ford family purchased the Highfield property in 1914. Since then it has had several owners. In 1982 Highfield was acquired by the State Government and is now administered as a Historic Site. A magnificent property that reminds us of the efforts of the early settlers to try and make good in a very remote part of the world. Beautifully restored & maintained by the Parks & Wildlife Service of Tasmania and well worth the visit. Magnificent views of Stanley & The Nut. Highly recommended!!!!!

Main Text & Information Source - 

Panoramic Photos –