Few get the opportunity to laze about a stately Georgian mansion and absorb all the grandeur it evokes. The homes you enter in this book are private. Unless you are part of their inner circle, you might not have even known they existed. As for those who live in them—well, they're usually too busy running farms, raising families and keeping on top of never-ending maintenance to ever really get the chance to sit back self-indulgently.
So that's where Peppers Calstock comes in, an impressive home steeped in Tasmanian history offering luxury accommodation and fine dining.
And yet it's the placement of this magnificent building in the landscape that is possibly its greatest appeal. Deloraine, in Tasmania's Central North, is picture-postcard stuff. It's a historic town on the Meander River, where you can try your luck for trout, surrounded by lush green farmland complete with hedgerows. The rugged Great Western Tiers are on its doorstep, and behind them the Tasmanian Wilderness
World Heritage Area. Black truffles, cheese and honey are just some of the produce for which this area is renowned.
Framed by giant oak trees, Calstock sits at the bottom of the 1228-metre Quamby Bluff on the Western Tiers. The mountain forms the spectacular backdrop while the home gazes down over the farmland, river and town.
Calstock was designed to take full advantage of these views. For example, the original windows in the main living areas sit atop panels that can be opened like little doors; when the windows are right up and the panels open, it is possible to walk straight out from the lounge or dining room onto the wide flagstone-paved verandah, creating an indoor-outdoor entertaining area.
The first owner of Calstock was Lieutenant Pearson Foote. He received the land grant in about 1830 after starting out as a settler in Western Australia but finding the going too tough. Foote was forced to sell
Calstock in the depression of the 1840s, and it subsequently became a property of the Field family.
The family patriarch, William Field, had been transported to Australia for receiving nine stolen sheep as a butcher and made a fortune out of cattle farming in Tasmania after he was freed. When he died in 1837, Field's wealth was estimated at 1.238 per cent of the country's GDP—billions of dollars, in today's terms—and he owned one-third of all the land and buildings in Launceston.
Westfield, Enfield, Eastfield and Woodfield were among the Tasmanian properties William Field acquired. He built impressive homes on the land and left them to his four sons. His third son, Thomas, inherited Westfield and in the 1850s purchased nearby Calstock. Thomas added the main part of the present house complete with its wide verandah on three sides and distinctive open balcony on top.
The Fields were keen on racehorses, and Thomas turned Calstock into Tasmania's top racing stud from where two Melbourne Cup winners were bred, including the mighty Malua. Malua and his brother, Stockwell, were bought by former premier of Tasmania Thomas Reiby at one of Calstock's two-day yearling sales. Reiby was determined that a Tasmanian horse would win the Melbourne Cup, and Stockwell did indeed lead all the way down the final straight in 1882—only to be pipped at the post. It is said the dramatic second-place finish so frustrated Reiby that he got out of racing then and there, selling Malua to J. Inglis of Victoria.
The Australian Racing Museum describes Malua as the most versatile of all Australian champion gallopers; from sprints to staying events, and even the steeplechase, he left them all in his wake. His many wins in 1884 included the 1000-metre Oakleigh Plate, then Australia's richest race, the 2600-metre Adelaide Cup, and the 3200-metre Melbourne Cup—won by half a head in front of 90,000 people.
Malua's brother Street Anchor, also bred at Calstock, won the Melbourne Cup the following year, while his son Malvolio won the 1891 Cup and another son, Ingliston, won the Caulfield Cup in 1900.
And Malua's racing career didn't finish when he was put out to stud. At the age of nine he was entered in his first steeplechase, reportedly after Inglis watched him clear a high fence in the yards. Carrying Inglis himself, who weighed in at seventy-three kilograms, Malua romped home in the three-mile VRC Grand National Hurdle. His last hurrah was taking out the 2800-metre Geelong Cup as a ten-year-old.
In his home town of Deloraine, a committee is now raising money to build a monument to the mighty Malua, and as a guest at Calstock you are free to walk through the legendary stables where he was reared.
Calstock remained in the Field family until 1971, then was the focus of a couple of separate efforts to redevelop it into a thoroughbred stud. It was purchased by the current owners just before 2000, restored and turned into a guesthouse.
In 2005 it became part of the Peppers chain, and in September 2006 Linda and Daniel Tourancheau moved in as managers, viewing Calstock as the perfect place to combine their skills and fulfil their long-held desire to move to Tasmania. Linda is the highly trained hotel manager half of the equation, Daniel the French chef classically trained in Michelin-star restaurants.
With their sixteen-foot high ceilings, the rooms are massive in proportion, each ornately decorated in a different style. Read about William Field in the library, take an aperitif in the lounge and then proceed to the dining room for a three-course set-menu dinner that is a drawcard in its own right.
The menu is dictated by what is fresh, local and in season, from locally harvested black truffles to venison, and zucchini flowers from the garden. Even if there are only two guests staying, Daniel is up at the crack of dawn making the croissants for breakfast and, later, the bread for the evening meal. There's a wine for every occasion on the list.
Peppers Calstock showcases the best of Tasmania from one of its beautiful Georgian mansions, and allows anyone the chance to experience one of these properties in truly decadent style.
Early settler Louisa Anne Meredith was a prolific illustrator and writer, and when she came to Tasmania in 1839 with her husband, Charles, and their baby son, they stayed at Cambria, regarded then as the government house of the state's east coast. Louisa described it in her book, My Home in Tasmania:
The House at 'Cambria' commands an extensive view of large tracts of 'bush' and cultivated land; and across the Head of Oyster Bay, of the Schoutens, whose lofty picturesque outline and the changing hues they assume in different periods of the day or states of the atmosphere, are noble adjuncts to the landscape.
Below a deep precipitous bank on the south side of the house flows a winding creek, the outlet of the Meredith River, gleaming and shining along its stony bed ...
A large, well-built cheerful-looking house, with its accompanying signs of substantial comfort in the shape of barns, stackyard, stabling, extensive gardens, and all other requisite appliances on a large scale, is
most pleasant to look upon at all times and in all places, even when tens or twenties of such may be seen in a day's journey; but when our glimpses of country comfort are so few and far between as must be the case in a new country, and when one's very belief in civilisation begins to be shaken by weary travelling day after day through such dreary tracts as we had traversed, it is most delightful to come once more among sights and sounds that tell of the Old World and its good old ways, and right heartily did I enjoy them.
The noble verandah into which the French windows of the front rooms open, with its pillars wreathed about with roses and jasmine, and its lower trellises hidden in luxuriant geraniums, became the especial abiding place of my idleness; as I felt listless and inactive after my year's broiling in New South Wales, and delighted in the pleasant breezy climate of our new home ...
A large garden and orchard, well stored with the flowers and fruits cultivated in England, were not amongst the least of the charms Cambria possessed
in my eyes; and the growth of fruit trees is so much more rapid and precocious here than at home, that those only ten or twelve years old appear sometimes aged trees ...
The orchard, with its fine trees and shady garden walks, some broad and straight, and long, others turning off into sly, quiet little nooks, was of great delight to me ... the cultivated flowers here are chiefly those familiar to us in English gardens, with some brilliant natives of the Cape, and many pretty indigenous flowering shrubs interspersed.
Cambria, a twenty-seven-roomed Georgian mansion, was designed by Lieutenant George Meredith, one of the east coast's first settlers and Louisa's father-in-law. The building work commenced in 1830 and Cambria took six years to complete, though Meredith had been developing the gardens for the best part of a decade, hence their well-established state when described by Louisa in the early 1840s.
Cambria has an unusual colonial bungalow style at the front with four sets of glazed French doors opening onto the 'noble' and wide verandah, which has a colonnade and balustrade of wood and is paved with square sandstone set on a diagonal.
From the front, Cambria appears to be only one-storey high, plus a great deal of roof, but the back of the house, which is cut into a hill, reveals its true scale. Here three storeys are evident, the top an attic with quaint dormer windows that face away from the home's glorious views over Great Oyster Bay across to the Freycinet Peninsula.
Marble fireplaces downstairs are complemented upstairs by what is thought to be a rare example of marbling wallpaper, or simulated marbling.
The front hall is unusual in that it has two cedar fanlit doors concealing the stairs: behind one door the stairs go up, behind the other, down.
The large drawing room was once the scene of dances that George hosted for visiting naval officers, their ships anchored just a short distance away.
Among the extensive outbuildings were a kitchen, brick stables and timber barn, along with a toilet building that boasted a three-seater loo, each one a different size.
In 1841, Louisa and Charles set about building their own place at Spring Vale, just north of Swansea, but they then resettled at Port Sorell in the north-west, and later lived in various other parts of the state.
George Meredith died in 1856 and Cambria stayed in the Meredith family until it was leased, and later purchased, by the Bayles family. Basil Bayles, a local identity, lived in the homestead with his sister until 1949, although the upstairs section was never really used in this time and started to show its years. A short ownership by the Brettingham-Moores followed before Cambria was sold to the Burbury family in the 1970s.
Nick and Mandy Burbury have now called Cambria home for thirty years, longer than George Meredith did, and theirs were the first babies to be raised here. The home wasn't exactly designed with a young family in mind, but recent additions, such as a new kitchen/ conservatory area have made it an easier place to live. Cambria has also been recently re-roofed, and other restoration jobs are on the agenda.
The gardens at Cambria have, like the adjoining 5000-hectare farm, suffered from prolonged drought, but still resemble some of Louisa's elaborate descriptions, notwithstanding the fact that she may have been prone to a little poetic licence.
Louisa Meredith's other writings include Some of My Bush Friends in Tasmania, Tasmanian Friends and Foes, Feathered, Furred and Finned, Bush Friends in Tasmania, and two novels. She took a great interest in politics, was an early member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and influenced her husband to legislate to protect native wildlife during his many years as a member of the Tasmanian Legislative Council.
Flora and fauna also feature heavily in My Home in Tasmania, including the trials and tribulations of trying to tame a possum, and her description of the capture of a Tasmanian tiger:
I pitied the unhappy beast most heartily, and would fain have begged more gentle usage for him, but I was compelled to acknowledge some coercion necessary, as, when I softly stroked his back (after taking the precaution of engaging his great teeth in the discussion of a piece of meat), I was in danger of having my hand snapped off.
Her flora and fauna drawings also won many awards, and in 1884, after her husband's death, the Tasmanian government awarded Louisa a pension of one hundred pounds a year for distinguished literary and artistic services to the colony. She died in Victoria in 1895, survived by two sons.
Of all the members of Tasmania's Archer dynasty, William Archer has been described as the most brilliant. The first Tasmanian-born architect is credited with designing some of the state's most magnificent buildings, from the elaborate Italianate villa that was added to his father's home, Woolmers, to his pièce de résistance, Mona Vale at Ross.
Archer was also an acclaimed botanist who studied at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, and he contributed in such a way to Sir Joseph Hooker's authoritative work on Tasmanian botany, Flora Tasmaniae, that it was jointly dedicated to him.
He was also noted for his engineering, mainly in regard to surveying and designing irrigation channels to provide water for domestic animals and for flood irrigation.
It was at Cheshunt, in Meander Valley in Tasmania's Central North, that he combined his passions. The mansion is the home that William Archer designed for himself; in its gardens he planted exotic trees, and in the surrounding forest, wilderness areas and on river banks he collected many native plant species, some of which, such as the conifer Diselma archeri, bear his name.
William Archer was the third son of Thomas Archer, the founder of this great Van Diemen's Land dynasty, who arrived in Tasmania about 1813. Before long, Thomas had established the vast estate of Woolmers near Longford, south of Launceston, and his success inspired his father and three of his brothers to also make the move to Van Diemen's Land. The Archers soon owned tens of thousands of acres of prime farming land throughout the district, Cheshunt representing some 7000 acres on the western fringe.
At the age of sixteen, William went to London to study architecture and engineering, and his first job upon returning home was aggrandising Woolmers. The palatial Mona Vale, which he designed later for his brother-in-law, Robert Kermode, has been described as the largest private home in Australia.
Mona Vale is also known as the calendar house for its 365 windows, fifty-two rooms, twelve chimneys and seven entrances.
Other building designs credited to Archer include the old Hutchins School building in Hobart, the main building of the former Horton College at Ross, and the two-storey addition to his brother's home, Fairfield at Cressy.
Archer's work is mostly Victorian in manner and Italianate in style, although Cheshunt is considered quite unusual. It has been described as an example of architectural eclecticism, with its large Georgian mansion, Victorian verandah and Italianate tower.
On the first level of the exterior brickwork quoins feature, while on the second level double pilasters grace the corners. The chimneys are ornate, the windows double-paned, and at the back a square tower has narrow Italianate windows. Connecting the two wings at the front is a two-storey verandah, with the iron frieze, brackets and balustrade all boasting different designs.
Inside are twenty-three rooms, including nine bedrooms and an entry hall with a fireplace, which was said to be a mark of distinction. Cheshunt also has several brick-nogged, timber-clad outbuildings, including stables, a carpentry shop, a butchery and a blacksmith shop.
The foundation stone for the home was laid in 1850, and the centre and eastern wings completed about 1852. A few years later, Archer set off to study botany at Kew, where he also contributed to Hooker's Flora Tasmaniae. A stint in Melbourne followed where he tried, unsuccessfully, to earn money as an architect before he sold Cheshunt in 1873, the house still not complete. William Archer died a year later at his brother's farm, Fairfield, broken and impoverished, leaving an annuity of just one hundred pounds for his wife and twelve surviving children.
The new owners were William and John Bowman, themselves part of a pioneering farming dynasty from South Australia. William's son Frederick took ownership of Cheshunt in 1879, and a few years later married Gertrude Field from the nearby Calstock estate. Also connecting the two colonial properties was an early, direct phone line.
In about 1885, the Bowmans started work on completing Archer's design, employing a live-in brickmaker who churned out 100,000 bricks in the space of a couple of months.
Look closely at the façade and you'll notice that the northern and southern wings are different sizes. The verandah posts in between have been placed off-centre to balance the appearance.
Before Frederick died in 1929 he left Cheshunt to his grandson Ronald so as to avoid paying death duties. It would be another forty years before Ronald moved in but for much of this time Cheshunt was occupied by Ronald's grandmother and aunt, Stephanie, a period in which they endured the Great Depression and World War II.
Though Stephanie spent nine years in hospital before her death in 1969, no one had the heart to displace her from her long-time home, so it wasn't until the early seventies that Ronald and his wife, Leila, braved the move to Cheshunt.
The house was by now in a sad state, and rats, mice and silverfish had well and truly moved in. The roof was leaking, plaster had fallen from the ceiling and many of the wooden floors were rotten. The interior was dirty, dusty and damp—three wheelbarrow-loads of soot were carted away from the old slow-combustion stove in the kitchen.
After completing the most urgent structural jobs and cleaning the grime, the Bowmans restored a room every couple of years and repolished the antiques. This bit-by-bit interior renovation has continued since the latest generation, Paul and Cate Bowman, arrived in 1985. The bottom floor is now basically complete; work on the upper level with its six bedrooms continues, but it is only ever used when guests come to stay.
In 1998 the Cheshunt exterior got a major new lease of life. The roof and rotten verandah were replaced, and the chimneys repaired with the help of a crane. The exterior walls were pressure-cleaned and then given three coats of paint, a process that took a team of five painters five weeks to complete.
At one stage Cheshunt was painted in 'blood and bandages' style—red walls with contrasting sandstone quoins. The Bowmans considered returning it to this colour but ultimately opted for more muted tones, although one outbuilding remains in blood and bandages style.
Considerable preservation has also been undertaken on the other outbuildings.
The renovation efforts at Cheshunt are limited by time and funds. It's an exhausting and never-ending task to look after a home such as this—it was built to be staffed, for one thing—and matters have not been helped by adverse seasons.
It seems that life has always been a little bit harder at Cheshunt than at the foundation Archer farm,
Woolmers. When William Archer's oldest brother, Thomas (II), died suddenly at the age of twenty-six, followed a few years later by his father, Thomas (I), Woolmers was left to his ten-year-old nephew, Thomas Archer (III).
In his will, the elder Thomas bequeathed various annuities that were to become millstones around the necks of William and his other brother, Joseph, of Panshanger at Longford. The collapse of a family bank and the agricultural depression compounded matters, and William was increasingly struggling at Cheshunt. It appears that he was never paid a cent for his architectural work, which he limited to doing for the church, family and friends.
Back at Woolmers, the subsequent generations of
Thomas Archers (III, IV, V and VI) lived the life of landed gentry, pursuing interests such as travelling, golf and entertaining, before the last male heir died in 1994, having been a virtual recluse in the magnificent homestead all his life.
Woolmers is open to the public and is also home to the National Rose Garden.
Cheshunt is not quite the perfectly manicured horticultural showpiece that its grander relation is, but the old exotic trees that surround the homestead are a reminder of William Archer's important botanical work. They include giant oaks, elms, chestnuts, Japanese cedars, laurels and American cottonwood trees. Botanists still call by Cheshunt today looking for examples of Archer's work.
Was this article helpful?