Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Derwent Park Homestead

The original Derwent Park homestead was built by Thomas Wells in the early 1820s. A single storey stone and stucco Colonial Georgian house built on a fine site commanding extensive views of the Derwent River. It was the home of Mr Joseph Tice Gellibrand who was the colony's first Attorney General. The house is complemented by two fine stone barns. The current Derwent Park homestead was built in the mid-1860s, to replace the original building that had been destroyed by fire.

Thomas Wells had been convicted of embezzlement in England in April 1816 and was sentenced to transportation for fourteen years.  Educated people were in great demand in the early colonial administration and Wells served as Sorell's clerk throughout his governorship.  Wells is best known as the author of a pamphlet 'Michael Howe, the Last and Worst of the Bushrangers' which was published in 1818 and was the first work of general literature published in Van Diemen's Land.

Wells advertised the lease of Derwent Park in the Hobart Town Gazette and Van Diemen's Land Advertiser in June 1823.  The advert described it as a 'most beautiful picturesque and highly improved farm' on the edge of the River Derwent and stated that the 'farmstead is a neatly finished residence.'  The notice also explained that there was a reserved road linking with the centre of New Town which gave the property 'the advantage of communication by land with Hobart within an hour.'

Joseph Tice Gellibrand acquired Derwent Park in the mid-1820s.  Gellibrand was a lawyer in England prior to being appointed attorney-general of Van Diemen's Land. Gellibrand arrived in Hobart in March 1824 but he did not get on with Lieutenant-Governor Arthur.  Gellibrand was suspended by Arthur in February 1826 for 'conduct not befitting his high office'.  In 1835 Gellibrand helped form the Port Phillip Association which supported John Batman's expedition to establish grazing properties in today's Victoria.  Gellibrand prepared legal deeds for the transfer of the land from the aborigines, while the finance was arranged by Charles Swanston.  Swanston was one of Gellibrand's neighbours, living about 2 kilometres away at New Town Park (now known as Swanston House).  Gellibrand disappeared on an expedition to explore the hinterland of Port Phillip in 1837.

Derwent Park was purchased by John Dobson in August 1840 and he rented it out for a number of years before advertising it for sale in The Courier newspaper in March 1848. The advert described the 'delightful estate of Derwent Park' and 'the Mansion, erected on a scale adapted for the residence of a family of the highest respectability, commands, without exception, the finest prospect in this hemisphere.'
Derwent Park was purchased by John Curwen Walker for ₤1,345.  Walker was the accountant at the Derwent Bank and had been renting Derwent Park before it was put up for sale.

The fire that destroyed the original Derwent Park homestead was reported in The Mercury newspaper in December 1864.  The article stated that the 'valuable house containing 12 rooms known as Derwent Park was burnt to the ground … The origin of the fire is unknown, it seemed to have commenced in the back part of the premises, which being of wood were speedily destroyed.'  A new homestead was subsequently built, but in the architectural style of an earlier period.

Derwent Park was purchased by Henry Hopkins junior for ₤2,250 in 1866 and he leased out the property. Hopkins died in June 1875 and Derwent Park was bequeathed to Thomas William Massey and his wife Emma.  Charles Raymond Staples purchased Derwent Park from the Masseys for ₤5,500 in July 1888.
Henry Benjafield purchased Derwent Park for ₤4,600 in November 1891 and almost immediately sold it to the Tasmanian Government for ₤5,200.  This caused some controversy in Parliament when it was suggested that Benjafield had been secretly acting on the Government's behalf but there was no evidence to support this and it was generally accepted that the Government had got the property at a good price.

The Government had acquired the property as the site for a proposed new gaol but this did not eventuate.  Derwent Park was used as a Government Farm and the homestead was occupied by the ploughman in charge of cultivating the farm.

The Hobart City Council acquired 22 acres from the Government and constructed a large abattoir which opened in February 1908.  The Electrolytic Zinc Company was established on the waterfront in 1916 and has gradually expanded over the intervening years to occupy most of the site. They currently own the building and it is operated by organizations that use the building to hold art classes for people with disabilities.

Information Source: Australian Heritage Database


  1. Very interesting, thank you. Do you know has there ever been any movement to classify the property or ascertain any heritage/historic value? Or has the surrounding industry now developed around the property deemed it too complex?

  2. Hi Jo.
    Havent delved that deeply into the property's history apart from ascertaining that it is still currently listed on the Australian Heritage Database as a property of historical significance. There isnt too much information on the statement of significance listing. However, fortunately the property is protected while listed which is a good thing. :) Although the industry has grown up around it, it's still quite distinctly located and visible. I have great pleasure driving past this wonderful property every day on my way to work and never cease to marvel at it and wonder at what stories the property could tell! :)

  3. The Gellibrand family was one of the most distinguished in our history. A descendant of J.T. Gellibrand was Major-General Sir John Gellibrand who was the highest ranking Tasmanian soldier of WWI and was a founder of Legacy.

  4. Great article and photos, thanks very much for posting. Gellibrand purchased it in early September 1824 for ₤1,000. By the end of 1824, Wells was in the debtors gaol and remained there for 5 years!

  5. Thanks for these great photos.
    I was very struck by the description of the house in 1837 when it was offered for sale by the executors of Joseph Tice Gellibrand following his disappearance/death in 1837.

    "The whole is surrounded by a paved verandah, commanding some of the most majestic views in either hemisphere; adjoining the house is a neat conservatory, and near the premises a large bathing house has been lately erected in one of the many secluded recesses of a bay evidently formed by nature for the purpose."

    Any evidence of this "bathing house" anywhere?

    Also,how is this for estate agent hyperbole?
    I want him selling my house!!!

    "Persons unacquainted with this property can form no idea how exactly the ground is suited for the erection of villa residences, and if it were created anew, a place of such deep and heartfelt interest, the delights of so fine a river, with the calm and soothing bays and inlets, nearly incircling it, the ambrosial air so much the inspirer of health and cheerfulness, spots embracing all the unerring beauties of nature, eclipsing either Swiss or Italian scenery, such as can never tire the eye of reason, nor be recollected without the highest feelings of admiration, are only a few among the numberless beauties and inestimable advantages of a property now submitted to the certain fate of the hammer."

  6. I enjoyed spending some of my teenage years growing up on this property. I basically had one side of the house to myself and the parents had the other side. Mum still agrees with me that there were certain "uninviting" areas of the house that gave you a bad feeling. We were still using the out house in the mid nineties which was a very interesting walk when it was cold, dark and raining.
    I notice on pictures of the place now that the outhouse, chicken coop and hedgrows surrounding the old place have been removed.
    There were some significant foundations not far from the house which i remember being told were the old baths, but these look to have been removed on recent overhead photos.
    Thanks for some history and bringing back some memories.