Valley field Epping Forest

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The sandstone homestead at Valleyfield was a bit of an accident. The elongated 1838 building was designed to be coach-house, granary and servants' quarters, but the Taylor family ended up moving in, and it has been the main residence at this famous Saxon Merino sheep stud ever since.

Valleyfield is therefore quite distinct from other homes of its era. The low, two-storey structure more closely resembles a military barracks than your typical Georgian mansion, and the dimensions of the original part of the home are highly unusual; thirty-five metres in length and just five and a half metres in width.

The northern side of the building, which faces onto majestic gardens, has no fewer than twenty windows and doors. A verandah that spans the entire length was a later addition.

The southern side of the home is solid stone, with one solitary window, although a modern sunroom/ living area has also been added to this side, bordering formal English-style gardens and orchards that are as magnificent as they are expansive.

Valleyfield was the first Tasmanian home of the Taylor family, who went on to become some of Australia's most revered superfine wool producers. Their Saxon Merino studs occupied vast swathes of land across the northern Tasmanian Campbell Town district, much of which remain in the Taylor family to this day and still produce some of the exceptionally superfine wool for which Tasmania is so renowned.

George Taylor, sixty-two, arrived in Hobart from Scotland in 1823 with his wife and children, and was granted 800 acres on the Macquarie River that he named Valleyfield.

His sons George Jr, Robert and David were each granted 700 acres nearby, while a fourth son, John, who emigrated a little later, received 500 acres and also acquired nearby property St Johnstone.

With bullocks and wagons carrying all their worldly possessions, the Taylors made the trek from Hobart

to their new land grant in the north of the state, a difficult journey that would have taken several days to complete. There they pitched tents not far from the Macquarie River, eventually replacing these with huts and cottages, and then the long stone building.

Valleyfield had more than its fair share of brushes with bushrangers and Aborigines. It's said that in 1824 George Taylor Jr was perched in a tree, 'bent on improving his mind by reading the bible', when he was ambushed by a gang of escaped convicts-turned-bushrangers, who were on the run from Macquarie Harbour. He was taken hostage and forced to lead the villains to the Taylor home.

As they got closer, George wrenched himself free from the bandits' clutches and raised the alarm to a household that was apparently already on alert, because the dogs had been behaving so uneasily.

The household repelled the bushrangers with a barrage of musket fire, the ladies of the household assiduously reloading the musket nozzles.

Two gang members were captured by the Taylors, another was badly wounded but escaped. The only loss of life was the Taylor carpenter, who had apparently cowered in an outbuilding during the battle, only to pop his head out the door during a lull in firing, whereupon he was promptly shot by one of the outlaws. George Jr was seriously wounded, some reports suggesting he lost an arm.

But the Taylors were lauded for the bravery they had shown in defending Valleyfield. Governor Arthur wrote to the family to express his appreciation, and to assure them that should it unhappily be the case that George Jr's wound proved mortal, 'every circumstance of alleviation will accompany the mournful event from the reflection that you were struggling for the common safety of your family.'

Fellow colonists also wrote to Taylor offering their congratulations and a silver plate, and George Jr eventually received an additional 500 acres of land for his efforts.

George Jr was also well known for his kindly disposition towards the local Aborigines; by all accounts he endeavoured to communicate with them and brought them gifts of sugar and tobacco. But in 1826, he was speared to death by a group of Aborigines as he passed by their camp while rounding up sheep.

Robert Taylor succeeded his father, George Sr, at Valleyfield; John established himself at St Johnstone; while David Taylor carried out a land swap with Roderic O'Connor, of Connorville, and started farming Winton. It was in 1835 at Winton that Australia's first registered sheep stud was established, and this then formed the basis of the famous Valleyfield stud.

The Taylors, and Tasmania, can largely thank Eliza Forlonge for some of the purebred Saxon Merino sheep that helped found the state's superfine-wool industry.

This amazing Scotswoman decided her family should emigrate to the warmer climes of Australia after one of her two surviving sons started to show signs of tuberculosis; four of her other children had already succumbed to the disease.

But beforehand she did some homework, noting firstly that wool was one product that appeared capable of being successfully grown in the colony, and secondly that Saxon Merino wool was quite clearly the best and attracting premium prices.

The Saxon Merino is without peer in terms of the quality of the wool it produces, and it is still sought after by the textile industry for the most expensive garments. The Merino was bred and developed in Spain, and in 1765 their king gifted a flock to his cousin, Elector Frederick August of Saxony, where they were crossed with Saxon sheep and flourished. The Saxon farmers took great care to protect the purity of the line.

So Eliza Forlonge and her two sons moved to Saxony, while her merchant husband stayed home in Glasgow. There the trio learned German, one son attended school and the other learned the ropes in a Leipzig wool business. Then she set off on foot across Saxony to select a flock to take to her new home.

Each sheep was hand-picked by Mrs Forlonge, and payment made with gold coins that were stashed in a bag sewn under her skirt. When one hundred sheep had been selected, the Forlonges herded them to Hamburg for shipment to England and then Australia.

The Forlonges were destined for New South Wales, but when their ship stopped en route at Van Diemen's Land, they were persuaded to stay with a 2500-acre land grant near Campbell Town. Eliza returned to Germany to select more stock.

However, the family's land grant had a major flaw in that it did not front water. So in 1835 they sold part of their flock and leased their property to David Taylor, of Winton, and eventually sold the property to him when they moved to Victoria, where Mrs Forlonge founded that state's fine-wool flock.

The Valleyfield stud was formed in 1888 with ewes from St Johnstone and Winton, both properties in the Taylor family. Wool from Valleyfield would frequently set Australasian and even world price records, and it was easily regarded as one of the select few top studs.

After the collapse of the wool industry in the 1980s, it is one of many Tasmanian properties that turned its attention to cropping. And in 2005 there was a major break with Taylor family tradition when the property was sold to local farmer David Downie.

He is securing water for irrigation, pursuing crops and grazing and, with his family, relishing living in such an amazing old home. David Downie is excited about the potential for the homestead into the future.

The kitchen looks out across gardens to a historic stone wall. The sunroom area affords modern and relaxed living, with the added bonus of being much broader than the formal five-and-a-half-metre wide living rooms in the original homestead.

Country Merino Shot

Upstairs, a hallway stretches the thirty-five-metre length of the home, with seven bedrooms and bathrooms leading off it.

The living area downstairs comes to a stop about three-quarters of the way along the house length, where it is interrupted by a coach-house, now a workshop. Once the verandah went on at the front of the home, there was no chance of a coach, or later a car, getting through the verandah posts and under cover.

At the very end of the home is an abandoned two-storey granary section, which is set for renovation into another living area. It wasn't all that long ago that this end room of the house was still being used to store grain.

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