Chudleigh is a tiny 'village of roses' in a picturesque valley in Tasmania's Central North. It is possibly the last place you'd go looking for an old stone fortress but, in the early 1830s, this area was the very frontier of the known world. And a former Irish army officer who, at the age of sixty-three, decided to go farming on the edge would have needed some protection from the powerful Aboriginal tribe that called this area home and controlled access to nearby ochre mines.
The stone compound that was subsequently built in the bush has been described as the only extant relic of the fierce conflict between Tasmania's early settlers and the Aboriginal owners of the land, a conflict that eventually prompted the forced removal of any surviving Aborigines to Flinders Island.
The compound consists of three-metre high walls that surround a one-acre yard and outbuildings, including a colossal stone barn complete with gun-slit windows. The homestead was outside the main walls and, in its day, this farm compound would have been a place of frantic activity.
Macaw breeders Scott and Deb Wilson were driving past Old WesleyDale one day in 1998 when they saw the 'for sale' sign out the front of the Georgian homestead. They had been wanting to escape the heat of their central New South Wales home, and even their majestic South American birds seem happier in the new climes.
Old WesleyDale's historic feel and scenic setting drew them in well before they had even inspected the homestead, which was probablyjust as well, considering the state it was in. A single-storey cottage adjacent to the main home was totally derelict, while the main house itself was dated and in need of maintenance, and the garden comprised a few old elm trees and a clothes line.
The Wilsons spruced up the homestead and restored the cottage, in the process unearthing the original cobblestone floor of what was once a dairy.
The cottage is now self-contained accommodation for tourists. The neglected gardens have been totally transformed into a two-hectare oasis of flowers, hedges, fruit and vegetables.
The stone compound was built to last and has always been in excellent condition, but there really isn't much use for it nowadays.
Retired Irish army officer Lieutenant Travers Hartley Vaughan was granted this land in 1829 and he built the stone cottage that forms the back half of the existing homestead. Accounts vary as to whether he or the property's next owner, the larger than life Henry Reed, were responsible for the construction of the fortress.
Those who favour Vaughan point to the distinctly Irish stone columns at the entry to the compound; round buttresses also feature on the single-storey cottage. In A History of the Chudleigh Valley, John Hawkins says the columns compare excellently to rounded columns constructed by hand of stone and slate at the entrance gates to Castlefreake Castle, in County Cork, circa 1825.
Further, by the time Vaughan sold to Reed in about 1837, the vast majority of Aboriginal inhabitants had been killed or removed, and the perceived need for such a compound would have been considerably diminished.
Sir Hudson Fysh, co-founder of Qantas and grandson of Reed, had a different take on their origin in his book Henry Reed: Van Diemen's Land Pioneer, where he wrote:
However it does seem that the compound device and buildings were erected in Henry Reed's usual fashion of doing something big and unique, a full-blooded, no half-measures project ... Perhaps, after all, Reed's idea was to keep his valuable stock safe from bushrangers and cattle thieves, as these gentry still abounded in the district, and for small stock, it provided a protection against the Tasmanian tiger, or marsupial wolf, and the snarly little Tasmanian devils, both of which unpopular marauders abounded in the rugged country bounding WesleyDale.
In any event, at three metres in height, and about sixty centimetres wide, the walls of the compound did the trick in terms of keeping the unwanted out. They were constructed of dolerite stone quarried on the property, with mortar of burned limestone from the famous Mole Creek caves nearby. Sir Hudson Fysh wrote that great use was made by his grandfather of probationary convict labour from the government depot at Deloraine.
According to Sir Hudson Fysh, one of the reasons Vaughan was keen to sell up after only a few years was because of frequent run-ins with Aborigines and so that part of his grant known as Native Hut Corner was sold to Henry Reed about 1837. A devout Wesleyan Methodist, Reed renamed the property WesleyDale after his spiritual leader.
Henry Reed arrived in Hobart as a twenty-one-year-old emigrant from Yorkshire. With no money to even buy himself a horse, he walked the 123 miles to his chosen destination of Launceston.
He received a land grant near Deddington that he named Rockliff Vale, after his mother, Mary Rockliff, but so little of it could be cultivated that in 1829 he commenced farming on a new grant near Longford. From there, Reed branched out into a range of other business activities that brought him massive success and wealth, including shipping and whaling. His ships were integral in carrying migrants, livestock and stores from Launceston to the new settlement at Port Phillip, Melbourne.
He was also fervently involved with the nonconformist revivalist mission work of the 1830s, and he began his forty years of preaching under a wattle tree at WesleyDale one Sunday soon after he bought the property, rustling up all the locals to attend.
Sir Hudson Fysh suggested that the vice and depravity that reigned in the colony before the last convicts were brought out in 1853 spurred Reed, and others like him, to try to save them. Reed held predawn prayer meetings, summer and winter, preached all over the north, and spent time with convicts in their cells on the night before they were due to be executed.
Back in England, where he returned twice, Reed assisted William Booth in founding the Salvation Army, and, in Tasmania, founded the Launceston Christian Mission Church.
He also helped his kinsman Henry Rockliff emigrate to Tasmania, and made him overseer and manager of WesleyDale. Rockliff's brothers followed Henry to Tasmania and the family eventually settled further west in the virtually untouched area of Sassafras, where many descendants remain today.
After a twenty-six-year stint back in England, during which he built two stunning homes in Tunbridge Wells and Harrogate, Dunorlan Park and Dunorlan Villa, Reed and his family returned to Tasmania in 1871, buying Mt Pleasant in Launceston, still one of the finest homes in northern Tasmania.
At WesleyDale, Reed also built a grand thirty-six-room summer holiday home that he named Mountain Villa, and the original homestead became known as Old WesleyDale. Mountain Villa was completed only shortly before Reed's death in 1880 and ended up in the Cameron family, where it remains.
In comparison to both of Reed's later Tasmanian homes, Old WesleyDale is modest; more country cottage than colonial mansion, although it has two levels and eleven rooms. It's believed that Vaughan built the back half of the house, while Reed added the front section. Reed also built a church on the property, but only the foundations remain.
In between tending to the macaws, the garden and B&B guests with his wife, Scott Wilson also works for nearby heritage-property owner John Hawkins. After buying Bentley five years ago and performing an amazing revival of it, coupled with his rich knowledge and appreciation of Tasmanian colonial history, John Hawkins has been credited with recharging the whole Chudleigh district. For example, thanks to Hawkins bringing out experts from England, Wilson has been trained in the old arts of hawthorn hedge-laying and dry-stone walling.
Wilson's handiwork is also starting to bear fruit at Old WesleyDale, where he has built a new dry-stone ha-ha wall. He has also shaped the row of box honeysuckle hedges where the front fence once stood into a row of marching elephants, a barrier that could not seem more at odds with the fortress nearby.
A wapiti is a North American elk. And a wapiti can be a very handy thing to have around, as Thomas William Henric Clarke of Quorn Hall, Campbell Town, discovered on one of his many extraordinary hunting trips in the late 1800s.
Stranded in a blizzard, deep in Native American Rocky Mountain country, T.W.H. gutted the large wapiti he'd shot and spent the night inside its carcass. Its head is exhibit number sixteen in the 'Big Room' at Quorn Hall, in Tasmania's Northern Midlands.
One of three extensions to the 1830s U-shaped mansion, this hall-like room was built in 1900 so T.W.H. could showcase the spoils of his hunting adventures, which included a four-year stint in North America as a cowboy, and four safaris in the wilds of Africa, accompanied only by teams of native porters and bearers for company.
About 150 trophies, all catalogued, cram the Big Room, which is thought to be the largest private collection of its kind in the southern hemisphere.
They include three Ammodorcas clarkei, or Clarke's gazelles, the new genus of gazelle T.W.H. discovered on one expedition in Somaliland, which he claimed to have been the first white man to enter.
There's a stuffed grizzly bear, upright and annoyed, two of her tiny startled babies, heads of rhinoceros, wart-hog, impala and hartebeest, the skulls of a hippopotamus and a thylacine, candlesticks carved from hooves, vases supported by eagles' talons, and a lion's skin that represented one very close shave.
When the current owner of Quorn Hall, Thomas Colin Clarke, was growing up, this was quite a television room. Today it's more of a museum, the not-for-the-fainthearted end of a beautifully maintained mansion where the conservatory, drawing room, freshly renovated kitchen and landscaped gardens all make for easier places to relax.
Built in 1834 in Georgian style and of ashlar stone, the then 10,000-acre Quorn Hall had three owners before it entered the vast estate of William John
Turner Clarke, T.W.H's grandfather, in 1844. The lavish lifestyles of the two previous owners had sent them broke, but there was no chance of that happening to W.J.T. He was regarded as the richest man in the country before he died in 1874 with an estate of 2.5 million pounds and 215,000 acres of freehold land in Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia and New Zealand, most of which he left to his firstborn, William Clarke.
Sir William Clarke went on to build Rupertswood in Sunbury, Victoria. One of that state's most elaborate homes, it was where the English cricket team spent Christmas of 1882 following their shock defeat by the Australian XI at the Oval Cricket Ground, in London. On Christmas Eve, William's wife, Lady Janet Clarke, presented English captain Ivo Bligh with a small pottery urn that she said contained a burned cricket bail, and the Ashes urn came into being.
W.J.T.'s second son, Thomas Biggs, inherited Quorn Hall but died only a few years later, when T.W.H., his son, was just eighteen. He leased out the farm to pursue his hunting interests, not taking a more active interest in the running of the property until 1894. He was still hunting in Rhodesia at the age of sixty-six, and documented all his trips in journals. 'Should anything befall me out here,' he wrote from Nairobi in 1911, 'please forward all my things out to Quorn Hall ... also all heads shot and rifles. Also, to put a plain solid stone in graveyard.'
As it turned out, T.W.H. died at Quorn Hall, aged seventy. He fathered five children, and it's thought that while he was off hunting for many months at a time his wife stayed with relatives in England, not at their Tasmanian estate.
The current owners are the sixth generation of Clarkes at Quorn Hall. They moved to the homestead from a small but modern house on the same property about eight years ago. While it was in good order, they've added necessities such as a heat pump, a modern kitchen and up-to-date bathrooms. They run sheep, beef and crops on the property, now some 7500 hectares.
For now the Big Room is entered mainly for housekeeping and, as the trophies are cleaned, the Clarkes can but imagine the tales their great game-hunting ancestor could have told about each.
Was this article helpful?