For almost fifteen years, many of the most eligible young women in Van Diemen's Land could all be found under the one roof at Ellenthorpe Hall. For this period of time from 1827, the two-storey sandstone mansion, sixteen kilometres west of Ross in the Central Midlands, was regarded as one of the most fashionable boarding schools in the land where instruction took place in everything from harp to French, useful and decorative needlework, mathematics and dance.
It was the work of Hannah Maria Clarke (nee Davice), who emigrated to Hobart in order to open a school and then moved her successful establishment to the country where both she and her husband, George, had been granted land.
Exclusivity was the order of the day as Hannah hand-picked her pupils from the leading families of the colony. Reports vary as to how many young ladies went to Ellenthorpe Hall; some records suggest between thirty and fifty at any one time, others claim this is more likely to be the total number of pupils to have passed through.
In any event, those who did attend are thought to have included: Eliza Collins, the daughter of Tasmania's first governor, David Collins; her half-sister Mary Watts, the daughter of wealthy Clarendon grazier James Cox; Elizabeth Crowther, whose brother became premier; and the daughters of Robert Bostock, from Vaucluse.
Their 'board, washing and education' cost about forty pounds a year, more for music lessons. Mail was censored and the girls rarely went home but, according to the authors of The Life and Labours of George Washington Walker, the school was 'an excellent establishment which has, no doubt, contributed its share in giving to the upper class of Tasmania the refinement for which it is distinguished'.
Ellenthorpe Hall was also a serious farm, growing under George Carr Clarke from 4000 to more than 44,000 acres and running in excess of 20,000 sheep.
So seriously did George Carr Clarke take his sheep that he built the property's striking shearing shed out of superior dressed stone but the main house out of mere rubble.
The homestead was built by convicts who laid the foundation stone in December 1826, reportedly making it the oldest double-storey stone residence in the Midlands. Barely one hundred metres away are soldiers' barracks, as the convicts needed guards, and later the property needed protection from bushrangers, Aborigines and sheep stealers.
Ellenthorpe Hall was eventually carved up into a number of substantial farms that were sold separately. The barracks, shearing shed and mansion were bundled up into one smaller parcel and also sold. At the time of this first sale, the house had become a depressing and decaying site.
In 1999 the Dowling family, of the adjacent and similarly named property Ellenthorpe, acquired the 157-hectare parcel. Over the next five years, Ellen-thorpe Hall was lovingly restored and the results are stunning.
Ellenthorpe Hall is perfectly symmetrical, with a central hallway and five main rooms on the first floor, an exact replica on the second and six rooms in the attic. Two giant chimneys service a total of ten fireplaces, two of these elaborately decorated sandstone courtesy of convict stonemason Daniel Herbert, whose work on the famous Ross Bridge carvings earned him his freedom and is still revered.
These priceless features had turned brown from grime when the Dowlings took on Ellenthorpe Hall. There was a metre of water in the cellars and it took eighteen months to stop the roof from leaking. Every room had holes in the walls and the sandstone verandah had shifted off the front of the house.
All this was after renovations started by the previous owner, Simon Brown. Recounting his restoration work to the Examiner newspaper in 1978, he said it had taken 120 hours to strip the paint off just one door and its architraves. 'It had twelve coats of paint and yielded 8.5 kilograms of paint,' he said.
There were any number of people who told the Dowlings they should bulldoze Ellenthorpe Hall and
do up the exceptional shearing shed instead. But, after a five-year repair and renovation job, John Dowling, his wife, Sue, and their sons, Edward and Hamish, finally moved in on 1 April 2005.
Aside from assiduously fixing the shell, there was a new state-of-the-art kitchen, lavishly decorated dining and sitting rooms, five bedrooms upstairs, six in the attic, two ultra-modern bathrooms and a sunroom overlooking a lake that was recently deepened and stocked with rainbow trout.
Ellenthorpe's centrepiece is its wide, flagstone-lined hallway that leads to a double-storey portico enclosed by walls at the centre of the home's façade. Hallway walls that were once covered in green felt are now painted white and adorned with beautifully framed original maps and designs for the Ellenthorpe property that the Dowlings found torn and stuffed in a paper bag.
Sadly, that's about all of the original belongings that remain in the house; it was once filled with incredible antiques and artworks dating back to its school days but these were all sold by the Brown estate at a separate auction in 2006 and interest was intense.
Sue did, however, recently find an old inkwell in the grounds that must hark back to the building's school days, along with five butterflies embroidered in white lace. In the sitting-room window, on an original glass pane, a student scratched her initials, ACV, with a diamond and the engraving remains.
Two arched doorways on either side of the portico open onto a wide, sandstone-paved verandah, with slender cast-iron columns that supposedly suggest an Egyptian influence and which were a later addition to the house.
It was these that bushrangers apparently tried to use as scaffolding during a daring attack on the school in 1838. The story goes that three escaped convicts had been terrorising the Midlands, committing murder, until one day in May they surprised a party of men digging potatoes near Ellenthorpe Hall, ordering them to kneel down and be tied up. They refused, and one of the men fled to raise the alarm at the school.
Every mattress, pillowcase and cushion in Ellenthorpe Hall was piled behind its large Georgian windows, and heavy furniture heaped behind that. The girls were all ordered to lie on the floor in case a bullet managed to make it through.
When the bushrangers arrived, the place was barricaded. One was shot dead by a worker and the other two bushrangers fled. All this time, with a household full of vulnerable women, George Carr Clarke was apparently hiding under his bed.
George Clarke was born at Ellenthorp Hall in Yorkshire in 1789, and began his working life as a silk merchant. He was also known as 'One-Eyed' Clarke, having lost an eye as a child when one of his brothers shot him with an arrow. He emigrated to Hobart in 1822, followed a year later by Hannah Davice, to whom it is believed he was engaged.
She set up her school in Hobart while he made money from mills. They married in 1824. Ellenthorpe Hall was built as the nucleus of adjoining land grants
they had both received, and the school opened there in September 1827.
Between 1825 and 1836 six children were born to the Clarkes, two girls, two boys and two stillborn babies. Hannah left Tasmania for England in 1841 with her four surviving children at the insistence of her husband—ironically, to give them a better education. She died in 1847.
George Carr Clarke stayed in Tasmania until the sight in his only eye deteriorated so badly he had to travel to England for a cataract operation in 1863, which he did not survive.
Ellenthorpe Hall was carved up and sold, and Clarke's two sons moved to Queensland. The home allotment was bought by wealthy coach proprietor Samuel Page, whose daughter Julia Brown and her descendants stayed there until the place changed hands for only the second time in 1999.
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