The main house was built by convict labour sometime before 1820 and was quite grand for its day, being two storeys high, of classical symmetrical Georgian design, three bays wide and two bays deep. The western wing, which houses current Kitchen, Dining Room, Scullery, and Servants’ Quarters is an extension added sometime during the 1840s. The ogee (concave/convex) roofed veranda and conservatory, and the bay window in the Ballroom, are Victorian additions with veranda completed on 27 February 1890.
Glen Derwent 2017
The entry hall door with sidelights is of typically Georgian style, although perhaps, “old-fashioned” in design compared to its contemporary European counterparts. Note the delicate three glass fanlight above the entry door, which is of early Georgian design and somewhat unusual in an Australian building. The staircase consists of Australian red cedar balustrade and Huon pine treads. The six-panel doors, along with the doors and skirting boards are also of cedar.
This room was originally two rooms joined together, probably around the same time as the eastern extension was added. The dark marble fireplace suggests the front room was the formal dining room. The built-in “bookcase” is the opening for the bar from which Oscar Davis served the patrons of his public rooms.
The fanlight window above the door to the Dining Room was exposed when the brick walls built on either side were removed during restoration. This doorway would have led outside to the stable courtyard, when the original kitchen was in a small skillion roofed extension. Convict-made bricks, salvaged during restoration, were used around the corner fireplace. The brick maker’s thumb prints can be seen in these fireplace bricks. The fireplace mantle was salvaged from a beam from the veranda, which required replacing.
A member of the Downie family painted the art on the door leading into the entry hall during the first decade of this century. This was a relatively common feature in homes from this time, however not many remain in place as they were often removed and framed as paintings in their own right. Indeed these paintings were almost sold when the Downie family held an auction and “a person unknown” removed an auction label from another item and placed it on the door.
This room’s original use as a drawing room, to which ladies of the house would “withdraw” after dinner. Remnants of the bell system remain on the fireplace wall. This system extended to the front door and all ground floor rooms, terminating with each rooms’ individual wires being attached to a bell fixed to a wall in kitchen. Each bell was of a different size thereby producing varying chime tones. Servants knew by the tone of the bell which room was requesting service.
The Ball Room
This room is currently occupied by a kitchen. The flooring is kauri other than the floor of bay window, which is Baltic pine. This and the ceiling and roof covering indicate that the bay window was a later addition to The Ballroom (1870-1890).
The Dining Room
There was evidence of a skillion roof adjacent to the door leading to the guest lounge with a flue joining into the flue of the lounge fireplace. This indicates that the kitchen and laundry were located under a “lean-to” roof, with the fireplace using the same chimney as the fireplace of the public rooms in the house. When the larger wing was added, the kitchen was then incorporated within the house and the laundry was located in the Tank Cottage. The original kitchen hearth has been partially bricked in to hold a small cast iron stove, possibly in the 1930s.
On the eastern side of the house, overlooking the tennis court and front garden, is the veranda that was enclosed to form the Conservatory. This serves as Glen Derwent’s Tea Room and Breakfast room. Sit in the sun and enjoy a leisurely breakfast or an afternoon G&T. For cool weather, the Conservatory has a wood-burning stove to keep guests warm.
The Tank Cottage, as its name suggests, started life as a water tank, or at least part of it was. Built by convicts, it consisted of three areas:
The tank was filled with water pumped from the Derwent River using a 5 hp vertical boiler steam-powered pump.
This weatherboard building was originally used to stable the master’s horse, with hay loft above, where the bedroom is now located. It has a private fenced garden, separated from the tennis court by an English Box hedge and overlooking across the ponds and paddocks to the river.
This is the long sandstone building running east west along the northern side of the courtyard and appears to have been built in two stages. The first was the western end, which now houses the stables and most likely started life as the original cottage on the early grant of land in 1808. These building are in remarkably good condition, still having the flagstone floor with cobblestones within the horse stalls, and chaff hoppers and bins, most of which also remain. The posts between the horse stalls bear ritual burn marks, thought to have been placed by the early settles to ward off fires (They obviously worked since the stables never burnt down).
The next building to be constructed was the barn, with the southern end of this building once being living quarters as seen by the door and window layout. It is possible that the barn walls would initially have formed a walled courtyard with “loop hole” openings for the defence of the inhabitants, with the walls being made higher and roofed at some later stage.
To the east of the stables ,the middle arched door leads to the carriage house. Some saddle and tack racks remain on the eastern wall. Next to the carriage house is a barrel cellar and the end door would have been the convicts’ cell. Above these rooms was the carpenter’s loft. The opening under the stairs to the carpenter’s loft was possibly a guard post, located next to the gates that was hung across the opening. The hinges for the gates remain.
Hop kilns are a signature feature of the Derwent Valley. The sandstone kiln at Glen Derwent is square in plan with a typical high vaulted roof, which once would have been capped with a louvred cowl. Hops were spread on the slatted floor and fireplaces directed hot air below to assist with the drying of the hops. There is a flap in the apex of the roof that could be opened and closed to control the flow of air through the building.
The eastern paddock is lightly treed with heritage pear trees and walnuts, oaks, beeches, poplars, silky oaks and wattles. It is currently home to a small flock of Suffolk sheep. The southern side is bounded by the eastern pond. In late winter and early spring, rows of daffodils stand testament to the paddock’s early use as a flower farm. A “lost” variety of daffodil known as “Glen Derwent” was once sold in Tasmania, and most likely was developed here. Perhaps Glen Derwent daffodils still grow somewhere in the gardens.
The walnut tree is a favourite garden wedding location, but give us time to move the sheep out for a few weeks as it is one of their favourite summer camping spots.
There are several rose gardens under restoration around Glen Derwent. They include some heritage and modern shrub and climbing varieties. One of our ongoing projects is to identify some of the less well known ones.
Soon after taking over Glen Derwent, in 2017 Rob Virtue constructed an octagon-themed parterre garden on the front lawn, in memory of his dearly-departed red MG TC and white MG B GT. Coupled with the Cream Cracker* colour scheme of the house, it makes Glen Derwent possibly the most MG-themed Georgian estate in all of Tasmania (without actually having any MGs, sadly).
Taking the place of the backfilled swimming pool, the garden is hedged by 1000 English Box plants. A total of one hundred red and white Iceberg roses are planted in the main beds and the four small corner beds contain pink standard roses salvaged from the overgrown front lawn. The centrepiece, to be completed in winter 2018 will be a central three-tiered cast iron fountain, in an octagonal pond built from sandstone sourced from the same quarry as the original outbuildings. The parterre garden is a popular spot for wedding ceremonies when the roses are in flower.
*Ask a pre-war MG owner.
Next to the Conservatory and Tea Room, on the sheltered eastern side of the house, is the lawn tennis court. The court is used on Saturdays by the Derwent Valley Croquet Club and guest are welcome to join in. One of this winter’s projects will be to re-erect the court fence which once doubled as a frame for climbing roses and sweet peas. A white wisteria arbor connects the front veranda to the tennis court lawn and is a favourite spot for Devonshire tea from the Tea Room on a sunny day or a quiet G&T on a summer afternoon.
Glen Derwent has an orchard to the north of the barn, on the edge of the house paddock. It contains several varieties of eating cooking and cider apples, plums, nectarines, peaches, pears, quince, cherries and apricots. The Hen Derwent chooks patrol the orchard helping keep it bug-free and cultivated and, occasionally, laying eggs.
Glen Derwent’s southern boundary is formed by a long, willow-fringed pond. Fed by the former farm irrigation pipe from the Derwent River, it is home to wild and not-so wild ducks, platypus and Whitebait. We are hoping to release ornamental rainbow trout this season. The platypus can usually be seen at dusk or dawn if you are quiet and patient enough.