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Woolmers Estate, Woolmers La, Longford, TAS, Australia

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List National Heritage List
Class Historic
Legal Status Listed place (23/11/2007)
Place ID 105976
Place File No 6/03/071/0006
Summary Statement of Significance
Established on a land grant in 1817, Woolmers Estate is significant for its history of property development using assigned convict labour. Convict labour was employed in exchange for food and clothing. The assignment system helped to develop the colonial infrastructure, reform convicts, assist settlers in establishing their estates, and in the case of Woolmers, develop the foundations of a successful pastoral property.
 
The homestead assemblage of Woolmers provides evidence of the use of an assigned convict labour force in the extant convict workplaces such as the woolshed, blacksmith shop, stables, gardens and paddocks. The former chapel was built to assist convicts in their reformation. The layout and architecture of the estate demonstrate the strong distinction between master and servant and how that facilitated the assignment system.
 
Woolmers retains an outstanding range of extant buildings that comprises houses, formal gardens, outbuildings, workshops, cottages, plants that along with numerous artefacts provide a rare record of the scale and range of operations of a substantial pastoral estate owned by wealthy colonial pastoralists. Associated with the buildings are fittings, furnishings, associated collections of movable cultural heritage and extensive documentary and pictorial evidence, from the early 19th century ‘assignment’ period to the late 20th century.
 
Woolmers is uncommon in its survival as a largely intact colonial homestead complex with an unbroken chain of family occupancy, allowing the survival of the range of significant buildings, interior features, and artefacts of every period of its history to the present.
 
Records associated with Woolmers from surviving musters, farm diaries, correspondence, and conduct reports identify the convict farm workers and enable a greater understanding of an important part of the working population of the property. The integrity of the assemblages and their inter-relationships makes Woolmers a rich source for future study. As no archaeological excavations have yet been undertaken, the place has the potential to yield nationally significant information on aspects of the living and working conditions of convicts during the assignment period.
 
Official Values
Criterion A Events, Processes
Woolmers Estate is a pre-eminent example of a property established on an 1817 land grant which exemplifies the use of convict labour in the assignment system to establish a large pastoral estate.
 
The assignment system was set up to provide convict labour to settlers in exchange for food and clothing, and the government saw the employment of convicts as a cost effective measure to develop colonial infrastructure and assist settlers in establishing rural and commercial enterprises, while at the same time reforming the convict through industry.  The large country estate quickly became established as the archetypal symbol of the assignment system.  Estate architecture was regarded as vital in achieving the aims of the system. 
 
The development of Woolmers is nationally significant as the homestead group provides important evidence of the use of an assigned convict labour force in the evolution of a pastoral property based on wool production.  The place contains convict workplaces such as the blacksmith shop, stables, gardens and paddocks, as well as the woolshed, which is one of the oldest in Australia.  It contains the former chapel built for convicts to provide for their reformation.  The layout and architecture of the estate makes a strong distinction between master and servant which the colonial authorities believed was an important aspect in the reformation of convicts.
 
Woolmers is outstanding for the longevity of ownership in one family and the retention of buildings, artefacts, and records which provide an important insight into the evolution of the estate as a pastoral property over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries.
 
Criterion B Rarity
Woolmers is rare as a surviving 19th century agricultural homestead group developed during the convict era, along lines to facilitate the convict 'assignment' system. Many large farming estates were established during the assignment period in NSW and Tasmania. However, Woolmers is uncommon for the degree of intactness, and range of buildings combined with the continuity of family ownership.
 
Woolmers remains as an uncommon representative of an early 19th century colonial rural homestead group, comprising complexes with houses, formal gardens and outbuildings which demonstrate a high degree of integrity. The range of buildings still extant at Woolmers is outstanding. These extant outbuildings, workshops, cottages, plant and artefacts are a rare record of the scale and range of operations of a substantial colonial pastoral estate owned by wealthy colonial pastoralists.
 
Unlike many other colonial houses, Woolmers is also uncommon for the range of related movable cultural objects.  It is uncommon in its survival as a largely intact colonial homestead with an unbroken chain of family occupancy, allowing the survival of a range of significant buildings, interior features, and artefacts of every period of its history to the present.
 
Woolmers is a pre-eminent and rare example of the large rural homestead groups which evolved during the assignment period and which retain a range of buildings which demonstrate the evolution of a highly successful agricultural and pastoral property based on a convict labour force during this period.
 
Criterion C Research
Woolmers contains an outstanding array of buildings, fittings, furnishings, associated collections of movable cultural heritage and extensive documentary and pictorial evidence, from the early 19th century ‘assignment’ period to the late 20th century. 
 
Records associated with Woolmers provide the opportunity to reconstruct life during successive periods at Woolmers.  Many of the early 19th century farm workers at Woolmers were convicts and they can be identified from surviving musters, farm diaries, correspondence, and conduct records.  This enables a reconstitution of a large and important part of the working population of the property.  When combined with the high degree of integrity of the remaining built fabric and the large number of in situ artefacts, the integrity of the assemblages and their inter-relationships makes Woolmers a rich source for future study, and presents significant research opportunities. 
 
The place also has a high degree of archaeological potential, as no archaeological excavations have yet been undertaken.  This has the potential to yield nationally significant information on aspects of the living and working conditions of convicts during the assignment period.
 
Description
The Woolmers estate is located close to Longford in the Northern Midlands of Tasmania. The house, gardens and associated outbuildings are located on a rise overlooking the Macquarie River with extensive views across alluvial plains including Brickendon Estate, Elkstone, Harwick Hill and the Great Western Tiers. The property covers a total of just over 82 hectares, which includes the 15.63 ha (34 acre) portion known as Homestead Area plus an additional 66.41 ha, both portions being part of a 2,905 acre grant to Thomas Archer. Bounded by the Macquarie River to the west, Woolmers Lane to the south and the driveway to Woolmers Cottage to the east, the homestead was formerly defined by hedges to the north. The estate comprises the house and formal garden, a second manor house known as Woolmers Cottage and an extensive collection of outbuildings, avenues of trees and hedges, specimen trees and archaeological remains. The principal components of the Woolmers Estate are listed below. In addition there is an immense collection of movable items or artefacts including furniture, soft furnishings, floor coverings, artwork, books, photograph albums, household items, journals, farm machinery and plant which date from the 1820s and are contained in the buildings and in many cases are integral to the buildings and/or spaces.
Four main precincts have been identified:
 
Woolmers Main House Precinct
Woolmers Main House (original building): Constructed by convicts in 1819-21 it is a large brick-nog lined building with a hipped roof and flagged verandahs. The rooms have a high degree of integrity with original lathe and plaster ceilings and lining boards and original timber floors. Ceilings throughout the house generally are reinforced with 1890s battens. While all of the collections in the house relate to the Archer family’s occupancy of the house from the 1820s on, the fittings and most of the furniture are original. The wallpapers and carpets in the bedrooms, dressing room and sitting room are from the 1930s. Beneath the house are four cellar rooms, three with brick lined wells and one with a large trapdoor in the ceiling providing access into the drawing room. Six attic bedrooms with original timber ceilings and lining boards papered with c1850s wall papers are accessed by narrow staircases at the northern and southern ends. Iron window bars are in situ on some of the attic windows.
 
Woolmers Main House (extension): Designed by William Archer and built in 1843 in part using convict labour, the extension comprised an Italianate addition with drawing and dining rooms on either side of a large front hall, and Italianate porch below a small tower with a bedroom above. The kitchen and service wing was remodelled at the same time. Elaborate Italianate chimneys replaced earlier stacks, the large sash windows have plate glass while the brick walls are plastered as ashlar with rusticated quoins. It is a very early example of Victorian Italianate marked by a squat tower and a blind window (Apperly, Irving Reynolds 1989:71).
 
The front hall is a very intact early Victorian room with original oak furniture bearing the Archer crest. The drawing room has a Grecian chimney piece with carytids similar to one at the neighbouring property Panshanger, built by Thomas Archer’s brother Joseph. The room survives very much as it was originally furnished; the suite of Brazilian rosewood furniture, the body and border carpet and the gilt cornice poles, the moiré valance and early Victorian crimson tabaret curtains with their bullion fringe are original. The papier mâché in the cornice was purchased in London at Jackson & Son in 1859. Only the wall paper, frieze and picture rail are Edwardian alterations and the lace under curtains are Edwardian replacements (Lucas and Joyce 1994:49).
 
In the dining room the wall opposite the windows is broken with three blind arches, two with matching mahogany sideboards. The end wall has a black marble Italianate chimney piece with arched recesses on either side housing fitted bookcases. The walls in the dining room, originally painted blue were papered with Victorian baroque flock wall paper which was purchased at Simpson’s in London in 1859. Much of the dining room furniture and the china bear the Archer crest. Much of the furniture in the principal rooms was chosen by William Archer: the oak furniture in the hall, handsome rosewood furniture and curtains in the drawing room and mahogany furniture and red flock wall paper in the dining room. The carpet in the dining room is a Victorian replacement and the lathe and plaster ceiling has been battened for safety as well as taste. The plaster work in the house extension has fashionable papier mâché enrichments imported from CF Bielefeld in London (Lucas and Joyce 1994:48).
 
A service passage behind the dining room connects the extension to the kitchen wing and servants’ quarters. A staircase leads to the tower room which abuts the attic bedrooms of the original house. Service rooms built in 1845 at the rear of the extension include a lavatory, potting shed, store room, dairy and still room and connect to the 1820s house forming a courtyard.
 
Kitchen Wing Building: Built as a small timber L-shaped building the kitchen and servants’ quarters were extended in the 1840s to house servants separately rather than in the attics of the main house. The building was a place where assigned female convicts lived and worked. The kitchen was altered in the 1940s for use as a garage and workshop. The building was altered in the 1990s to accommodate a commercial kitchen and café.
 
Woolmer’s Garden: Modelled in the Gardenesque style in the late 1840s the garden is enclosed by a wall and a pair of elaborate dowelled gates. Many original features survive including a garden pavilion, largely rebuilt probably in the 1930s (Lucas Stapleton 1996: vol 2, 55), a garden smoking room, a double thunderbox lavatory and a garden privy which are contemporary with the garden wall (1840s). The formal gardens contain rare examples of early technology including watering systems. A cast iron fountain from Colebrookdale purchased in 1864 is centrally positioned within the carriage circle. An iron fence borders the garden to the south and south west.
 
Other buildings in the precinct are the kitchen wing shed and kitchen wing skillion shed.

Coach House and Orchard Precinct
Stables and Coach House: Built in 1847 and located adjacent to the walled garden the two storeyed symmetrical stables and coach house with rough cast walls are constructed in the vernacular Georgian tradition. The coach house was one of a number of picturesque features designed to ornament the new approaches to the remodelled house. In later years it was used to house motor vehicles and Thomas Cathcart Archer’s Wolseley is still kept there. The acetylene gas manufacturing equipment from Crossley Bros of Manchester which produced gas for the main house is stored in the loft. It was previously located in Jacob Mountgarrett’s Cottage.
Coachman’s Cottage: Built in the late 1840s around the same time as the Coach House the Cottage probably provided accommodation for two families. Alterations completed in the early 1980s by Robert Morris Nunn were awarded a Royal Australian Institute of Architects (Tasmanian Chapter) Merit Award in 1984. The cottage is currently used for accommodation.
Coachman’s Cottage Shed: A small weatherboard shed with a skillion roof, not shown in the 1947 aerial photograph of Woolmers. The original use is unclear.
Garage: The weatherboard garage appears to date from the early 20th century. It is visible in a 1921 aerial photograph of the site and was probably built to house the family’s collection of cars, a 1953 Dodge is still kept there.
Former Chapel: Built in the 1840s to provide religious instruction to convict workers in accordance with the reformatory philosophy of the time, it is a gabled building with a porch over the southern entrance. The Chapel was almost certainly unused when it was converted to house an apple grader for the orchard in the 1920s. During the conversion the west wall was extended and the roof pitch altered to accommodate the extension which is brick with pebbledash render. Two sets of double doors in the west wall provided access for loading and unloading fruit. An apple grader, manufactured by D Harvey of Box Hill, Victoria is still located in the building.
Jacob Mountgarrett’s Cottage: Originally constructed for the colonial surgeon Jacob Mountgarret prior to 1826 and moved to Woolmers in 1830, the buildings is a simple weatherboard cottage with a brick chimney at one end. An open skillion weatherboard addition was added in the 1920s. Numerous layers of wall paper suggest that it was most likelt constructed by convict labour and lived in for a long time. A 19th century saw bench and its mounting survive in the skillion.
Gardener’s cottage: Constructed as part of the remodelling of the approach to the property when it was approached via Woolmers Cottage in the late 1840s. The house, designed in the Picturesque Gothic style, is more consciously a cottage orneé (Lucas and Joyce 1994:47).
Gardener’s Cottage Shed: A small weatherboard shed probably built c1900.
Orchard Privy: A small weatherboard privy at the west end of the site of the former orchard, probably built for the use of orchard workers. The original thunderbox is in situ.
Ruins: West of Gardener’s Cottage, now situated in the National Rose Garden, may be the remains of the glasshouse.
Site of Manager’s House: A weatherboard house constructed in the 1850s in the south east corner of the orchard following the death of Thomas Archer. The house was relocated to Union Street, Longford, around 1900. The site of the Manager’s House, its construction and removal, shows evidence of the changes in management at Woolmers Estate over time.
Site of early Drive: Following the construction of Woolmers Cottage and the aggrandisement of the main house, the house was approached along a drive which left Woolmers Lane opposite Panshanger Road leading directly to Woolmers Cottage and then turned to the main house. This formal entry to the main house was later replaced by the current drive through the outbuildings.
Site of Orchards: Orcharding appears to have commenced by 1832 at Woolmers and it was still in production in 1865. Three extensive orchards were planted in the early 20th century. By 1947 the largest orchard had been removed. In 1992 the National Rose Gardens was established which extends over part of the former orchards. The Gardens do not form part of this assessment.
 
Outbuildings Precinct
Farm Stables: Built in the 1840s, a long gabled building of rendered masonry with central pilasters, it was constructed to house the estate’s working livestock and farm equipment.  The building is a vernacular version of the more elaborate coach house and still contains some of its original stall partitions and mangers. On the west side an open skillion houses an assortment of surviving farm machinery.
Woolshed: Constructed in the 1820s the Georgian vernacular woolshed is one of the earliest buildings in the complex and probably the oldest in Australia (Lucas and Joyce 1994:47). It wasa place both built by and worked by assigned convicts. Constructed from split weatherboards of local hardwood on a rubble foundation the shed contains an early timber framed manual wool press which may well have been constructed on the estate as the iron work is hand forged. Other machinery includes a Cooper shearing machine. Graffiti on the main beam is inscribed with ‘England Expects Every Man Will Do his duty Admiral Nelson Duke of Bronte Trafalgar 1805’.
Cider Press: In the 1840s the orchards were sufficiently developed to warrant the construction of a cider press. The weatherboard building was built abutting the woolshed, originally with a shingled roof, now corrugated iron, to house a timber and stone cider apple mill which still is in situ. The cider pulp press is typical of the English eastern counties where, because a variety of fruits were pressed, a box was used in place of a press bed (Morris-Nunn 1986:21). The press was operated by a pole or lever.
Blacksmith’s Shop: Probably built in 1822, most likely by convict workers, it is a rendered masonry one room building with a slate roof for fire protection, a central chimney breast, hearth and timber work bench. Some remnant blacksmithing equipment still survives. The Blacksmith’s Shop provides evidence of the early development of Woolmers estate.
Workers’ Cottages: Five two roomed semi-detached workers’ cottages built in the 1840s remain of the six originally constructed. It was likely that these cottages accommodated free settler workers. They are all two-roomed cottages, one room upstairs and one on the ground floor with a fireplace in the main room. Built in pairs, they are simple gabled structures with corrugated iron roofs (probably originally shingled) and elaborate chimneys. The cottages are currently used for accommodation.
Bakehouse Cottages: Two of an original three cottages survive which were built in the 1840s. The third cottage was demolished in the 1920s. At the rear of the smaller building is the estate bread oven. The two simple vernacular cottages, similar in style and construction to most of the other outbuildings. Probably they were used to accommodate the bakers although the surviving one contains three fire places suggesting that is was also used as a baking or possibly a cookhouse. The design and siting indicates the importance and role of the bakehouse in the infrastructure of the estate. The cottage is currently used for accommodation.
Store: This two storey building with its integrated water tower completed by the time the land commissioners visited Woolmers in 1826 was bult by convicts and was also a likely convict workplace. A pebble dash masonry building with a hipped roof topped by a decorative Italianate water tower and decorative recesses arches to the ground floor window and the water tower. The original lead-lined water tank and reticulation system is a rare surviving example of an early system of water supply and storage. The store’s location close to the house shows its importance for easy access of goods, and for control and security.
Pump House: An early intact horse driven water pump probably built around 1840 as it is shown in an 1840’s sketch by Mrs Nixon. As the building can be seen from the Longford approach road it was constructed as an octagonal building in the picturesque gothic style. The pump machinery was manufactured by Braithwaite, Milner & Co., London. Like many of the buildings at Woolmers, the Pump House was probably constructed by the estate’s convict mechanics and stands testimony to their skills. It is a rare surviving example of a horse driven water pump remaining in situ.
Timber Windmill: Built between 1890-1921 the windmill replaced the horse driven pump in the Pump House. It was built in the American style with sails constructed from narrow boards radially arranged. The direct acting pump machinery survives. The windmill has been recently restored. It provides evidence of the elaborate and evolving system of water management.
Metal Windmill:  The third in the series of constructions, it was used to supply water to the estate. The direct acting pump machinery survives but it has lost some of its sails.
Modern Pump House: The machinery is part of the sequence of water supply systems for the estate. It replaced the metal windmill and is still in use.
Sites including the sheep dip: The site of the sheep dip is located between the farm stables and the woolshed. Other sites include remnant footings east of the farm stables, and north of the blacksmith’s shop. The sites of other buildings including the male convict barracks may exist.
Site of Puntman’s Cottage: The construction date is not known but it is shown in an 1840’s sketch of the property by Mrs Nixon. The sketch shows a picturesque gothic building similar in character and scale to the gardener’s cottage. Some stone footings remain.
 
Woolmers Cottage Precinct
Woolmers Cottage: Built in 1839. A good example of a Regency villa built using assigned convict labour overlooking the river and the neighbouring Archer estate at Brickendon, underscoring the close relationship that existed between the operation of the two estates which regularly shared farm equipment and labour. Four underfloor cellar rooms, with trapdoor access to the drawing room and containing three brick lined wells, and attic bedrooms are in the main house while small attic bedrooms for the domestic servants in the kitchen wing are accessed by a steep staircase from the kitchen. The cottage also contains an early water pump linked to an underground cistern to hold roof water.
Woolmers Cottage Garden: There is evidence of an earlier planned garden, including the oval carriage way and brick borders of the garden beds.  Mature pines form a windbreak from the north.
 
Woolmers house, gardens, cottage and associated outbuildings are remarkably intact. The integrity of the physical fabric is one of its outstanding features. While some structures, notably the chapel, have been converted to other uses, and parts of the original service wing were replaced in the 1840s, few original features have been lost. Some buildings which are documented have been demolished or removed. Demolitions include the male convict quarters, the carpenter’s shop, possibly a wheelwright/cooper’s shop, (Morris-Nunn 1986:4), a Dutch barn and granary, the puntman’s cottage and the third bakehouse cottage. The manager’s cottage was relocated to Longford. Some surviving individual features are rare: the woolshed, cider press, store, the range of water pumps, smoking room and the chapel (now an apple sorting shed).
 
Woolmers also contains a large number of its original fittings, furniture, paintings, dinner services, glassware, cutlery, toys, motor vehicles, farm equipment and related movable cultural objects. Considerable archival correspondence relating to the property, the family and estate workers, much of it in the Archives Office of Tasmania, also survives. The property is actively managed and maintained by the Woolmers Foundation.

History
The penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land was established in 1803 with a small population of convicts, soldiers and some free settlers.  From 1788-1830s free grants of land were distributed to settlers in the colony.  A small but wealthy farming and trading community emerged (Petrow 2000:4). However, unlike NSW very few ex-convicts, known as emancipists, prospered and became prominent in public life (Petrow 2000:5).  Through grants and purchases of land free settlers in Tasmania owned ‘a very large proportion of all the property’ and became very influential.  The wealthier settlers in the north ‘could build pastoral empires at the expense of their struggling neighbours’ (Morgan 1992:34).
 
Brickendon and Woolmers Estates are located in the Norfolk Plains, a district that wis well watered by the Macquarie and South Esk rivers.  The agricultural and pastoral potential of the area meant that it was quickly exploited. Many early land grants were made in the area, the most significant being that awarded to Thomas Archer. Having arrived in Australia in 1811 aged 21 to take up a posting with Commissariat Department in Sydney, Thomas Archer was later transferred to Port Dalrymple in northern Tasmania where he was granted Woolmers in 1817. His brother William arrived in the colony in 1823 and settled on adjoining land, Brickendon which remains in Archer family ownership.  In Tasmania the government purchased through the Commissariat Store items such as meat and wheat at fixed prices to provide food to newly arrived settlers and convicts.  The Commissariat settled all business in cash or treasury bills and represented a secure market. Many who established themselves as a colonial elite in the pre-1820 era were either closely associated with the operation of the store, or were amongst its major suppliers.  As the principal engine of the economy, sales to the Commissariat Store laid ‘the foundation of many a Van Diemen’s Land fortune’ (Robson 2005:13). 
 
In the 1820s, at a time when the Bigge Report was encouraging pastoralism as an economic base for the colony, the British woollen industry was expanding.  Its promotion of colonial wool stimulated the industry in Australia.  By 1817 there were more sheep in Tasmania than NSW, and from the 1820s the Tasmanian Midlands became a major merino breeding centre.  By 1821 Van Diemen’s Land was depasturing more sheep than NSW and had taken the lead in improving the quality of merino wool’ (Pearson and Lennon, 2006:12).
 
Having arrived at an early date in 1817, Thomas Archer was able to quickly establish himself as the most significant settler in the district.  By 1825 he had been granted a total of 5,545 acres and had purchased a further 2,142.  In later years he acquired substantial other landholdings, notably the neighbouring properties of Fairfield and Cheshunt.  He also extended the area covered by Woolmers estate which in 1855 consisted of a total of 12,271 acres.  The estate remained one of the largest privately owned properties in the colony.
 
The construction of Woolmers house probably commenced in 1819.  It appears to have been largely complete by the time Governor Macquarie stayed there in 1821 and is still largely extant.  Woolmers was a significant early pastoral property.  The Land Commissioners in 1826 described everything as being ‘on a most extensive scale. Carpenters, Sawyers, Bricklayers, Blacksmiths and a long list of Labourers’ not to mention the ‘Hundred working Oxen’. He also owned a ‘numerous herd of cattle of the English breed,…..and I have as well a valuable stud of Horses and brood Mares, most of which have been imported at considerable expense from New South Wales’ (Morris-Nunn 1986:2).  The house was significantly extended in 1845 with the addition of a new Italianate wing transforming the building into one of the finest, colonial estate houses in Tasmania.  The 1840s modifications were designed by William Archer, the third son of Thomas Archer and the first architect born in Tasmania.  Significantly, much of the earlier house was incorporated into the extended building rather than being destroyed. The house is unusual in that it provides outstanding evidence of the architectural evolution of a gentleman’s rural residence over time.  The redevelopment of the property in the mid-1840s placed Woolmers in the first rank of colonial estates.
 
Thomas Archer was amongst the first settlers in Van Diemen’s Land to ‘improve’ his livestock in order to take advantage of the new opportunities in the fine wool export trade.  Some of the stud merinos he acquired came from McArthur’s flocks in New South Wales and others were imported from England. The Archer family were very successful with several properties established around Longford.  Joseph Archer imported a flock of English merinos in 1821, William Archer imported 30 Merino ewes and 2 rams from England in 1824 for Brickendon forming the basis for the very successful stud he established, and on the adjacent Woolmers 50 Spanish Merinos from Ireland arrived in 1822-23 (Pearson and Lennon, 2006:12; Morgan 1992:61). In 1825 Thomas Archer had assessed that there were ‘upwards of Six Thousand Sheep most of which have been very highly improved by an Importation of Pure Merinos from England, about five years ago’.  By 1836 he was described as having 25,000 sheep and ‘sending seventeen wagons of pressed wool to London every year at a value of £6,000’ (Morris-Nunn 1986:15).  The earliest documented woolsheds in Australia are probably those of Woolmers (1820s), Panshanger (1821) and Brickendon (1820s). Brickendon and Woolmers also retain wool washing sites.
 
The assignment system was set up to provide convict labour to settlers in exchange for food and clothing. The first convicts were assigned as farm servants and for personal service to officer-farmers who had been authorised to receive land grants in 1793 (Shaw 1971:67). Reports of the Bigge Commission, established in 1819 to enquire into conditions in the colony, recommended tightening the assignment system and encouraging pastoralism by allocating large land grants to free immigrants with substantial capital. Assignments of convicts to private masters was very much the favoured method of dealing with convicts.  The government saw reformative employment as a cost effective measure to develop colonial infrastructure and assist settlers in establishing rural and commercial enterprises. ‘In its ideal form, assignment was beneficial to all three parties: the government transferred the upkeep of the convict, the master gained cheap labour, and the convict gained reformation through industrious labour’ (Tuffin in Alexander 2005:30).  There were still over 23,000 assigned convicts in 1837 (Kercher 2003) and the system continued in NSW and Tasmania until the cessation of transportation to NSW in 1840 (Shaw 1971:272, Kercher 2003).
 
Sir George Arthur (1784-1854), the lieutenant-governor of Van Diemen's Land from 1824-1836, developed and administered the assignment system in Tasmania and rigorously insisted on the mutual good behaviour of both master and servant. He ‘recognised that the settler formed a very important ‘cog’ in a greater machine. In keeping with this, he governed the settler-master almost as stringently as he governed the convict’ (Tuffin in Alexander 2005:30).  Colonists were expected to make transportation a feared punishment’ (Petrow 2005:4). Convict labour which was in high demand due to the shortage of free labourers and skilled artisans, could be withdrawn by Arthur for a range of offences.  Servants were liable to summary punishment for misconduct, but they might be withdrawn if their masters broke any of the many other regulations. 
 
The assignment system included incentives for convicts to reform. Convicts were entitled to tickets-of-leave if well behaved.  This ‘indulgence’ allowed them to earn wages and live independently while they served out the remainder of their sentence.  However as convicts they continued to be monitored and a ticket of leave could be withdrawn for bad behaviour. Conditional pardons (convicts had to remain in the colony) were given as inducements for special services, such as the capture of bushrangers or absconders or faithful service as police.  Arthur personally scrutinised the records before granting these incentives.  His administration of convicts increased the governor's patronage and aroused the bitter hostility of those whose servants were withdrawn (Shaw 1966).  While Arthur set up an Assignment Board in 1832 he supervised it closely. He consistently insisted that under his regime transportation was a very severe punishment. Assigned convicts, he said, were slaves, except that their slavery was terminable. They were always subject to their masters' caprices and vaguely defined offences were liable to severe punishment (Shaw 1966).
 
Working on a large farming property became the most common assignment for convicts. In Tasmania, an average of 54 percent of male convicts were assigned to settlers during the period 1820-1835 (Maxwell-Stewart 2006a:3). The need to provide rations and shelter for convicts favoured larger enterprises, as small farmers were less able to support convicts on a consistent basis and would return them to the colonial authorities for reassignment.
 
Large farming enterprises were labour intensive.  Their development was dependent on the availability of cheap labour.  Since convicts and ex-convicts constituted 80 to 90 percent of the potential male labour force in the colonies between 1820-1835 (Butlin 1985:19), convicts were instrumental in the expansion of farming in the colonies.  The large country estate quickly became established as the archetypal symbol of the assignment system.  As estates were generally managed along paternalistic lines it was thought that masters could instil convicts with habits of industry. 
 
Estate architecture was regarded as vital in achieving these aims.  Separate quarters for female assigned servants within the house, clearly defined service areas, service staircases, separate quarters for an overseer and detached barrack-like accommodation for male servants were all considered to be features of the well-ordered estate. Skilled workers, such as gardeners, coachmen and artisans were provided with their own cottage style accommodation whereas other agricultural workers were housed separately in simpler quarters.  Ideally the estate complex should also include a chapel where the convict population could be mustered each Sunday (Maxwell-Stewart 2006a:7). The Brickendon and Woolmers Estates exemplify these features and are outstanding examples of assignment era properties.  As one of the larger estates, many convicts worked at Brickendon and Woolmers in the period from the early 1820s to the 1850s.
 
In practice, the Archer families shared labour between the neighbouring properties, Woolmers and Brickendon.  This was especially the case during harvest seasons when assigned servants were rotated between the two properties. With a combined convict population of over 100, Brickendon and Woolmers formed the second largest pool of convict labour in private hands in the colony, after the Van Diemen’s Land Company.  The surviving musters show that between 1830 and 1835 from 41 to 51 male convicts were assigned to Woolmers annually and between 34 ro 43 to Brickenden (Archives Office of Tasmania, AJCP, HO/10/47, 48, 49 and 50)  William Archer’s diary records on 16 October 1847 there were on the entire property 86 men, 15 women and 9 children.  A total of 110 people including family members, although some may have been seasonal workers who had already arrived for the shearing (Lucas Stapleton 1996, vol 3:13)..
Properties such as Brickendon and Woolmers are historically significant as they represent the typical convict experience.  Unlike road parties, and other punishment regimes, assigned convicts were largely managed by the use of incentives, as opposed to punishment. The estates were places where a premium was placed on particular skills, especially those possessed by convict mechanics (blacksmiths, carpenters, tanners, bricklayers etc) and skilled agricultural hands (ploughman, shepherds, dairymaids etc), and many of these skills are exemplified in the surviving architecture and layout of the estate.  They were also places where male and female convicts worked alongside each other unlike the public sector where, housed in barracks or female factories, they were generally kept apart.  As well as being sites of work, they were also sites of leisure and recreation.  They were places where many sections of colonial society interacted, a process which estate architecture was deliberately designed to control.  Thus, following British practice, the front of the house was the place where the family resided and visitors of status were received, while the back was the area connected with work and service. All of these features are remarkably well preserved at Brickendon and Woolmers.
 
While the assignment system created opportunities for many convicts to start a new life, opposition to the transportation of convicts grew steadily, culminating in the 1838 Molesworth report.  The assignment system was considered inconsistent, a lottery dependent too often on the character of the masters, rather than the nature of the crimes. It was also criticised for the perceived contradiction at the heart of the system – that assignment to a well disposed master meant that transportation could often be a reward for evil-doing (Robson 1983:155).
 
Withdrawal of the assignment process commenced in Tasmania in 1839, to be replaced with the probation system which sought to punish systematically.  In 1840 and 1841 there was a labour shortage as no convicts were assigned to private settlers.  Due to the cessation of transportation in NSW the convict numbers increased dramatically from 1841 increasing the convict population by over 40% in four years (Shaw 1971:300). The probation system added to the convicts’ misery as the severe depression from 1842 meant that convict pass-holders could not find work.  From the settlers’ perspective the numbers of convicts increased with no off-setting economic contribution, and they deeply resented the additional imposts levied on them to pay for more police and goals which they considered the responsibility of the British government.  Meanwhile revenues fell significantly from falling land sales and a drop in exports (Townsley 1991:61).  The failure of the probation system turned the majority of colonists into implacable opponents of transportation itself (Sprod 2005:290).  Thomas Archer at Woolmers strongly supported the abolition of transportation (Stilwell 1966:26). Both Thomas Archer and William Archer of Brickendon with other family members signed a petition, published in 1850, for the immediate abolition of transportation (Chick 1991:11).
 
Following the death of Thomas Archer in 1850 the trustees decided in 1855 to lease the 11,000 acre property.  However, no lease was eventually entered into and a manager was appointed.  Descendents of the Archer family intermittently lived in the main house at Woolmers and during the second half of the 19th century frequently leased the house and farming estate, often to family or relatives.  The land continued to be leased as sheep runs.  In 1912 a total of 6,147 acres of the Woolmers estate was purchased by the Government for closer settlement.  Most of the remaining area was either leased or turned over to orchards.  Following the end of the Second World War a further 5,856 acres was compulsorily purchased by the Government in 1947 under the Closer Settlement Scheme.  Only the homestead area of 15.63 ha (just over 34 acres) remained in the possession of Thomas Edward Cathcart Archer.  In 1974 the property was inherited by Thomas William Archer who never married and died without issue in 1994. Since then Woolmers Homestead has been owned and managed by the Woolmers Foundation which operates as a tourism attraction.
 
The property is an example of an intact convict era estate in Australia and contains some exceptionally early and significant buildings including an early woolshed.  It provides outstanding evidence of the way in which architecture and estate design was used to reinforce class and gender divisions during the convict assignment period.  Until the death of Thomas William Archer in 1994, Woolmers had remained in the hands of one family. As a result it has retained many of its original interior fittings, furniture and other artefacts. Although almost all the agricultural land and pastoral runs associated with the property have been sold, the house and its estate buildings form a cultural landscape which are remarkably intact.
 
Condition and Integrity
Woolmers house, gardens, villa and associated outbuildings are in remarkably good state of preservation. The integrity of the property is one of its outstanding features. While some structures, notably the chapel, have been converted to other uses, few original architectural features have been lost. Exceptions include the male convict quarters and parts of the original service wing replaced in the l840s. Unlike many other colonial houses, Woolmers also contains a large number of its original fittings, furniture, paintings, dinner services, glassware, cutlery, toys, motor vehicles, farm equipment etc. Considerable archival correspondence relating to the property, the family and estate workers, much of it in the Archives Office of Tasmania, also survives. The property is actively managed and maintained by the Woolmers Foundation.
Location
About 82ha, 2km south east of Longford, Woolmers Lane, comprising the whole of Lots 1 and 3 Title Reference 135619.
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Report Produced  Thu Oct 2 05:02:12 2014