Our house: histories of Australian homes

Rhonda Hamilton and Elspeth Wishart
Australian Heritage Commission, 2001

21 - Peppiatt House

Launceston, Tasmania

Peppiatt House in 1997.

Peppiatt House in 1997, with the current owners on the verandah next to the original cottage with the 1901 addition behind.

Nestled on the hillside overlooking Launceston and the Tamar River sits a cottage amidst rambling gardens. Built around 1840, the cottage outgrew its humble origins and took on a grander appearance. Tales of convicts and kidnapped children, antics in the garden, ancient orange trees, life, death, marriage, additions and changes are all part of the stories of this well-loved home. Anthony Cottage, later Peppiatt House, was originally named after the landowner Anthony Brain whose daughter Elizabeth married a Peppiatt.

The house was constructed when Launceston, established for 30 years, was beginning to trade to the newer colonies of Port Phillip, Swan River and South Australia. By the mid-1840s Launceston was experiencing a shipbuilding boom. The resulting wealth was reflected by the growth of population and housing. The colony was dependent upon convict labour and the Launceston Penitentiary and Female House of Correction would have been clearly visible at the bottom of the hill from the verandah of Peppiatt House.

Peppiatt House was one of the earliest houses built on Cataract Hill, to the west of Launceston and close to the track leading to the convict sawpits. It was originally a four roomed weatherboard cottage with a shingled hip roof and skillion to the rear, built of local timber from the sawpits with convict bricks built into the chimneys. It also had imported timbers including cedar doors and mantelpieces. Many of these features remain although not necessarily in the original location.

This was home to four generations of the Peppiatt family over nearly 150 years, commencing with James and Elizabeth Peppiatt. James was a convict transported to Van Diemen's Land in 1827 and by 1836 he had received his pardon and had married Elizabeth Brain. Elizabeth and James lived at York Street until their deaths in 1876 and 1887. James was a builder/bricklayer and evidence of his skills remain in the stone retaining walls along Stone Street and the garden pathways. It is thought he also built the cottage.

James and Elizabeth raised five children in the cottage, the eldest James Anthony. His grandson recalled the tale of James Anthony being abducted by an Aboriginal woman during a trip to Victoria. The woman returned to Van Diemen's Land to live with the Peppiatt family for a brief period.

After almost 40 years of family life a number of changes occurred in the household. Two small rooms on the northern side were added. In 1878 James Anthony acquired the house and lived there with his wife Eleanor and their newly-born daughter Mabel. James senior continued to live with them. In 1887 plans were drawn up by architect Harry Conway for a major addition to the house but this was not instigated until 1901.

James Anthony Peppiatt and his dog on the original verandah c1900.

James Anthony Peppiatt and his dog on the original verandah c1900.

The house was busy with several generations living together. This extended to the wider family, as in 1892 a sister-in-law of James Anthony was recorded as dying at Peppiatt house. There is no evidence nor space to suggest servants were employed. Although a water supply and sewerage system was implemented in Launceston by the 1860s it is unlikely to have extended up to Peppiatt until some years later. In fact James Anthony worked on building the city's sewerage system in the 1860s. Electricity would have been connected soon after its introduction to Launceston in 1895.

The Victorian-style extension proposed in 1887 was added to the southern side by 1901. This is characterised by a hipped roof with eave brackets and a detached concave skirt verandah with a bay window. The addition changed the orientation, allowing the entrance to come directly off York Street (the south side). The addition consists of two large rooms, a formal sitting room with bay window overlooking the city, and a master bedroom. These were either side of a hallway which was grander than in the original cottage. The hallway led back into the cottage, through interesting angled doorways. This gave the house a more formal entry.

Watercolour of Peppiatt's garden, painted in 1944 by Stanley Fuller.

Watercolour of Peppiatt's garden, painted in 1944 by Stanley Fuller.

Construction of the extension is reputed to have been a wedding gift to Mabel when she married Walter Fuller, an English-born ship's steward in 1901. The improved house became a comfortable home to Mabel, Walter, their children Eleanor (May), Walter James Stanley (Stanley) and Dorothy and also Mabel's parents. The young couple decorated their home with modern Oriental style furniture. New ceilings may have been added at this time to the original cottage, with a pressed tin ceiling in one bedroom and a timber ceiling in the dining room.

Stanley Fuller, great grandson of James Peppiatt was born in 1905 and occupied the home for his entire life until his death in 1980. Small changes were made to bring the house into the twentieth century. During the 1920s the verandah of the original cottage was glassed in and used as a sunroom. About 1930 a garage was built towards the bottom of the garden to house Stanley's new car. Stanley worked as a dental mechanic in Launceston but established a reputation as a watercolour artist, spending most of his leisure hours painting and sketching.

After service during World War II Stanley returned to Launceston. He did not intend living at Peppiatt House but the death of his mother in 1948 changed his plans. At the age of 44 he married Esme Clark in 1949. The house at that time was converted into two flats with the addition of another kitchen in a back room and the walling over of connecting doors.

Stanley's father, Walter, and maiden aunt, May, stayed on but perhaps the birth of Stanley and Esme's first and only child, Christine, in 1951 was unsettling to the older members. The house was converted back into a home for the immediate family group. The second kitchen became the living room where they spent most of their time. The 1901 addition retained its formal presence with the sitting room and master bedroom.

Glenys Crabtree, Christine Fuller and Hilary Bennell on the front verandah.

Glenys Crabtree, Christine Fuller and Hilary Bennell on the front verandah with their neighbourhood fundraising stall for the Christmas Appeal c1960.

Christine Fuller recalls her youth there with great affection. Parts of the house were closed up after her grandfather and great aunt left. The contents willed to her aunts were stored in the old dining room which Stanley intended to renovate. 'Dad was very much a dreamy artist ... and he would start a bit and then it would be left.' The dining room was left untouched. 'The girl that lived nearby, and my cousin too, they always used to love to go in there - it was such an adventure, but it was sort of dark and so different.'

The garden has played an important part in the history of Peppiatt House. Originally, one entered through the southern York Street entrance to the front door on the eastern side of the house, following pathways built by James Peppiatt. The garden's English cottage planting was developed from the 1850s. Plantings were well-suited to Tasmania's cool temperate climate and many, attributed to the mid-nineteenth century, survive. Additions and changes are recorded in drawings and notes prepared by Stanley in 1979.

There is a sense of discovery with meandering pathways emerging from under bushes and around ponds and rock walls. Old established plants fight for the sun as the garden overwhelms itself. Many remnant plantings are of a substantial size. The spreading mulberry tree dominates the front of the original cottage and the persimmon tree still bears heavy crops. The orange tree, grown from seed in 1835, struggles in its old age.

Acknowledgements and Bibliography

For the initial research and inspiration of Marita Bardenhagen, the Development Services staff of the City of Launceston, the rich archives of Christine Minchin (nee Fuller), the photographic skills of John Leeming and the current owners for allowing us to share the story of Peppiatt House. The 1997 photograph is by John Leeming (QVMAG Collection), the other historical photographs, drawings, and the painting are from the collection of Mrs Minchin, Hobart, and reproduced with her permission.

Files of the Planning and Development Services Division, Launceston City Council.

Interview with Christine Minchin, Hobart 1997.

Launceston City Council, Old Peppiatt House Heritage Review, Development Services Division, Planning Services, November 1989.

Morris-Nunn, M and CB Tassell, 'Launceston's Industrial Heritage: a survey', Australian Heritage Commission and the Queen Victoria Museum, Launceston 1982.

Perkins, B, England to Tasmania Brain Family 1744 - 1991 including Peppiatt, Staniforth, Goode, Jessop, Fuller B Perkins, Launceston 1991.

The Authors

In 1997 both authors were employed at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery of the Launceston City Council in Tasmania, Elspeth Wishart as Curator of History and Rhonda Hamilton as Curator of Community History, where she remains. Elspeth is now Senior Curator of History at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in Hobart.