The first Church on this site was begun in 1829. The district, which comprised the plain to the north and east of the Western Tiers, watered by the South Esk and its tributaries, was named "Norfolk Plains," because its first settlers were a number of farmers compulsorily removed from Norfolk Island when the settlement there, founded by Captain King to supply Sydney with food, was abandoned by order of the Government in England. Some of the inhabitants were transferred to the Tamar in 1808, and granted land in this district.
Not till 1813 and onwards, when the Archer family came from England and were granted large areas of land and introduced merino sheep, did the district begin to prosper. In 1824, Lieutenant Governor George Arthur became Governor of Van Diemen’s Land and he despaired that the ‘whole population of the interior was in utter darkness – destitute of religious instruction’ and he listed Norfolk Plains among the regions requiring to ‘hear the Word of the Lord’.
In 1826 Governor Arthur appointed Mr. W. P. Weston as a catechist and to conduct regular services. The first known visit of a clergyman was that of the Rev. James Norman of St, John's Launceston on 12th Sept. 1827 but in 1828 the Rev. R. R. Claiborne started the "Norfolk Plains Grammar School," and was available for services. It was now decided to build a Church, as a clergyman was expected to arrive for the district from England in 1830.
The Government gave the site, the area of which was later fixed at 8.5 acres, and also provided the bricks and other materials for the building itself, while the inhabitants supplied the fittings, which cost £ 190, including an early form of harmonium, called a Seraphine. This was placed at the back of a gallery behind curtains, in front of which sat the convicts employed in the district, their shackles clanging as they entered and departed. The Church, which was named St Augustine’s, is said to have had a seating capacity of 400; but this seems to have been impossible, even when taking into account the large gallery.
The Rev. R. R. Davies arrived in 1830 to take charge of an enormous parish extending from Ross to the Bass Strait. The Church was not finished till nine months after his arrival, in April 1831. Unfortunately for all its grandeur, St Augustine’s had been hastily constructed and after just seven years, was falling to pieces. The foundations were unsound and its walls, deteriorated beyond repair, were being propped up with stays. The only feasible solution was to rebuild.
Tenders were therefore called for the erection of a new Church and it was Robert De Little, architect of St Augustine’s who won the tender to construct the new church. The corner-stone of which was laid by the Lieut Governor, Sir John Franklin, in March 1839. By the end of 1843 the new Church, which is the present one, was nearing completion. Plans for the tower were settled in the following February, and tenders for the tracery of the window were called in July, and the Church was opened for worship on Sunday 6th October, 1844, by Bishop Nixon, the first Bishop of Tasmania, who had arrived in Tasmania in June, 1 1843.
Christ Church was built of Hadspen freestone, with a shingled roof, and its walls were crested with parapets and battlements. At its ‘completion’ in 1844, the building comprised only the nave and a squat, temporary wooden tower. The Church was however, by no means completed, for the roof was supported by upright iron girders, intended eventually to be used in the erection of galleries. These fortunately were never built. For a short time, the first temporary chapel, St Augustine’s and Christ Church could all be seen in the grounds at the same time. St Augustine’s was pulled down as soon as the new church was in use, and the bricks were used for the building of the Sunday School which seems to have been finished by December, 1845.
For 36 years Christ Church remained in its incomplete state but in January, 1878, during the incumbency of the Rev. Arthur Wayn, it was decided to get rid of the ugly roof· supports, and to make the Church interior worthy of its outward appearance rather than demolish the increasingly sorry building. The girders were replaced by iron columns, painted to look like grey granite, Above them are five fine arches, the eastern bay being larger than the others, forming a kind of transept.
In this reconstruction the shingles were removed from the roof and replaced by slates of large size. When the original Church was built a wooden Cross was placed on the eastern gable, but there was such an uproar among the people that it was taken down again before the opening ceremony was attempted. Now, however, a stone Cross of good design was fixed without apparently any demur. The east window was also sent to Melbourne for repairs. The Church was reopened by Archdeacon Hales in December 1880. The balance of debt having been paid during the next year, Bishop Bromby consecrated the Church on 27th January, 1882.
Seven years later the Sunday School was enlarged, in 1893 a new organ was purchased for £346 to replace that which in 1856 had cost £232. The Church Tower was never completed until 1960. At various times attempts were made to raise enough money to complete the tower in stone and at the outbreak of World War II a start was about to be made, but shortage of labour prevented it going ahead. However, in 1960 work was begun, the foundations were strengthened, the wooden top removed and the stone work raised 15 feet.
At the same time the historic clock was completely overhauled and the faces repainted and finally placed in their permanent home. During the early years of the Van Dieman’s Land colony, there was a big need for accurate and loud public clocks. Few people had watches and it was important that they should be on time for court appearances, business and church. King George IV donated six clocks, each with a great bell. When they arrived aboard the convict ship York in 1829, three were installed in Hobart, one at St Luke’s Richmond, one at St Johns Launceston and one here at Christchurch Longford. This is a turret clock, made by Thwaites and Reed of Clerkenwell, London in 1823 and costing 200 pounds and for many years it was located in a temporary wooden structure, until the tower was completed in stone in 1960.
The clock mechanism was powered by the gravitational effect of a heavy weight suspended on a cable. This needed to be wound to the top twice weekly. There are two drums that take the cables, the smaller for the clock mechanism and the larger to power the bell chime. The escape movement, which regulated the clock, was controlled by the pendulum, which has been detached and now sits alongside the cabinet. The rate of chime was regulated by the fan-like governor at the back of the mechanism and the position of the hands could be adjusted by the small dial and lever on the front.
For 180 years parishioners have climbed the tower twice a week to wind the heavy mechanism. In 2010 it was decided that this was an unacceptable risk and effort, so the mechanism was finally replaced with an electronic unit behind each clock face. The time is corrected every 12 hours by satellite connection. The bell chime is now operated by an electrically operated hammer, striking the original bell. This is synchronised to the clock mechanism. The clock and chimes are now accurate to the second. The electronic clock mechanism was manufactured in France by Bodet and installed by Tim Tracey of Tower Clock Services, Wyong, NSW.
A grant from the Tasmanian Community Fund provided half of the total cost of $21,000 In its day, the old mechanism was considered to be cutting edge technology. It is only right that it should be replaced by today’s equivalent. In 2012, the original historic clock movement was taken apart, again by Tim Tracey, and lowered piece by piece from the tower. It was reassembled, after thorough cleaning, in the cabinet constructed for the purpose by members of the Longford Men’s Shed, where it can be admired as an engineering masterpiece of its time.
In 1989, restoration work was carried out as part of Christ Church’s sesquicentenary celebrations. The heavy roof slates were replaced with corrugated iron for more secure weather proofing, the stonework was repointed, the adjoining graveyard cleared and graves restored. Many ancient gravestones, in danger of total decay were preserved in three wall of a Garden of Remembrance.
The extremely rare Seraphine made by Gunther & Horwood, Camden Town, London, dated in the early 1820’s is a rare example of this early free-reed instrument. It was imported from England and placed in the gallery of the previous church. It’s player receiving £20 per annum. Unfortunately it was not in good repair and remained in that deteriorated state for many years. It is in a polished mahogany case, and has one keyboard, but no stops.
This quaint instrument forms a very interesting link with the early history of the church in this part of Tasmania. Originally the Seraphine was placed in the back of a gallery behind curtains, in front of which sat the convicts employed in the district. In 2011 a group of parishioners of Christ Church, Longford sought public support through the local Newspaper ‘The Country Courier’ to restore this museum piece to its former glory and for it to remain in the Church for many years to come.
Donations of cash from the general public were received for which parishioners are truly grateful enabling the restoration by Australian Pipe Organs, Victoria, to be completed in 2012.
The site of Christ Church has functioned not only as a spiritual centre but also as a visual, social and cultural focus of the Longford community. It is one of Australia’s oldest church and burial grounds, where prominent and obscure individuals, and sadly, nameless convicts lie silent in the graveyard but stories remain to tell of their contributions to this beautiful church and how they etched their colonial marks upon the productive river plains of the Norfolk Plains district.
For the first century of its life, Claremont House was owned by wealthy and powerful merchants, businessmen, politicians, a Captain in the English Army and an Australian Test Cricket Captain. Claremont House was a grand mansion, located on top of a hill looking down on its surrounding 734 acres of land.
John Pascoe Fawkner, one of the co-founders of the city of Melbourne, was the first owner of the land on which Claremont House resides. Originally part of a 90 acre grant, Faulkner offered the land for sale in 1819 Henry Bilton settled in Van Diemen’s Land in 1825 and acquired all of Fawkner’s land in 1826. Bilton used the land for its convenience to his extensive business interests in Hobart town and pastoral interests in the north of the state. Bilton was a member of the Political Association in 1835 and elected to Glenorchy’s first council in 1864. He was warden of the council from 1868 to 1874. Bilton lived on the property from the late 1840’s.
By this time he had built many structures and in the 1848 census it is recorded that he lived in a rendered brick house, with a household of 14 which included 3 convicts and 1 ticket-of-leave holder. It is believed that the original house was a two storey Georgian residence with two rooms on the ground and two rooms above with a central hallway and staircase. The ground front windows and upstairs doors and frames are from the original fabric of the house. Within the roof cavity, areas of the original shingles remain where they have been roofed over with iron. The external fabric is a rendered struck joint brick to resemble stone.
By 1858, Bilton had increased the land holding of Claremont House to 350 acres, with a property value of 180 pounds, making it one of the most valuable properties in the municipality. In 1889, Bilton died at the age of 91. He had no children and the 734 acre property was to be subdivided and sold. At auction, all separate lots of land were bought as one by Frank Bond, a bank merchant and Parliamentarian. At the time that Bond bought the land, it included the site later to become the location of the Cadbury-Fry-Pascal factory.
Bonds contribution to the evolution of the house included the Italianate tower, which was a popular form of the late Victorian period and the billiards room behind the drawing room. He built the iron gates at the bottom of the drive with two pedestrian gates on either side. A remaining single post from the original gates still remains on Main Road.
Albert Flexmore acquired the property from Bond in 1897. Little is known about Flexmore’s ownership and if any, development of the property. Flexmore was a man of wealth, serving on the committee for the Tasmanian Racing Club and the Royal Agricultural Society. He entertained the Hobart Hunt Club at Claremont House in 1902. Flexmore is responsible for the division of the land, one section which he gave to the Anglican Church for the construction of St. Albans Church.
At 21 years of age, Kathleen Brock purchased the property from Flexmore in June 1911. Claremont House and property at the time was a parcel of 53 acres. Kathleen lived at the property with her sister Dora until her marriage to Captain Otway Cottrell-Dormer. During her tenure, a number of structural changes took place at the house. Moving the front door and external staircase and enclosing the end verandas, removing the wall between the central hall and drawing room and laying down a new floor throughout the front rooms for dancing.
Kathleen, from a very wealthy family background, was a very sociable person. Newspapers report on a number of social events at the house, including afternoon teas, tennis parties and fundraising picnics. A garden party in 1912 was in aid of raising money for a new church and a café Chantant in 1916 to raise money for the Active Service Fund and the Seamen’s Mission. Over 250 people, including soldiers from Claremont Camp, enjoyed billiards, dancing, bridge and supper in a marquee. During the years 1918-1919, the Cottrell-Dormers divided and sold up much of the property of Claremont House.
A cottage was built on the back for the chauffeur brought out from England. The division of the land marked the beginning of Claremont’s residential development. Blocks were sold to purchasers who established housing, shops and garages. The development of the Cadbury-Fry-Pascal factory on a former section of the property of Claremont House consolidated the districts changing nature.
The Darlings bought Claremont House and the 32 acres of land on which it now stood. Joe Darling, Australia’s most successful batsman and longest serving Test Cricket Captain until the great Sir Don Bradman, and his wife Alice had a large family of fourteen.
They occupied the property until 1940 and were responsible for only a few changes to the house. The upstairs verandah was enclosed. They demolished the stables, using the timber to build a shearing shed at their property Stonehenge near Oatlands. The coach house was used as a garage with room for 6 cars and had a pit for mechanical work and a cellar. Electricity was connected at the property during their time and an electric stove was purchased for Alice to cook on.
Joe was elected to the Tasmanian Legislative Parliament in 1921 and remained a member until he died after a gall bladder operation on January 2, 1946. The Darlings did not entertain as much as the Cottrell-Dormers, but the house was used in the 1920’s for a wedding reception for the manager of the Agricultural Bank. It was reported that guests arrived by train and car and were invited to pick roses from the extensive gardens. The well-known photographer J.W. Beattie used to take panoramic photos from the tower in the 1920’s.
The Red Cross acquired Claremont House and the remaining 32 acres on title in November 1940. They were also interested in a property at Kingston but Lady Clark, wife of the Governor General and patron of the Red Cross, decided on Claremont House when she was taken by the wisteria growing over the front verandah. The new Lady Clark Convalescent Hospital opened in 1941 after significant renovations and additions.
The original chauffeur’s cottage barracked Italian prisoners of war who worked on the grounds of the hospital. Approximately 2000 war veterans were patients at Lady Clark Convalescent Hospital between 1941 and 1947. After the war, the house became the Lady Clark Rehabilitation Hospital still operated by the Red Cross. It offered various rehabilitation services with workshops and occupational therapy units. The additions to the house during this period were extensive with the addition of a north wing, extension of the dining room, sub-division of many of the rooms for ward accommodation and the construction of many out-buildings at the rear of the site.
In 1951, the Royal Hobart Hospital took over the house and continued its operation. The Lady Clark Hospital continued to operate at Claremont until its’ functions were transferred to the purpose built, Douglas Parker Rehabilitation Centre in New Town in 1980. The late 1960’s saw further division of the property, the formal gardens and tennis court in the north of the property were redeveloped for housing in association with the hospital. These small detached properties were later sold off to a private consortium and became The Lady Clark Centre for the elderly. Claremont House became the site of Adult Education in 1980.
Due to little government funding, the property began to deteriorate rapidly. The rear of the property was subdivided and Claremont Education Park, a secondary college opened in 1989. By the 1990’s the building was in crisis and the Claremont House Association was formed. It commissioned a conservation report from local Architect Michael Court and Landscape Architect Anne Cripps. Unemployed youth were engaged to address some of the urgent repairs. From 1996, the property was sold into private hands. Numerous owners have called Claremont House home and little development of the property has taken place. Much of the form of the house and grounds today still evidence the evolution of the property over the last 170 years.
The current owners have a dream to continue ongoing renovations and restorations to return Claremont House to its’ former glory. In the early 1900’s the front rooms of Claremont House were re-developed by the Cottrell-Dormers to hold some of Tasmania’s finest gala events. Having opened in April 2012 with a view to becoming Tasmania’s premier event centre, these historic and stately rooms are now available for hire. The continual restoration and development of the property relies on the success of events at the house. The current project is the restoration of the original dining room of the house that has been damaged by rising damp from an underground water leak. The leak had gone undetected for some time with no plumbing plans to the house available anywhere on file. The original rendered walls and floors surrounding the fireplace will have to be removed to allow the convict brick and sandstones walls to dry out, joists replaced and recycled baltic pine flooring put down to replace the damaged boards.
Claremont House is a stunning Heritage listed Victorian Italianate mansion that has been a Tasmanian icon since 1839. As rich in elegance and romance as it is in history, the house and grounds provide a magnificent setting for your special event. Truly one of Tasmania’s grandest homes having been the residence of several well-known historical figures and hosting many lavish events for society’s elite.
Following meticulous restoration, Claremont House is now one of Tasmania’s premier event venues. Abound with period features, the house exudes a sense of old world charm. Claremont House is suitable for an array of event styles and sizes, from an intimate dinner to a sit down dinner for 70 or an extravagant cocktail style party for 200 guests. Set on five acres with park like and formal gardens that are perfect for weddings, photographs, ceremony or reception.
I would like to thank Joel Van Sanden for his hospitality and generosity for allowing me the opportunity to wander around Claremont House and its grounds photographing the house and its surrounds. The restoration work that Joel has done to Claremont House is stunning and the house is beautifully presented and is certainly a magnificent place to consider a stay or to celebrate an event in a beautiful setting. Joel also offers tours of the mansion & grounds where you can hear the story of Claremont House, development of the heritage listed estate, the lives of the aristocratic owners and their domestic servants. Having had the pleasure of taking a tour of the property with Joel, I can highly recommend the tour. If you are visiting the Claremont area, a visit to Claremont House for lunch, an overnight or longer stay or just to take the highly informative and entertaining tour is something not to be missed.