Australian History is a bit of a mystery to many people. So it may come as a bit of a surprise to hear that Melbourne was founded by Tasmanians. John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner hailed from the districts around Launceston. By 1835, when Melbourne was first established, both Hobart and Launceston were thriving colonies with established buildings constructed of stone or brick. In the early days the preferred style of building was known as Georgian, a rendition of a ‘Greek Revival’ style (or so they thought). This week we visit several of these early mansions – one 50km from Launceston, Lake House (A Georgian Mansion), the others in Hobart itself, including Lenna, an Italianate Mansion of grand proportions.
Georgian Architecture is characterised by Symmetrical form and Fenestration (window placement) with multi-paned windows (6-20 panes in each sash), a side gabled or hipped roof, stone or brick walls, a transomed window over a panelled front door, a pediment or crown and pilasters at the front entry, cornices with dentils, a water table or belt course and corner quoins. The style was popular from 1700 to 1800, so as such in Australia it really was only prominent in Tasmania and early Sydney.
The first property is called Lake House, located at Cressy south of Launceston between two rivers on over 490 hectares. As mentioned, Georgian was the style of these earliest colonial buildings in Tasmania, and Lake House is an excellent example of the genre.
Elegant, symmetrical, with few embellishments, Lake House could easily be mistaken for a grand mansion of the English countryside. With its new French style Conservatory, its Myles Baldwin designed terraced garden and recent plantings of Oaks, elms, horse chestnuts and conifers, it conjures up visions straight from the pages of a Jane Austen novel.
The property is valued at $15 million Aust.
Featuring seven bedrooms and seven bathrooms, plus numerous outbuildings and cottages, Lake House comes with 490 hectares and quite a story, says heritage specialist and Unique Estates agent Dominic Romeo.
It also comes in a perfect state of restoration, courtesy of owner Rob Sherrard who took it on 14 years ago and lavished such care on bringing it back to life. Romeo says when he first walked through it, “I was in awe. It’s one of the best renovations I’ve ever seen”.
Coming from a former Victorian National Trust officer and a man who himself has refurbished a dozen near-derelict heritage homes, including one of Australia’s biggest, Rupertswood at Sunbury, that is real praise. “It still has its red cedar fireplaces and doors.” Indeed, Romeo reckons that because the house was once used as a barn, and occasionally occupied by sheep, “it just sat there rather than being destroyed”.
Since it was built in 1830 by Robert Corney, who came to Van Diemen’s Land rather well-funded, Lake House’s provenance has been entirely colourful. As soon as he had finished the house, Corney promptly drowned in one of the rivers skirting his property. His widow remained in residence until the 1860s when a neighbouring farmer bought the land and used the house for staff accommodation. When that became unnecessary, he put his stock and fodder inside it.
After World War II, Lake House, plus more than 300 hectares, was designated for soldier settlement and went to Bruce Wall on condition that he pulled the building down. Fortunately, says Romeo, Wall ignored the government order.
Fortunately too, Wall became a prominent member of Tasmania’s National Trust council, and like the most recent owner, Sherrard, had a passion for heritage. One of the original co-founders – with Richard Branson – of Virgin Blue, Sherrard has more recently been a major-scale tourism operator in Australia with multiple interests in Tasmania, Victoria and soon, in the Northern Territory.
He says he bought Lake House with a view to making it into a hospitality and perhaps wedding venue. But “after removing everything back to the shell, and restoring and rebuilding – everything – while trying to keep the property as authentic as possible”, he decided to live in it and raise two daughters there.
Apart from hosting one wedding, “I never let anyone stay here,” he says.
The girls have relocated to the mainland and Sherrard probably will too. Behind him he leaves this spectacularly well-restored mansion set in a park-like garden that is surrounded by a mixed-use working farm and that because of river rights is virtually drought-proof. “It’s totally irrigated,” Sherrard says. “We’ve got everything; potatoes, wheat, broccoli, cattle and sheep.”
Victorian Italianate home, Swan St North Hobart
Other privately owned properties changing hands on the Apple Isle include this beautiful 1890s Italianate home located in Swan St North Hobart.
With 6 bedrooms and three bathrooms, this is a truly luxurious abode. The front façade is subject to a heritage order, preserving its bay windows and iron lacework. The interior still includes many historic features including ornate parapets, mouldings, intricate ironwork and detailed mantle pieces, fully restored within the many formal rooms.
This property has been owned (and refurbished) by its current owners for over 21 years.
Stoke House is a spectacular Gothic Revival Sandstone Mansion located in Newtown. It is constructed from Sandstone imported from England and Scotland. A truly stately manor, this building has over 1000 square metres of internal space spread over 20 rooms. It has undergone a very high level restoration. The property enjoys fully landscaped extensive grounds and was originally built by the then Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania Sir John Dodd.
It features hand crafted timber fireplaces, Waterford Crystal Chandelier and a ‘cathedral like entrance’. Italian mosaic tiling is featured throughout the building and its verandahs. There are nine bedrooms, six bathrooms and a large opulent ballroom.
The property remains in private ownership, its most recent change of ownership occurring this year when it was sold for $3.55 million. There is little doubt such a property on mainland Australia would sell for 5 times this amount.
One of Hobart’s more prominent landmarks is the historic building ‘Lenna’, originally the home of Captain James Bayley, a ‘whaling merchant’. Whaling and Sealing were big business in those early days – whale oil was used to light English homes at the time. Whale bones were used in women’s corsetry
Hobart was a functioning Whaling town. Battery Point is its oldest area and is still relatively intact today. Large Artillery batteries were established on the hill in 1818. The village sprung up around these in the next twenty years. The wealthiest denizens of the time were the Whaling captains and merchants. Battery Point and the Lenna overlooked the functioning Hobart Wharves and Harbour, perfect for the owners and builders of ships and commercial fleets.
Lenna’s first iteration was built in these early days, a modest if somewhat well placed home. By 1860 it had been purchased by Bayley’s business partner Alexander McGregor, who had married Bayley’s sister Harriet. McGregor was a very successful shipbuilder and merchant. McGregor incorporated the old original house into his new grand stately home. McGregor would eventually become the principal of the largest privately and individually owned sailing fleet in the Southern Hemisphere.
The Sandstone for the home was cut from a quarry in what is now nearby Princes Park. The foundations were commenced n 1860 and the building completed in 1870. With a conservatory and extensive gardens, the grounds were open to the public for Sunday strolls.
The workmanship and intricacy of the building with its broad verandahs, Italianate colonnades and tiling is exceptional. With detailed ceiling roses, stained glass and an attic lookout to view down the Derwent – it is an extraordinary building. Now a Hotel (5 star) it still retains most of its features. The new Hotel accomodation block built in the 1970s completely blocks the original harbour views, but in Hobart things fortunately move at a slower pace – the original building remains – fairly untouched.
And so as well many of Hobart’s grand historic buildings still remain, as do the original worker’s cottages and streetscapes of the time at Battery Point. Once whaling finished to a large extent so did the super prosperity. Without major capital to ‘renew’ and ‘replace’ it, the picturesque old Hobart Town has remained mainly intact. Wonderful old buildings, beautiful architecture, true heritage. It’s well worth a visit and wander around Battery Point, North Hobart and other locations. It is after all where it really started in Southern Australia and fortunately you can still see it, feel it and reminisce. Enjoy.